Tea Art Houses (茶藝館) in Taiwan. Part 2

Tea Art Houses, unlike their predecessors, old men rooms and tea houses, stress the importance of the art of tea making.

Here is a bit more of the context that led to their success.

In light of the Chinese civil war, and cultural revolution Taiwan considered itself responsible for preserving traditional Chinese culture, and as part of this, traditional tea arts.

In the 1970s, Taiwan’s economy improved a lot, leading to people having more disposable income. The tea industry was directed towards Taiwanese as opposed to foreign buyers. With wealthy buyers nearby, prices rose, competition was encouraged, and quality and creativity improved. Farmers also started to focus on high end teas, as opposed to low and medium quality, as they could not compete with the existing market in these areas.

Tea drinking became more refined. The Taiwanese brought the tea ceremony indoors to their houses and tea art houses. They also changed the tea ceremony and invented variations, and new ways of drinking tea.

I will go into some of the changes that Taiwan brought to ways of drinking tea, in later posts.

 

 

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Tea Art Houses (茶藝館) in Taiwan. Part 1

When visiting Taiwan, a nice way to experience tea culture is to visit a tea art house. In these places, customers are treated to drinking tea gongfu style in a peaceful setting, and can learn more about tea and how to brew it. To create a “pop up tea art house” is basically our objective in events.

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The interior of a tea house

Tea art houses give an appearance of having always been part of Taiwanese culture, providing a glimpse into the past.

The surprising truth is that tea art houses have only been in Taiwan since the 1970s.

Before this, there were two types of tea houses. The first was ‘Old men rooms’, places for old men to socialise. These men were the Mainland Chinese who came to Taiwan with Chiang Kai Shek’s army. They were public officers and former soldiers, separated from their families.

There were also tea houses which employed hostesses and were associated prostitution. Consequently, tea houses were associated with the elderly or prostitution. Many Taiwanese were therefore not interested in them. Simultaneously, coke and coffee were seen as drinks for the elite, as they were symbols of ties to the US.

In this context, tea art houses were started by a small group of tea practitioners in Taipei. They emphasised high quality tea, and the art of making tea. Manuals explaining how to prepare tea gongfu style were published. Through efforts, tea art houses were accepted by the Taiwanese, and gained government recognition, in the forming of the Republic of China Tea Art Association.

Tea art houses are now established as good destinations to visit, and are even promoted to tourists. They are an opportunity to escape busy city life, spend time with friends drinking tea and probably also enjoy a meal.

Please join us at our events in the future for a similar break from a hectic lifestyle to experience the culture, tastes and aromas of Taiwanese tea.

Taiwan Tea is “New”…

“New” Tea in Taiwan

You could be fooled into thinking that the cultivation of tea in Taiwan must be nearly as old as that in Mainland China. After all, the island of Taiwan is very close to the Mainland and has very good terroir. However, it only began in the 19th century. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t seem so long ago to my mind, compared to when things started on the Mainland.

Beginnings of Tea in China

Legend says tea goes back to around 4000 years ago when the Emperor Shennong drank hot water that a tea leaf had fallen into and “found it refreshing”. Somewhat more recently, 1000 years ago, cultivated tea was given as a tribute to the Emperor from south-west China. At that time, it was seen more as a health drink than something to take for pleasure. Drinking tea for pleasure is an idea that dates from 4th and 5th centuries.

The Dutch and British

The other assumption that I at least made, was to think that the Taiwanese were entirely behind selling their tea from the beginning. However, European thirst for conquest and the creation of the Dutch East India Company, as well as the British companies Jardine Mantheson & Co. and John Dodd & Co. in the 1850s and 1860s also played important roles.

Tea cultivation started in the 19th century when seedlings of tea trees were taken from the Wuyi mountains in Fujian province to northern Taiwan. At this time, tea from Taiwan was drunk in Taiwan or in China.

In 1855, Linfengchi took oolong trees from Wuyi and took them to Dongding, which started the story of Dongding oolong.

In 1855, Jardine Mantheson & Co. bought semi-finished oolong from Taiwan and sold it around the world.

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After 1860, John Dodd also saw that Taiwanese tea had potential and so he gave out loans to farmers in northern Taiwan to increase their production. He also made tea-making faster by bringing Chinese tea masters to Taiwan so that everything could be done on the island, and the tea did not have to be shipped to the Mainland to complete processing. In 1869, he shipped 127 tonnes to the US, where it was a great success. He also shipped to England. Exports grew from 180,000 pounds in 1865 to over 16 million pounds in 1885. This resulted in tea being Taiwan’s biggest export at the end of the 19th century.

Between 1875-1908, Tieguanyin was taken from Anxi province in China and planted in Muzha Zhanghu in Taiwan, which started off Taiwan’s version of Tieguanyin.

Japan

When the Japanese gained control of Taiwan after the first Sino-Japanese war of 1894-April 1895, they increased black tea production and set up the Taiwan Tea Research and Extension Station in 1926 to develop tea varietals (cultivated varieties of the tea plant, camellia sinensis) that were more suited to Taiwan, some of which are still used to this day, such as Jin Xuan. The Japanese also took Taiwanese tea to international trade fairs.