Recently, I was asked, “Why Taiwan and not China for tea?”. My focus is Taiwan tea. That doesn’t mean I don’t sell tea from China or that I am not interested in tea from China. There would be no Taiwan tea if it were not for China. It is important to recognize that all tea (Camellia sinensis) originally came from China.
“The Book of Tea”, by Okakura Kakuzo starts, “Tea began as medicine and grew into a beverage. In China, in the eighth century, it entered the realm of poetry as one of the polite amusements.” In my mind, there is no better way to start a book about tea. Right in the beginning, the author acknowledges China’s very early involvement in tea and tea culture.
It’s not true that tea from Taiwan is better than tea from China. Comparisons like this are ridiculous and in no way help us better understand tea. One of the things that I am drawn to when I seek out tea is tea quality. Tea quality is difficult to understand and it is even more difficult to teach. When people ask me, “What is your favorite kind of tea?” My honest answer is that my favorite tea is good tea. The characteristics that are present in a high quality tea transcend tea type. For better or worse, I love tea. What I mean by this statement is that I can often find redeeming qualities in a tea that might not be that great. I still love it because there are some elements of quality in that tea.
Another one of my favorite quotes: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” When choosing which tea to buy, I often compare several teas side by side. But my favorite way to enjoy a tea is to spend time sipping it, on its own. I like to brew it when the mood strikes, or when the feeling of that tea comes to me. There doesn’t need to be a reason, other than the mood is right. This is the experience of enjoying tea in the moment.
I lived in Taiwan as a student for about one year in the late 90’s and then for five years from 2000 to 2005. It was at this time that I was exposed to tea. I’d unsuccessfully tried to like tea prior to that. I had read about tea and I had wanted to like tea. Unfortunately, with what was available at that time (mid 90’s) there wasn’t access to high quality tea. It was in Taiwan that I was exposed to high quality tea. Tea that smells good, tea that tastes good. Tea that makes you feel good through and through. Tea that seemed to have the power to lead me on a magical journey of the senses. Tea that captivated mind, body, and soul. I mean, that’s not too much to ask for of a tea, is it?
Since moving back to the states in 2005 and after starting J-TEA, I returned to Taiwan, year after year, sometimes several times a year, staying for close to a month per visit. The focus of these trips was tea education and tea sourcing. I continued to develop meaningful relationships with tea farmers, tea crafts people, and tea culture enthusiasts. Each time I returned to Taiwan, my love for Taiwanese tea grew. I already loved Taiwan tea, and after learning, discovering, and being exposed to more of it, I loved it even more. I also had a great appreciation for the people that helped me along the way. I still hope to do what I can to support them. They’ve become trusted sources whom I rely on.
Hopefully this account gives some perspective on why I focus on tea from Taiwan, but also seek out high quality tea from other regions, such as China, India, Sri Lanka, Japan, and more. Taiwan is where I was kissed by the dragon for the very first time. And so it is, with regard to tea, Taiwan caught my heart.