Black tea production in Taiwan has always been a tremendous part of its tea culture. Although it shadows oolong tea, black tea has made some amazing strides as more farmers, in different growing regions, make it their mission to experiment and process it on an annual basis. Early origins can be traced back to the colonial times of Sun Moon Lake, but evidence of black tea production can be found all over the island during the late 19th century. At this present time, Taiwan’s farmers and processors are all beginning to heavily invest their development within black tea, creating new concepts and pathways that can all be traced back to tea production towards the end of the 19th century.
The history of black tea began when seeds were brought over from China. During the latter half of the 19th century, production mainly focused on oolong teas, but black teas were still produced at the request of locals. Afterwards, Japanese colonists established a black tea production hub, in the center of Taiwan, at Yu Chi township by Sun Moon Lake. They had deemed this region suitable for black tea production and imported Assam seeds to rival India. Black tea became a big export under Japanese occupation as it was heavily marketed; making its way to the US and UK. Sadly, production dwindled after WWII, and Taiwanese black tea dropped heavily out of the international market. It was not until the late 70s when the government had assisted farmers in promotion of black tea in Sun Moon Lake. From then on, the teas produced from that region are considered high quality as there were strict regulations and quality control policies to abide by. Through this resurgence, Taiwanese black tea climbed back into the market and soon other farmers and processors followed with their own concepts of black tea.
Joining Sun Moon Lake producers, the remainder of Taiwan has quickly picked up black tea production as exports increase annually. In the past, the majority of farmers have created black teas, in small quantities, at the request of local customers. Their previous experience allows them to be flexible as they experiment with various cultivars, regions and elevations when processing black tea. This includes utilizing high mountain oolong cultivars such as Jin Xuan or Chin Hsin to create black teas with leaves originating from Alishan, Shan Lin Xi and Li Shan. The smaller leaves give off fruity, floral and special sweet nodes to the tea. Lower elevation black teas can even be experienced with the Si Ji Chun, or Four Seasons Oolong leaves. Popular forms of black teas are also being created as farmers and processors in Taipei county pave the way for new creations such as Honey Black Tea. These teas give off a honey and malt note, utilizing the bug bitten recipe found in Oriental Beauty. Only harvested during the warmer seasons of summer and fall, Honey Black Tea gives off unique tastes as leafhoppers bite into the leaves, playing into the oxidation process to bring about its flavors.
Taiwan exhibits a unique tea culture as farmers and processors were never bound by traditional limitations within tea production. The closest comparison that comes to mind are of California wineries. Due to its unique microclimate and the lack of a longstanding wine tradition, they are open to importing grapes and recreating wines such as Burgundy, Riesling, and others from different regions of Europe. The same applies for Taiwan farms as they are not limited and are more likely to create and experiment with different types of tea. Even if farms are not known for a certain green or black tea, processors can certainly create it with the materials, knowledge, and experience from before. This also applies to black tea as farms from various growing regions in Taiwan now follow the lead of Sun Moon Lake to recreate black tea from their own perspectives and pave the way into Taiwan’s Black Tea renaissance.
We have an excellent example of this black tea renaissance named High Mountain Black Tea.
Jason Chang is the cofounder of Teaful.co, a new online tea shop specializing in a variety of single-source teas. You can find them here.