Taiwan is a subtropical island situated off the south-east coast of China. Its elongated shape stretches from north to south and it is mountainous in the central and eastern parts with broad plains along the west coast. Taiwan is most famous for its oolong tea, but also produces green tea and black tea.
The combination of Taiwan’s subtropical climate and mountainous terrain produces conditions which are ideal for tea. The best tea in Taiwan is grown in mountainous areas between 700 and 2500 meters in altitude, but lesser-quality tea is also grown in the plain areas at lower elevations.
Wild tea trees are native to Taiwan, but tea cultivation didn’t begin until the mid 19th century. Tea plants were imported from China and various hybrids were developed from the native strains. The first commercially valuable tea was produced during the 1860’s and tea quickly became a major export item.
The first Taiwan teas produced for export were oolong tea and bao zhong tea. However, during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan (1895 – 1945) Nitton black tea was also developed for export. It was during this time that Taiwan tea began to be promoted and acknowledged worldwide as a superior quality tea.
During the late 1940’s Taiwan expanded its tea production to include green tea. The export market continued to thrive until the late 1960’s, when rising economic prosperity and increased labor costs made it difficult for Taiwan to compete on the international tea market.
Since that time, tea production has been focused on the domestic market. Taiwan tea drinkers are known to be highly discriminating and a vibrant and knowledgeable tea culture has developed over the past 30 to 40 years.
Tea Areas of Taiwan
There are many distinct tea producing areas in Taiwan. The southern mountain ranges near Mount Ali (Alishan) are famous for their high-mountain tea (Gao Shan Cha). Northern Taiwan produces a famous oolong tea called Bai Hao oolong tea. This oolong tea is also known as "Oriental Beauty," a name said to be given by Queen Victoria.
Other famous Taiwan teas include Pao-chung tea, Tie Guan Yin tea, Dung Ding oolong tea, and Bi Luo Chun tea.