Taiwan is a gifted island with natural resources suited for agricultural production. Its unique geography of varying climates, fertile land, and sprawling mountains makes an ideal environment particularly for growing teas.
Every tea region has its own specialty. The cultural influences from China and Japan in addition to its terroir give Taiwan an unique point of view in the teas they produce.
Here are 10 major styles of tea that are the most influential and iconic today, we’ve summarized it for your reference:
Iconic Styles of Taiwanese Tea
- Sanxia BiLuoChun | 三峽碧螺春 (Green)
- Wenshan BaoZhong | 文山包種 (Oolong)
- Muzha & Shimen Tieguanyin or Iron Goddess | 木柵 & 石門鐵觀音 (Oolong)
- High Mountain or Gaoshan - Alishan, Lishan, Shanlinxi | 高山茶 - 阿里山, 梨山, 杉林溪 (Oolong)
- Dong Ding or Frozen Summit | 凍頂 (Oolong)
- Bai Hao, Dong Fang Mei Ren, or Oriental Beauty | 東方美人 (Oolong)
- Sun Moon Lake Hong Yu or Red Jade | 紅玉 (Black)
- Hualian Mixiang Hong Cha | 蜜香紅茶 (Black)
- Taitung Hong Oolong | 紅烏龍 (Oolong)
- GangKou Cha | 港口茶 (Oolong)
NOTE: Tea names are often distinguished by the cultivars they were made from. Here are a few of the major ones: QingXin 青心 or clear heart, SiJiChun 四季春 or Four Season Spring, JinXuan 金萱 or Milk oolong, CuiYu 翠玉 or Jade.
Saxia BiLuoChun | 三峽碧螺春
BiLuoChun has an origin traced back to Dongting mountain region of Lake Tai in Jiangsu of China. Legend praises the tea’s incredible fragrance and was named BiLuoChun by Kangxi emperor of Qing Dynasty.
Bi, referring to this jade like green shades, Luo, referring to its snail like curl when the tea leaves are rolled into a tight swirl, and finally Chun, referring to its Spring like quality and the ideal harvest time for this tea.
Taiwanese BiLuoChun is an unoxidized green tea. It has been made from a small town right outside of Taipei called Sanxia for two centuries. Sanxia has an ideal terrior for green tea production, where the quality is on par with the BiLuoChun from China that it was named after its Chinese counterpart. Better quality requires harvesting younger tea leaves, just the bud and two leaves. BiLuoChun is typically harvested during mid-late March and is mostly made from Qinxin (青心) or Qinxin Ganzai (青心柑仔) cultivars.
Flavor profile: mung beans, tender grass, sugarcane
Baozhong, also referred to as Pouchong, is a light oxidized oolong tea known for its vegetal and floral characteristics. The flowery notes are typically reminiscent of white lily flowers. Traditional Baozhong making techniques do not involve roasting but roasted varieties are available today.
Baozhong Oolong is produced in the northern part of Taiwan and predominantly in the Pinglin District of New Taipei. Baozhong can be referred to as Wenshan Baozhong, since the geographic designation in northern Taiwan was referred to as the Wenshan district during the Japanese occupation.
Typically, the Boazhong is made with either the Qingxin (青心) or Jinxuan (金萱) cultivar. In the early 1900, Baozhong oolong was sold wrapped with a square rice paper, typically stamped with the tea company seals. That’s where it got its name which phonetically translated from its Chinese name “the wrapped kind”
Flavor profile: Lily, light moss, grass
Iron Goddess of Mercy, known as Tie guan yin or Ti Kuan Yin, originated in the Fujian Province of China. In its Chinese tradition, this oolong tea was lightly oxidized and barely roasted almost like a green tea. In its new home of Taiwan, tea makers found that a slow, repeated roast plus hand kneading brings out a better bouquet, therefore stylistically changed the production method to include the roasting process. The aroma of Taiwanese Iron Goddess ranges from ripen fruit and toasted nuttiness in a lighter roast to leather and charcoal tobacco in a dark roast.
The archetypical Iron Goddess is made with the Tieguanyin cultivar, which came from Fujian.
Today, most Iron Goddess in the market are made with Jinxuan or Xingxin cultivar since the Tieguanyin cultivar has less yield and requires more costly labor.
Flavor profile: Toasted barley, Vintage leather / Tobacco, woodchips
High Mountain or Gaoshan Cha - Alishan, Lishan, ShanLinXi | 高山茶 - 阿里山, 梨山, 杉林溪
“High Mountain Tea” is the phonetic translation of “Gao Shan Cha”, which are made from tea plants grown on mountains over 1,000 meters in elevations. Higher elevation means tougher growing condition (drastic temperature change and more UV exposure) and therefore produces stronger, better tea plants. Average temperature is cooler on high elevation mountains, which slows the growth of tea leaves and intensifies the aromatics. Most high mountain teas are made unroasted to accentuate the fresh floral and buttery finish of the teas. There are a few famous mountains known to produce delicious High Mountain Teas, notably Alishan, Lishan, ShanLinXi, DaYuLing.
