Taiwan oolongs have a reputation for being among the highest quality teas ever? But how did this happen? Today we tell you more about the history of this fascinating tea variety!

Taiwan under the Qing Dynasty

Today, the small island of Taiwan is known worldwide for its teas. Rolled oolongs from high altitudes have convinced countless tea fans and thus the local tea culture is now thriving. But in the great historical context of Chinese teas, Taiwan is a relative newcomer. How has this island evolved from a provincial nest to a leading country in the global oolong tea industry?

The first colonial power in Taiwan was the Dutch, who promoted Chinese immigration from the mainland for the cultivation of sugar and rice. The Dutch were expelled from Taiwan by the Qing Dynasty in 1662, although the Kangxi Emperor had little interest in iningthecing the island into imperial China. Despite early immigration restrictions, the trade brought tea plants from Wuyi Shan to Taiwan in the early 18th century.

The Dutch on Taiwan

Although sugar and rice still dominated the island’s economy, the global tea market picked up speed. In 1865, shortly after the Second Opium War, when the British built up the Indian tea industry, a trader named John Dodd came to Taiwan to look for interesting products to trade. To his surprise, he discovered a burgeoning tea market for high-quality oolong teas.

The Taiwanese made oolong teas, unique among the green and black teas common in Europe. Dodd immediately recognized the commercial potential of these unique teas. He invested in local tea production, built factories and enabled tea farmers in northern Taiwan to better control the manufacturing process. His new “Formosa Oolong” teas were shipped as far as England and New York. Here they gained great fame and other exporters were led to follow suit. At the end of the 19th century, tea was one of Taiwan’s main export goods.

A tea field for tea growing in Asia
A tea field for tea growing in Taiwan

The Japanese Occupation

The Qing Dynasty left Taiwan to Japan at the end of the Sino-Japanese War in 1895. The Japanese continued to expand tea production in Taiwan by promoting local varieties and importing black teas such as Assam to avoid direct competition with Japanese green teas. In 1903 they founded the Taiwan Research and Extension Station (TRES) for research into varieties and manufacturing processes. This institution still exists today and is diligently developing new varieties, machines or production methods.

The following famous teas have been developed in the TRES:

  • TRES #12, also called Jin Xuan. Known for its creamy & milky character
  • TRES #13 Cui Yu, also called Jade Oolong
  • TRES #18 Also Ruby 18, especially used for black teas.

The Republic of China – Origin of modern Taiwan Oolong

After the end of World War II, Taiwan was awarded to the Republic of China. At the same time, a civil war raged in China between the nationalists, led by President Chiang Kai-Shek, and the Chinese Communist Party, led by Mao Zedong. When the Communists took control of the mainland, Chiang Kai-Shek and his followers retreated to Taiwan and founded the new capital of the Republic of China in Taipei. Embargoes against Communist China encouraged the sale of Taiwanese teas. For decades, Taiwanese tea farmers focused on making traditional Chinese teas to satisfy the global market.

In the late 20th century, however, Taiwan was in competition with China and Japan, which regained their place in the tea trade after World War II. To diversify, the Taiwanese tea industry returned to oolong teas, which gained a large market, especially in the United States. With an established infrastructure, a booming economy and a unique local tea culture, Taiwan has now been able to become a world leader in tea.

Taiwan Oolong Cha
Our delicious Shan Lin XI Oolong

The Tea Culture in Taiwan Today

None of this, of course, would have been possible without Taiwan’s tropical climate and rich volcanic soil. The island itself is like a tea plant paradise, while varied terrain produces a range of local specialties. Gaoshan (“high mountain”) Oolongs are among the most famous on the island today. As here, this excellent tea variety even has its own mountain item dedicated. In addition to the famous Taiwan Oolong, Taiwan also produces enchanting black teas as well as rare green and white teas!

We have searched and found the best varieties from Taiwan Oolong for you! Again and again we are surprised by the variety of these teas. From floral and fruity tastes such as the Four Seasons Oolong or the Shan Lin Xi Oolong, to aromatic earthy tastes like our Dong Ding Oolong to the special, sweet taste of Milky Oolong, everything is represented.

We hope we have given you a glimpse into the history of Taiwanese oolongs! If you’re wondering what’s special about Oolong tea and how to best prepare it, just stop by here!

This post is also available in: Deutsch (German)