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The art and history of tea in Taiwan

On 19 February 2016, the ECCT's annual cultural event explored the history of tea cultivation, processing and trading in Taiwan. The tour was held in the historical Dadaocheng district of Taipei, home to some of Taiwan's oldest trading establishments. Distinguished academic historian Dr Lin Man-houng joined the tour and engaged in discussions with guests about Taiwan's history.

The tour started at the AS Watson Tea House in the AS Watson & Co building, constructed in 1919 to house Watson's first Western-style pharmacy in Taiwan. The building was recently renovated and converted into a series of shops and restaurants, including the stylish AS Watson Tea House and a book shop that specializes in titles from the 1920s, an era of robust development both internationally and in Taiwan.

At the tea house guests were given a presentation about the history of tea in Taiwan by Jou Yi-cheng, Founder of the Sedai Group. Jou explained that Dadaocheng was the home of Taiwan's first generation of traders. The development of Taiwan's tea industry was a collaboration between local, European and mainland Chinese players. With the support of a British businessman, tea bushes and experts in growing and cultivating tea were brought over from mainland China in the 1860s. Around a decade later, the first teas from Taiwan were exported abroad (initially to the United States). Formosan tea developed a good reputation for quality. Formosa Oolong tea became known as the champagne of tea and the local industry expanded. According to Jou, at the peak there were hundreds of tea traders and tea accounted for a large portion of Taiwan's exports (the other main exports at the time were camphor and rice). The Dadaocheng area became a tea trading hub since it was right next to the Tamshui River, where tea could be loaded directly onto ships, which sailed along the river and out to sea.

After the presentation guests were given an introduction to different types of tea by Hsiao Sheng-yuan, Co-Founder of the Visual Communications Narrative Space Creative Concept. Hsiao guided guests through the brewing process and sampling of some of Taiwan's finest black teas. After the tea tasting guests enjoyed a light fusion-style lunch.

After lunch, guests took a short walk to the Wang Tea Museum, where they were given a guided tour and introduction to the process of transforming raw tea leaves into Oolong tea. Wang Tea is a renowned family-run tea producer which has its roots in Fujian Province in mainland China. It was founded in Xiamen in 1890 and moved to Taiwan in 1907. It is still owned and run by the descendants of the founder. The original refinery factory still has operating tea processing facilities but has also added sales, educational and cultural aspects to enable visitors to "Interact with Tea". At the museum guests viewed displays of various categories of tea, historical documents and tea-processing facilities. The tour was concluded with a tasting of Wang Tea's finest Oolong tea.