My recent foray into becoming an adoptive parent has opened up for me a world of delightful teas and beautiful tea ceremonies. Six months ago, my husband and I were approved and put on a waiting list to adopt a child from Taiwan. To prepare for our new adventure, we have been exploring the culture of our child’s birth country. Since I am a tea enthusiast, my exploration of the culture has naturally turned toward the history and varieties of Taiwanese tea, in particular, the intoxicating oolong teas and the enchanting Gong Fu Cha tea ceremony of Taiwan.
Taiwan has a rich history that has influenced its tea culture. Tea has always grown in the wild on Taiwan’s majestic mountains and the native peoples most likely used tea as medicine. When immigrants from China established themselves in Taiwan in the 16th century, tea was introduced as a crop and a daily beverage. Since then, Taiwan has been occupied by the Dutch, the Chinese, and the Japanese before becoming an independent state. This confluence of tea-drinking cultures has resulted in a unique society, which is widely known for its culinary excellence, tea being one jewel in its gastronomical crown.
Oolong is the primary type of tea grown in Taiwan. I decided to educate myself on the intricacies of oolong by purchasing 32 different varieties of oolong tea produced in Taiwan. Even though there are discernible flavor contrasts between the varieties, a clear flavor profile emerged. Oolong is light, delicate, slightly sweet, and fresh with hints of flowers and fruit and can taste toasty, milky, vegetal, spicy, or nutty. In addition, oolong can withstand multiple infusions and each infusion generates a whole new array of subtle flavors. The complexity of oolong tea is truly amazing.
In my quest to understand Taiwanese tea culture, I have regularly run across references to the Gong Fu Cha tea ceremony, which usually features oolong tea and spring water. There are no specific hand gestures as in the Japanese tea ceremony, but there are specific clay tea pots, cups, and pitchers, as well as wooden utensils and trays. It is a graceful ceremony that focuses on extracting the best flavors out of the tea. I have purchased a Gong Fu Cha tea set, and by viewing many videos of the tea ceremony on YouTube, I have begun to recreate the ceremony in my own home.
Taiwan has a rich history and a beautiful, subtle culture that is expressed, in part, through its high-quality oolongs and Gong Fu Cha tea ceremony. Because of my passion for Taiwanese tea, I will be able to teach my child a little piece of his or her birth culture. Tea has given me a priceless gift – insight into the country where my child will be born.