Majority of this style of tea production uses Xingxin and Jinxuan cultivars.
Flavor profile: Sugar snap peas, white flowers, crisp apple
Dong Ding oolong tea takes its name from Dong Ding Mountain in Lugu Township of central Taiwan. Dong Ding means Frozen Peak, Icy Peak or Frozen Summit. It is one of the traditional ways of oolong tea making: processed medium oxidized and medium roast. Before electricity was prevalent, tea makers would roast the tea with tropical fruit charcoal. The charcoal roasting is less common today where most often roasted with electric ovens, which brings more accuracy and precision to roasting. The shape of the tea leaves is tightly rolled and even in sizes throughout the batch.
Majority of Dong Ding is made with Qingxin cultivar, which originated from Wuyi mountain of Fujian. Stylistically, the most iconic aroma of this oolong is a popcorn like nuttiness and ripen stone fruit.
Flavor profile: Caramel, Brown Sugar, Buckwheat, Evergreen
Oriental Beauty Oolong tea, or Dong Fang Mei Ren, was the most precious tea in 20th century Taiwan. It traveled to the West and was given its name by an English Queen for the beautiful complexity of flavor. It is also known as champagne oolong or Bai Hao oolong. Oriental beauty has a signature aroma of Muscat grape, brought to life by the tiny tea cricket Jacobiasca formosana. When the tea plant is bitten by this insect, its defense mechanism secretes a specific hormone for preservation. As the tea leaves with a high level of the hormone undergo intensive oxidation during tea processing, muscat-like aroma flourishes.
Classic Oriental Beauty is made with very young leaves of the Qingxin da mao cultivar. It’s highly oxidized and unroasted. The iconic style is mainly produced in Hsinchu County, the Northwest part of Taiwan.
Flavor profile: Rose, citrus, muscat grape, honeyed figs
The Red Jade or TRES. No. 18, or HongYu, is the most famous Taiwanese black tea from Sun Moon Lake in Nantou. During the Japanese Occupation, Taiwan was encouraged to produced large quantities of black tea as a way of diversifying Japanese’s tea export offering, adding to their own domestic green tea production. TRES was commissioned in the 1940’s to cross breed a Taiwanese indigenous variety with a Burma Assamica variety to produce high quality cultivar suitable for the Western black tea market. In 1999, five decades of hard work later, TRES released the official cultivar, TRES no. 18, and gave HongYu as its Chinese name, which translated to Red Jade.
Red Jade is known for its signature camphor and cinnamon aroma with a fruity brightness and a lasting finish.
Flavor Profile: Cinnamon Camphor, Quince, Juicy Fruit
MiXiang, or honey scented, black tea was the results of a concerted efforts between the TRES and local tea farmers of Hualien in 1999. Located along the southeast coast of the island, Hualien’s geographical characteristic is a soil rich valley surrounded by mountains. Its warmer climate is more suitable for high oxidized tea production and favored by tiny tea cricket Jacobiasca formosana. When the tea plant is bitten by this insect, its defense mechanism secretes a specific hormone for preservation. As the tea leaves with a high level of the hormone undergo intensive oxidation during tea processing, rosy and honey-like aroma flourishes. Bug bitten tea leaves made into black tea is the best expression of terrior from this region.
The cultivar used for MiXiang black tea is most typically Da-yeh Wulong, or large-leaf Oolong.
Flavor Profile: Amber honey, stewed cherries, rose water
Similar collaborations emerged between the TRES and local tea farmers in TaiTung in 2008 to revive its tea industry particularly in the town of Luye. Utilizing summer and fall harvest, which are less suitable for greener oolong production, they developed methods of making for highly oxidized oolongs that’s juicy and fruit forward. The aroma is a rich ripen stone fruit with lasting finish, great to making cold brew. The harvest requires relatively little intervention and can be made organically with relative ease.
The cultivar typically used are Da-yeh Wulong, Qinxin, and Jinxuan.
Flavor Profile: Stroopwaffle, Toasted chestnuts, Dehydrated corn
GangKou Cha | 港口茶
GangKou Cha, or Seaport Tea, is a small tea producing region located at the southern tip of the Taiwan close to a seaport. This tiny tea region was started two centuries ago by a tea farmer bearing Wuyi tea seeds from Fujian. The terrior of this region is unlike any other micro regions in Taiwan: low elevation, dry air, and salted sea breeze. The tea leaves are thick and rolled tightly. The flavor profile is significantly different from the typical Taiwanese oolong profile: dry grass, woodsy, and gently saline.
Historically this region’s tea is made with Wuyi cultivar, but more recently it’s made with Jinxuan.
Flavor Profile: Dry grass, toasted wood pulp, sweet saline
To learn more about the historic background on Taiwanese tea, read our post on Taiwanese tea history.
Now that you've read through the top 10 iconic teas, it only makes sense to try brewing a few of them at home. Look through our selection on these classic Taiwanese classics.