This is the take-out drink store that is just next door to my apartment in Taichung, Taiwan. It also happens to be my favorite of its kind. The main reason for this is the branding of this company. In my eyes, it definitely has the differentiation factor down. I watched the store being built and spoke with owner and founder when he was building. He quit his corporate engineering job and began his entrepreneurial career by developing this company. Three years later, it’s a success.
Along with designing his own machine to control water temperature and brewing time of the tea, he also had a clear vision of product standards, business practice, and service. He sources all his tea in Taiwan and visits the source directly to procure his product. Since this is my personal dedication and role in Eco-Cha, I fully relate to the significance of this.
ODM also differentiates itself by emphasizing the original flavor of its teas. The staff is trained to educate their clientele about the different qualities and characters of each tea type. I was shown one of their educational tactics of allowing customers to smell the chemical additives of flavor and aroma enhancers that the local population of iced tea drinkers has become unknowingly conditioned by. In doing so, tea drinkers are enlightened as to what is, and what is not a natural scent or flavor in tea. The small vials below are labeled Oolong Tea, Green Tea, and Red (black) Tea. When I smelled them I instantly recognized these scents as what the majority of iced teas smell and taste like, and was very impressed by their demonstration.
The manager that I interviewed for this article said that unsweetened Four Seasons Spring Oolong is one of their best sellers. As flavored, iced teas are the most prevalent beverage in Taiwan, they offer a full menu of fresh fruit juice additions, as well as honey and other natural flavorings. Their product line is quality, but it is their ideology and pronounced representation of sustainable business practice that impresses me the most.
Incidentally, ODM rents its storefront from my neighbor, who is retired now, but used to sell quality Traditional and High Mountain Oolong Tea. Since I moved into my place ten years ago, I’ve enjoyed the smell of roasting tea leaves wafting out of this space and up to my balcony on the fifth floor. The old skool tea oven is still used by ODM as a promotion of their authenticity as a tea merchant. Here I am posing with the manager in their storefront, holding my complimentary cup of Four Seasons Oolong (unsweetened of course) in front of the oven:
Starting with the tea drink store that is closest to my home and to my heart, let’s take a quick tour of what’s around town in order to represent the ubiquitous presence and variety of tea drink culture in Taiwan. Here is a shot of two tea stores side by side, doing their thing by providing the masses with their own version of what millions of people drink every day. Most of these types of establishments do the bulk of their business by offering a free delivery service. Whole office staffs will order up on a daily basis to get their daily tea made to order.
Here is another venue just down the street from the above stores. The elegant sign above the store says “people’s culture tea drinks” and the green signs say “specialty milk tea”, “charcoal roasted oolong tea”, and “Shan Lin Xi High Mountain Tea”.
Along with takeaway drink stores, teahouses are also a very common social venue. They are more like restaurant bars where tea is the featured beverage rather than alcohol. Teahouses are used for business meetings as much as social occasions. This venue below is on a main road in the new business district of Taichung and has been a popular destination for at least a decade. I really like the post-modern design combining rustic and 21st century décor, including the uncut lawn in front – as well as the roof!
This is just a handful of snapshots of a culture that truly is everywhere in urban Taiwan. It is just a slice of the broad spectrum of tea culture that thrives in this 21st century wellspring of tea! Personally speaking, if someone says “tea culture”, I think “Taiwan”.
Andy Kincart writes on behalf of Eco-Cha Teas. All images provided by the contributor.