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Muzha Tieguanyins Path To Development

Author : Zheng Xiangru, Photography: Chen Mingcong, Illustrations: Editorial Department


At the mention of famous Taiwanese tea growing areas, both local and foreign tourists think of "Muzha," equating it with the well-known Tieguanyin tea variety. How could Tieguanyin, originally from Anxi, take root in Northern Taiwan? Moreover, how did Tieguanyin come to dominate the Muzha area? Having developed for nearly a century, how is Muzha different from Anxi and how did Muzha Tieguanyin create its own style and its own brand value? Motivated by love of tea and a desire to promote the spread of tea, former head of the Taipei Chinese Art of Tea Craft Union, Zhang Maohong, shares the information he has collected over many years about Tieguanyin. Reviewing the course of history, he describes Muzhua Tieguanyin's "path to development."

Waves of immigrants to Taiwan landed in basically three places. In chronological order, these were: Tainan (time of Zheng Gongzi, 1661), Lugang (beginning of Qing dynasty, 1664-), and Huwei (Qing dynasty Xianfeng period, ie, 1850 to 1861, and the Japanese occupation). Members of the Zhang family from the Daping, Anxi area first came to Huwei (today Danshui). They followed the Jingmei Stream upriver to Muzha. Of this group of Zhang brothers, three remained in Danshui (today Dapingli, Danshui). The other six settled in Muzha in what would become the small town. They lived on the east side of the river surrounded by a wooden fence, which stood as protection from the attacks of local indigenous people. The name "Muzha" comes from this long-used fence (Muzha means "wooden fence" in Chinese).

Tea's rises to fame during Japanese occupation

Taiwan has been producing tea for a very long time. Production is particularly concentrated in northern areas. Muzha enjoys the benefit of many hills, slightly lower temperatures, a late winter/early spring rainy season, and the nearby Jingmei Stream basin. It is an ideal area for growing tea. Bao Zhong tea rose to fame here first. The Zhang clan elders carried tea seeds to Taiwan. They also introduced Tieguanyin's stripe - shaped production techniques Taiwan. They did not bring seeds of the Tieguanyin variety, however. The famous tea master Zhang Naimiao introduced the actual Tieguanyin variety to Muzha during the period of Japanese occupation.

Zhang Naimiao was born in the first year of the reign of Guangxu (1875) in Daqijiao. His tea master passed on the techniques of tea making. His teacher feared persecution at the hands of the foreign invaders and returned to the mainland. Tea master Naimiao also moved to the Zhanghu area of Muzha. In 1916, master Naimiao competed in an evaluation of Bao Zhong teas, winning the governor's top grade gold medal. Following this he accepted an offer as tea master for Muzha Tea Enterprises. Between 1919 and 1929 he spent ten years as Taipei administrative district touring tea master, traveling to various locations and teaching the craft of Bao Zhong and Oolong tea making.

In 1895, returning to Anxi to make offerings to his ancestors, master Naimiao first experienced the fragrance and mellow flavor of Tieguanyin. He gathered just over ten tea plants growing in Daping and carried them back to Muzha, where he attempted to grow them behind his house in the space between the rocks. In 1896, he again went to Anxi and returned with around 100 Tieguanyin seedlings.

Later in 1919, Muzha Tea Enterprises founder and director Zhang Futang sent tea master Naimiao along with his fellow clansman Naiqian to Xiamen, Jinjiang, and finally Daping, Anxi, where they purchased and brought back over 300 tea seedlings. Tieguanyin also contains subvarieties, and the two men brought back the highest quality of these, the Hongxin Waiwei Tao (lit. "Red Heart Crooked Tail Peach" ) variety. Due to the stress of the long journey, Zhang Naiqian fell ill and passed away on the boat back to Taiwan, causing sorrow among his descendents. This marked the formal introduction of Tieguanyin into Taiwan.

Muzha, which lies at a moderate elevation, originally contained many camphor trees. All of them were cut down to make mothballs, however. Local authorities believed that tea could drive the Muzha economy and encouraged its production, which led to the planting of many different strains of tea in Muzha. Examples include Wuyi, Meizhan, Qingxin Dapa, and Qingxin Oolong. The over 3000 Hongxin Waiwei tea trees growing on the Muzha Tea Enterprises tea mountain pioneered large scale production (today this is the hill located beside Muzha zoo's wild bird observation area lakes).

These trees were later distributed among tea farmers who test grew them in places such as Shenkeng, Shiding, Pinglin, and Xindian. They grew most successfully, though, in the mountains of Muzha. A relatively large number can be found near tea master Naimiao's home at Zhangshan temple and Ejiaoguan mountain.

Why are the mountains of Muzha so well suited to Tieguanyin? The most direct factor is the soil, which is a type of "weathered soil." It is high in mineral content, including: iron, sodium, zinc, and calcium. During periods of drought, it absorbs water. During large rainfall, it has good runoff characteristics.

