Tuesday, March 14, 2017

台北 | 品茶:: Tea appreciation

As a frequent tea drinker, AB's mum was curious about the Chinese tea which Taiwan is famous for. For this visit, she was keen to check out some of tea shops for tasting and to purchase some back as gifts as well as her own consumption.

Thanks to recommendations from the trusty galfriend who was well acquainted with the scene, we navigated to the quietly charming CANS tea and books house (罐子茶书馆). Located in the corner of a smaller street in the Da'an district (大安區), also renowned for the location of the original Din Tai Fung restaurant and a multitude of tea shops, it was one of the most discreet spaces in the area, tucked away from the more bustling streets. We felt like we had chanced upon a well kept secret.

This tea and book store/gallery is one of three outlets, located in Beijing, Shanghai and Taipei. Other than the space on level 1 which houses the tea shop that offers free tea tasting sessions, the basement was a gallery space, and the higher levels included a book store that specialises in rare, out of print books (quite a large number commissioned by the National Palace Museum). Another floor was dedicated to display of tea utensils and equipment, while the highest floor on level 7 held a large expansive area for tea workshops. The furniture used were mostly made of wood, with soft indoor lighting as well as diffused daylight from the surroundings, which gave this space a tranquil, comforting ambience.

We didn't have time to explore the other levels but were fortunate enough to get to sit in on a tea tasting session. The shop space was quite small and could only host four people comfortable along the bar for tea tasting, and a group was just departing when we arrived. Over the course of some 1.5 hours, we were first given a quick introduction of the various teas that Taiwan is famous for - namely the Oolong (乌龙) and Mountain teas (山茶), as well as some quick facts about the different varieties of tea, their oxidation levels as well as taste profiles. I had forgotten until now that green tea, being the least processed of the teas, actually contains more caffeine than Oolong or Tie Guan Yin (铁观音), which have been roasted and smoked for the longest.

We tasted four teas in total, two mountain teas and two Oolong. Chinese tea is quite a different animal from the western teas, especially Oolong, often in that unique smoky dryness that evolves into a sweet aftertaste. Tea drinking, like coffee, wine and whisky, is a very personal experience. I'd imagine that no two persons will have the exact same sentiments towards the same tea that they taste, although they might or might not share the same likes or dislikes towards the general taste profile. I like my tea much like I like my beer and whisky, either light and citrusy/floral, or deep, robust and complex. Anything in between, I just struggle to form an opinion about it, hurhur. AB's mum like the delicate florals which are smooth and rounded, while AB's dad likes the stronger stuff, else he thinks it's a waste of time, hahaha. And thus, it was with such feedback that they made some conservative orders of two of the tea they tasted. I hope they will savour them and over time, appreciate even more of these products that are so different from what they usually go to.

So there it was, a tranquil comforting afternoon immersed in the world of tea. Definitely a unique experience of Taiwan I would probably not have placed high on my travel itinerary, but one which I enjoyed immensely in the end.

No comments: