Even though at times it does sound a bit like Taiwan has lots of good tea, good tea culture, etc etc…. the reality is that most people still don’t give much of a damn about tea here.
Today I went to a place called Cafe Lumiere, a little shop in a lovely old building that houses a theatre and is named after a famous Taiwanese movie. It’s your typical Western style coffeeshop kind of thing… cakes, etc. They served tea, mostly of the Earl Grey variety. What passed for tea was basically big teapots with round teabags — Republic of Tea, perhaps? The thing I had was a “Yorkshire tea”, which tasted like a weak version of English Breakfast. However, it had the typical problem of “drinking the last guy’s tea”. What I mean is… the teapots they used weren’t cleaned sufficiently thoroughly so that all the herbal teas that have been made in it has left a mark. So I ended up drinking Butterscotch Hibiscus Vanilla Cherry Black Chamomile…. a potpurri of flavours and smells that have been left behind by many a drinkers before me. At one point the lid of the pot smelled like detergent. Yum….
For dinner we went to Ding Tai Fung, a famous restaurant in Taiwan (best know for their xiaolongbaos). The generic tea they served was a really watered down stale green jasmine. Mind you, that’s just for the purpose of washing down your food as quickly as possible so that you will move out of the place for the next person (the waitresses had femmebot like efficiency) but you’d think watered down, low grade oolong is at least achievable instead of nasty stale green jasmine….
Tea is still very much just a beverage to be consumed in the course of the day while doing other things. Even here, where tea culture is perhaps more alive than any other place in Greater China, most people are quite happy with just a cup made simply, or even badly. Sometimes I think it is easy to forget that when reading about the latest thing, the strangest preparation methods, or arguments over the tiniest details.