You have only one day in Taiwan and you face the ultimate traveller’s dilemma – how should you spend it and where should you go? Yes, you can shop and eat until you literally drop, but why should you when you can enjoy a peaceful and contemplative stay in a quaint Taiwanese tea house? That was what I did last weekend and I don’t regret it one bit.
Taiwan is, of course, famous for its tea. It is a major tea producer and exporter, renowned for its famous gaoshan teas. It is also the birthplace of bubble tea. But its teahouses are by far its best-kept treasures. The secret ingredient in the allure of these teahouses is not just good tea, but the emphasis on creating the perfect ambience in which to appreciate the beverage.
For a hill-side retreat, try the famous Jiufen teahouse, located in Jiufen, a town just a one-and-a-half hour drive from Taipei. Perhaps it had something to do with the pond right underneath the wooden staircase, or the fact that the water for the tea was boiled in clay kettles over charcoal (who does this today?!), but everything just clicked despite the rather foul weather (it was raining heavily that day).
As I sat and enjoyed my pot of Oriental Beauty tea, it dawned on me that tea is such an atmospheric drink – the tea-drinking experience is enhanced under circumstances that complement the delicate nature of the drink.
This I also experienced another teahouse in Taipei city. The Wisteria teahouse similarly boasts a remarkably tasteful choice of furniture, which is both Chinese and Japanese inspired. The zen-like and soothing interior fits the contemplative mind when one sips a heavenly tea drink. Despite being located near the hustle and bustle of university life, it insulates you from that. You are almost in a different universe altogether.
Unlike coffee, which stimulates your mind and put you in an active mood to engage in heated intellectual debates, tea, for me at least, awakens my senses and puts me in a much more reflective and contemplative mood. The open spaces, together with the greenery and the wooden tables at Wisteria, moves my mood in a spiritual direction.
Drinking tea in these teahouses also helps to enrich your understanding of Taiwan. The Wisteria teahouse, for example, was known as a political hangout for the Taiwanese intelligentsia in the 1950s. So a sip of tea here allows you to savor the struggle for Taiwanese democracy.
What better way to understand Taiwan than to visit its atmospheric and quaint teahouses!