I recently wrote about tea and the abundance of it in Taiwan. This weekend we expanded our horizons with a friend from Seattle who loves and knows tea. Brett of Black Dragon Tea Bar invited us to spend the day in Yingge with him on a search for really great tea. Before Saturday I thought I knew how to make tea. Boil water, steep, drink. Optional: add milk and/or sugar (I always drank black english tea, never green, hence the milk and sugar). In our house growing up we had a timer that 90% of the time was used to ensure tea was steeped for 5 minutes, because you can't just drop the tea in and start drinking right away.
In Yingge I learned that it can be so much more than that. Tea is poured into cups to rinse and warm them, then it is poured out. Tea leaves are steeped in a pot (the host decides how long), poured into another pot then served in cups to drink. In addition to drinking the tea you smell the leaves and the cups - Brett can pick up all sorts of differences and nuances, I cannot until it's pointed out. Tea overflows at every transfer between teapots and cups but the tray it is made on is meant to handle this and drains the excess. Because the teapots and cups are small there is a constant cycle of water and tea being boiled, steeped, poured by the host to keep everyone's cup full. I felt out of my league at our first tea-tasting stop and glad to have a pro sitting next to me. We sat with three different people for these tea tastings while in Yingge and all of them were helpful and friendly.
Steeping tea, ready to be spooned into the cup to the right and will then be served into our individual tea cups
Tea from two different elevations in the high mountains of Taiwan
Tea number 1
On to tea number 3
At another shop tasting 3 more types of tea
Yingge is a quaint little town well known for their ceramics; pottery making started here in 1804 with one man and has grown to be the number one producer of ceramics in Taiwan with over 800 pottery-based businesses in the area. Walking down the streets you see everything from useful day-to-day items such as teapots, bowls and plates to beautiful pieces of art. There is a museum in town that I have read is worthwhile, but with all our tea tasting and shopping "Old Street" we ran out of time for the museum. It was a fun day; Jeremiah and I have a new appreciation for Taiwan's hot tea and will sit more confidently next time we are served tea.