The soil is very similar to that of Anxi, Hongxin Waiwei tea trees have deep, extended! root and are not easily blown over by wind. They possess thick leaves that do not grow irregularly or toward the sun. They have the inherent preconditions for quality tea with strong yun the rhyme or charm of tea. Muzha's elevation, although not very high, also provides an environment with year around, rain, humidity, and fog. After growing to maturity, Tieguanyin's strength and quality surpasses other types of tea trees. As a result Tieguanyin had already established a name S itself by the period of Japanese occupation.

Tieguanyin was grown over a large area and was produced and refined according to the techniques of Anxi Tieguanyin. But the finer points of the technique had not yet made their way to Taiwan, creating a situation of "extensive planting, small-scale harvesting." Also, other types of tea were under cultivation. Muzha had no local tea sales, and because of transportation difficulties, no one came into the mountains to purchase tea. Consequently, the majority of the tealeaves were processed at the local tea processing center and sold to tea houses and tea shops along Taipei's Yanping Road. Higher quality tea was sent on to Thailand, while lower quality teas were sold within Taiwan.

Because they sold their private crops to teahouses for low profit, many tea farmers switched to other crops or let their land lie fallow. Later, the War of Resistance with Japan created a low point in tea consumption. Farmers stopped growing tea and let the tea plantations go uncultivated. As head of Wenshan Tea Enterprses, master Naimiao invited a mainland Chinese tea master to oversee Tieguanyin production, but his impact was unclear. After he retired in 1937, Naimiao personally traveled to Anxi. Repeatedly tasting and discussing tea with local gentry and tea experts, he gradually seized upon the key aspects of Tieguanyin production. He returned to Muzha and taught tea farmers what he had learned. Their craft improved greatly, laying the foundation for Tieguanyin's entry into the list of famous Taiwanese teas.

Establishing identity following Taiwan's recovery

The Tea Research and Extension Station was founded during the period of Japanese Occupation. It was primarily devoted to research and development and popularization of new tea breeds. Tieguanyin was not seen as an important variety for promotion, however. Only after the recovery of Taiwan from Japan when Ling Fuquan took over as head of the station did it work to spread the Tieguanyin variety among tea farmers. The Enterprise monopoly system was also reformed. Now tea farmers could directly buy and sell tealeaves.

Later Li Denghui, as mayor of Taipei, devoted himself to restoring the city's districts and enhancing local agriculture. In 1969, he changed the status of Taipei's Muzha Township to Muzha District and began promoting agricultural products capable of bringing profit to local farmers.

One of these was green bamboo shoots, while the other was tea. Developing into a specialized tea growing district requires a distinguishing tea. He invited station director Wu Zhenduo to survey the market. The result found the tea most representative of Muzha was Hongxin Waiwei. This is the tea known to tea farmers as "True Grove Tieguanyin."

At the time of his market survey, Wu Zhenduo met with Muzha elders, including Zhang Yin and Zhang Mei, and with members of the agricultural association. Through discussion and research, they worked out a method to systemize tea production and measure quality. They gradually developed a set of rules for tea competition. Wu Zhenduo specified the rules and criteria of competition and appointed the Muzha district agricultural association and the Taipei city agricultural association to carry them out. This was the beginning of the development of the Muzha tea competition. The rules of competition were increasingly formalized. They became stricter and more standardized with each successive match, gradually creating a unique style.

Muzha tourist tea plantations helped cement Tieguanyin's status as a special tea. They also carried out a government policy of promoting Tieguanyin. Key steps included encouraging tea farmers to grow Tieguanyin, improving tea production facilities and technology, building industrial roads, restoring old buildings, building road-side pavilions, opening new public bus routes, etc. Finally, at the end of 1980, Taiwan's first tourism tea plantation, Muzha Tourism Tea Garden, was formally established. It served three functions: as a unique tea plantation, a tea popularization exhibit, and as a place for outdoor recreation.

During that period of economic takeoff, more and more people began to seek recreation outlets. People flocked to the Muzha tea tourism district. It had the advantage of being located on the outskirts of Taipei. Also, at the time income levels were still relatively low, and there were few other recreation areas. Coming here on an outing to drink tea became something of a fad. Originally considered a remote district of Taipei, Muzha quickly turned into a flourishing recreation area. Many people began heading straight into the mountains and buying tea directly from farmers,improving the lives of the tea farmers.

The Taioei City Planning Division later enacted a ban on construction, which halted further specific Muzha tourist tea plantation building. Local population continued to grow, however, and visitors also needed to eat. Consequently, some local homes and farmhouses began offering tea meals on the side, becoming home-style restaurants. The agricultural association trained housewives to cook meals centered on tea and bamboo shoots. People came not only to drink tea but also to eat. This was especially true of Muzha's most famous tea plantations at Maokong, where tea drinking and enjoying the night scenery became fashionable activities. Maokong also developed a thriving nightlife. By the end of the 1980's, people were better off financially and more likely to own automobiles. Also with the opening of the Number 2 Northern Highway, the rise of central and southern tea tourism districts, and the two day weekend, Muzha's popularity as a tourist destination fell considerably.

