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Tea History in Taiwan

ALTHOUGH TAIWAN IS A FAIRLY RECENT TEA GROWING COUNTRY COMPARED TO CHINA, WHICH HAS A 5,000 YEAR-OLD HISTORY OF TEA CULTIVATION, THE WEATHER AND AS WELL AS THE EXPERTISE INHERITED FROM THE CHINESE, HAVE ENCOURAGED THE DEVELOPMENT OF HIGH QUALITY PRODUCTION IN THE COUNTRY. TODAY, THE RICH FLORAL FRAGRANCES OF THE HIGH-ALTITUDE TEAS AND THE LUXURIOUS TEXTURE OF THEIR SMALL HARVESTS DELIGHT THE PALATES OF THE MOST DISCERNING ENTHUSIASTS.

Taiwan is a small island situated some 90 miles (150 km) off the coast of China, and its history is inevitably Jinked to the latter; especially as far as the culture of tea is concerned. However; China is not the only country that influenced the development of the Taiwanese tea industry, as various peoples have sought to control the territory, due to its ideal strategic position for exporting goods to Europe. The Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and English all occupied the island at various points during the 16th and 17th centuries. The Dutch, who occupied Taiwan from 1624 to 1662, were the first to develop the tea trade in this territory.

In 1662, under the Qing dynasty, Admiral Zheng Cheng Gong reconquered the territory, and it was annexed to China in 1683. Following unification, a wave of Chinese immigration into Taiwan completely changed the territory's culture. The new immigrants, most of whom came from Fujian Province, especially the area around Anxi and the Wuyi Mountains, brought with them tea seeds and plants, as well as their expertise in tea growing, which was still unknown in Taiwan.

Many plants were later transplanted to the north of the island, dose to the capital, Taipei as well as in the center of Taiwan. Families began to cultivate small tea gardens dose to their homes to satisfy their personal needs and slowly, toward the end of the 18th century, the Taiwan tea trade started to develop.

Noticing an increase in the importation of tea from the neighboring island, the Europeans - who at that time dealt with the Chinese at Xiamen and Fuzhou (two major Chinese tea-trading ports of that period) - decided to pay closer attention to Taiwan. Then, in 1866, a trader named John Dodd decided to become more involved in trade with Taiwan. He offered financing to Taiwanese peasants who wanted to start tea plantations, and he also set up factories in Taipei so the new local growers would have access to every stage of tea processing. At the time, it was not unusual for tea leaves to be shipped to Anxi or Fuzhou to undergo the final stages of processing, And so Taiwanese tea began to be exported to Europe and the United States, where it was greatly appreciated.

During the first half of the 20th century, under the Japanese occupation that lasted from 1895 to 1945, the black-tea industry was supported in order to take advantage of the high demand in Europe and to avoid competing with Japanese green-tea production.

The Japanese invested heavily in the tea industry in Taiwan, giving fertilizers and numerous tea plants to Taiwanese peasants. They offered training courses and encouraged the mechanization of processing, creating an environment in which the industry could thrive.

With the arrival of the Chinese, who drove the Japanese out of the territory at the end of the Second World War; the industry was oriented toward the production of green teas, which were exported to North African countries, Around 1965, Taiwan also began to export tea to Japan. During the 1970s, because of the strong competition from China and the self-sufficiency of the Japanese, Taiwan could no longer find an international outlet for its green tea, so the government decided to stimulate the domestic market. These new trading conditions forced the tea industry to turn to the production of wulong teas, which were the local favorite. In addition, the average income of the Taiwanese had increased considerably over this period, so growers decided to concentrate on quality rather than quantity.