My Taiwan experience continued on day 2 after some much needed rest! I was amazed how fast I acclimated to my new time! After a delicious breakfast at the DongWu Hotel where our group was staying, some friends and I headed out to our first Taiwan department store adventure called Carrefour. It isn't like any other department store I have been to. The street level is actually the top floor of the store. On that level is clothing, kitchenware, and cosmetics. It also had a few small restaurants as well. I thought the advertisement for the noodle restaurant was interesting. The large plastic noodles actually go up and down on the chopsticks and into the big red bowl to attract customers!
The next level down is a full fledged grocery store which was amazing. My friends Lynayn, Hoda, and I walked around wide-eyed at all the intriguing foods. I know the locals thought we were crazy as we all began taking pictures of the seafood. It was different than what we were familiar with in North America. My picture isn't the best as I had to rush to take it because they told us we couldn't take anymore photos of the fish. I am not sure why that was, but we obeyed and moved on as there was so much more to look at!
We all bought some snacks for our extended stay in Taiwan. We then wandered down the escalator to the third floor. This escalator was different than any I had been on before. It wasn't made of stairs, but a large moving ramp so that you could accommodate a shopping cart on it if you desired. This level was full of electronics, small appliances, and what became of utmost important to some in our group, LUGGAGE! Several from our group returned later to buy more luggage so that they could take home all their new purchases from Taiwan. I was close to buying luggage, but ended up okay and within my international weight limits with my one large bag and my carry on! We then left to get ready to go to Wistaria Tea House...
As we pulled up in our taxi on the busy Xinsheng South Road in Taipei, we almost missed the tea house. It was very unassuming from the street, but as you can see, once you enter through the gates you feel transformed. There was a beautiful fountain and pond full of fish on the left side, to the back was a quiet place to sit, and to the right was our entrance. I was surprised to see that it was a mixture of Japanese and Taiwanese styles. We were required to take off our shoes and sit on pillows on the floor for our tea at low tables.
As I opened the menu, I couldn't help but notice this lovely saying on the inside. It says, "The Fortuitous Meeting of Strangers Destined to Be Friends." For most of those that are deeply in love with tea, I believe this saying is so true. Tea is a connection to the world and new friends! This rings true with my trip as I traveled with some I knew, some I knew a little, and some I didn't know at all, but all became friends through our tea journey and learning!
I had a wonderful time drinking tea and eating with friends at the tea house. The generic house tea is served throughout the meal. I ordered the chicken cooked with tea which came with many wonderful sides as you can see. You could taste the tea in the chicken as well as it sprinkled on the top. The vegetable mixture up at the top was delicious in a ginger/soy dressing. The salad to the top right was also a favorite!
Lynayn Mielke, East West Tea Emporium, Hoda Paripoush, Sloane Tea Company, and Newman Johnston, Teas Etc
After we finished our meal, we ordered tea from their menu. We selected three teas that were served in the gongfu style. Two of our teas were oolongs-one the house special and the other was a 30 year-aged one! We also ordered a 1960's puerh as well. After our waitress served our initial infusion of our first tea, we each took a turn steeping additional infusions. We infused each tea at least three times. The 30 year-aged oolong and the puerh were delicious.
Gongfu is a wonderful way to serve tea. The teapot they served the tea in was a yixing style one. With each new tea that we ordered, they brought out a new teapot to use. If you would like to read more about the gongfu way of making tea or yixing teapots, I wrote about it in the China chapter in my book, The World in Your Teacup. Oh how I wish you could have smelled the teas as they infused. The were intoxicating. We enjoyed a full afternoon of eating, talking, laughing, and drinking tea. Isn't that what going to a tea house is all about?
We returned to our hotel, to prepared for our registration and opening ceremony for the 2010 Taiwan Oolong Study Tour. Our group received our welcome bags which were full of goodies such as our itinerary, cupping sets, and chopsticks (We were asked to use our chopsticks for our entire trip-I proceeded to lose them immediatly on the first night. Thank goodness they were found as I didn't want to be the problem group member.)
We then proceeded to walk over to the offices of the Taiwan Tea Manufacturers' Association. They were the sponsors of our trip. We all introduced ourselves and made a brief statement as to why we decided to come on the trip. We then studied the six Camellia Sinensis cultivars that we would be seeing over the next week. I am not sure if I could identify them in a blind test, but I did get to be quite familiar with several. We then had a lovely dinner at a Japanese restaurant as we all became more aquainted with each other. We all walked back to our hotel excited about discovering the tea fields of Taiwan. A BIG thank you goes out to Josephine Pan and Thomas Shu who were our lead guides/hosts for the entire trip!
In my next few blogs, I will take you to the tea fields of Taiwan! I hope you can join me.
Lisa Boalt Richardson is the author of the award-winning Tea with a Twist, Entertaining and Cooking with Tea and The World in Your Teacup: Celebrating Tea Traditions Near and Far. She is now working on her third tea book due out by Spring 2014 with Chronicle Books. She travels the country speaking at conferences and special events focusing on her culinary arts and specialty tea expertise. As one of the first 15 in the world to graduate from the Specialty Tea Institute in 2008, Lisa holds the title of “Certified Tea Specialist”. She resides in Atlanta with her husband and two children.