Many Taiwanese tea-farming families and tea masters originated from China’s Fujian province. They originally brought in various strains of tea from China and developed these, along with Taiwan’s native tea strains, over the past 100 years or so into what are some of the best – if not the best – oolong teas. Taiwanese tea farmers and tea makers have gone to great lengths to perfect their teas and successfully hone certain unique qualities and varieties – so much so that with many of the most sought-after, premium teas, they can almost name their price.
Originally, the Taiwanese tea farmers and merchants produced their best teas for export, primarily via European traders. However, during the latter part of the 1900s, as the Taiwanese become more affluent, they began to keep the best teas for themselves. The Taiwanese are great tea lovers and know and appreciate fine-quality teas. For many years, the best teas were usually pre-ordered and sold well before they were harvested, never making it into the commercial market. Rich Taiwanese government officials and businessmen paid very high prices to pre-order award-winning teas. This still happens today and buyers are advised to pre-order teas from award-winning tea farms well in advance of the harvest time to ensure availability. One change that is happening now is that many wealthy mainland Chinese are now seeking out Taiwan’s premium teas and are willing to pay even higher prices than the Taiwanese.
The most expensive teas are the unique Taiwanese high-mountain teas. High-mountain tea (gaoshan cha) is a general term used for Taiwanese oolong tea grown at an altitude of 4,000 feet (1,000 meters) and higher, with the highest growing areas reaching an elevation of over 9,000 feet (2,700 meters) above sea level. Generally, the most expensive goashan cha is that grown at the highest elevation regions, such as the Fushoushan and Lishan mountains. Gaoshan cha is beginning to “take on a life of its own” in the world of high-quality oolong teas, something I will discuss in a future post.
Other expensive Taiwanese teas are Baozhong (paochong) tea, a lightly oxidized and delicate oolong, and Oriental Beauty (Dong Fang Mai Ren). Taiwan also has a unique Tieguanyin tea that is expensive and highly sought after.
Prices vary a lot for Taiwanese teas. Online tea shops sell commercially available, premium gaoshan cha for anywhere between $30-$80 for 100 grams (3.5 ounces). But the most expensive teas never make it into the commercial stores and some are sold for as much as $16,500 per catty (approximately 1.2 pounds).