Muzha Tieguanyin past and present

According to Zhang Maohong, from an objective perspective, Muzha Tieguanyin is in fact the Hongxin Waiwei Tao variety. We often hear it called "True Grove Tieguanyin." Muzha tea farmers have chosen this name to express the fact that it is genuine Tieguanyin. Any kind of tea will resemble Tieguanyin if refined using Tieguanyin processing techniques. Why, then, does Hongxin Waiwei Tao produce the most distinctive Tieguanyin?

Zhang Maohong explained that Tieguanyin possesses a unique degree of richness. It requires sustained kneading and twisting (approximately five or six passes) to achieve its unique character. Because unprocessed tea is relatively rough, initial rubbing is done by foot. If Bao Zhong tea is used, the leaves may easily break during the course of twisting. Also, using cloth twisting to crimp the tea strips may cause the tealeaves to undergo post-fermentation.

This is unlike any other type of tea. Factoring in the relative cold of the early season tea mountains, slow fermentation, and longer processing time compared to other types of tea all of these factors combined create Tieguanyin's unique style and bring a unique warm and mellow, ripe fruity aroma to the brewed tea.

In the early days, Muzha used acacia trees to produce charcoal for roasting. Small trees are easier to burn and stockpile. Also, acacia trees have large and dense upper branch structures. When burned, the temperature persists for a long time, up to seven or eight days. Different types of firewood burn differently. Likewise, the tea roasted has different Qi.

Acacia trees burn at a low temperature. Even bare skin near the burning embers will not suffer burns. Consequently, it roasts tea to sufficiently dryness without completely destroying it, preserving the tea's potential for further fermentation. For this reason, Tieguanyin is normally stored after roasting for a year or two before drinking. This is standard, authentic and traditional Tieguanyin, which in the early days was stored in tin-plated containers.

Zhang Maohong pulled out three different tea samples. The first was a Tieguanyin that had already been stored for over forty years. The dry tea carried a light tart fragrance, indicating its high quality and strong yun. The second tea was Tieguanyin aged over 10 years, while the third was a recent competition Tieguanyin. Zhang Maohong pulled out the forty-year-old tea sample and told us that in the past producers loosely rolled and twisted the Tieguanyin raw tea material. They also withered it outdoors in a clay-topped drying yard, quite unlike the concrete surface used today. The degree of withering was mild, so the tea slowly fermented, requiring a fairly long period of time. This was another unique characteristic of early Tieguanyin.

These traditional features gradually transformed over time, and the ten-year Tieguanyin's light sourness is inferior to the forty-year-old tea. It terms of appearance, color, and yun, however, it is quite similar. New Tieguanyin demands precise tea production. The stems arc picked out, giving the brewed tea a relatively light amber color. It is significantly different from the traditional teas.

Limitless prospects remain for blazing a new trail

Several factors contributed to the decline in Muzha Tieguanyin productions. Apart from their replacement as a recreation area, the tea plantations cover a relatively small area. Restricted growth planning has also kept the tea mountains from undertaking necessary renovations, causing stagnant production. On the positive side, a new generation of cultural strength has begun to awaken.

The first generation of the Muzha Maokong tea producing family focused all of its energy on tea production. When the second generation took over, they expanded to combine tea sales and meals to accompany tea. The current third generation realized that only selling tea and food is not sufficient to satisfy the multi-faceted market for recreational activities. Consequently, they began to focus on the cultural development of Tieguanyin, establishing, among other things, an office of culture and history and a teapot museum. This positive trend has brought a new vitality to Muzha tea culture.

Another development followed the construction of the Muzha Maokong cable car. A public transit system surrounding the mountain improved transportation, and travel guides began mentioning Muzha. Information in travel guides and brochures drew many foreign tourists and encouraged them to visit Shenkeng, Maokong, and the zoological park. The area became one of the primary tourist attractions of the Taipei area, and waves of sightseers began arriving. The younger generation of tea growers is highly educated and possesses a broad base of knowledge. They are generally able to communicate and interact with foreign visitors. Just as wine-growing regions in other countries associate themselves with the wines they produce, Muzha can also create a name for itself as a Tieguanyin production region. People interested in Tieguanyin from all over the world can come to this place to find their tea.

A special tea values quality over quantity. The experience of drinking the tea by yixing clay tea set is most important. Competition Tieguanyin is never produced in large quantities. Good casting Tieguanyin is even more valued for its rarity. Assuming tea growers are able to fully utilize their decades of accumulated resource and successfully implement the steps to quality Tieguanyin production, Muzha Tieguanyin still has potential for growth. Although Shimen Township uses Yingzhi Hongxin to produce Tieguayin, the mention of Hongxin Waiwei Tao certainly brings to mind Muzha. In addition, the new generation of tea growers believes it is their mission to enhance Tieguanyin will not only continue forward but will also soon experience a renewed brilliance.