“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.
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.
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.