A GUIDE TO TAIWANESE TEA CEREMONIES

We covered food in two previous posts, and fear not, there will certainly be more on that! But it would be remiss of us not to also focus on what you may expect to drink in Taiwan, and there is certainly one beverage which jumps out as the most obvious choice….tea.

Tea, and more specifically, how you drink it, is an important part of Taiwanese local culture. Over 400 years ago, the first settlers to Taiwan from mainland China brought with them a complex tea culture, which has only been added to and developed more by further immigration waves from Japan and the west. The result is a Taiwanese tea culture that is an intricate, social and very tasty part of local life.

Tea is grown in many highland areas around Taiwan, but most specifically in the mountains to the south of Taipei, around the town of Maokong. This area, with it’s high number of tea plantations and teahouses, make it a brilliant location to experience the local rituals firsthand.

Tea shops are common place in all Taiwanese cities and most households will own a complete set of equipment needed to hold their own tea ceremonies. This includes a whole host of items including teapots, pitchers, several types of cup, scoops, towels, leaf holders and trays. The ceremony itself varies from location to location, and can even vary for differing types of tea! However, most ceremonies tend to follow a similar pattern involving the same brewing techniques. Whilst to outsiders it may seem bafflingly complex, many of the steps are a simply a way of  enjoying the full flavour, aroma and appearance of the tea.

The pot and cups must of course be warmed before the tea brewing can commence, as well as the leaves washed and rinsed. Depending on the type of tea, there is a specific formula for the brewing period, and this will sometimes be repeated several times over! Perhaps more for appearance than anything to do with flavour, the water must also be poured from a specific height….the reasons for this remain a mystery to us here at the Pedal Taiwan team!

Whist many of these elements can be found in tea ceremonies across east Asia, there is one crucial component that is unique to Taiwanese tea drinking culture: the scent or sniffer cup. The freshly-brewed beverage is decanted into the sniffer cup, and only when that has been passed around the table for people to appreciate the aroma, is the tea then transferred to the drinking cup by balancing the two vessels on top of each other and quickly flipping them over.

The pressure of the ceremony is not quite over when you receive your cup of tea, however! To avoid any faux pas, ensure that you drink your tea in no fewer than three sips – a small one to start, the main middle gulp and a last one to enjoy the aftertaste.

With the tea drunk, you may be forgiven in thinking that the ceremony has served its purpose….think again! The final flourish is to lay out the used leaves in order that guests may offer their compliments on the quality of the tea (“yeh, lovely, ta” as one of our crew so elegantly put it)!

Of course the only real way to understand all of these subtle delicacies is to experience them first hand….and what better way to explore fabulous Taiwan than with a Pedal Taiwan bike tour!

For more information on Taiwan, and how you can explore this magical country by bike, drop us a line at info@pedaltaiwan.com or check out our tour dates here

 

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