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The Story Behind Taipei's Hottest Tea

How a farmer turned insect-ravaged tea leaves into a hot commodity.

Kao Chao Chau

Listening to Kao Chao Chau tell it, the origin of mi xiang tea, now grown widely across Taiwan and even in China, sounds like a fairy tale. The oolong tea farmers in Hualien, a mountainous county halfway down the east coast of Taiwan that’s punctuated by river plains and rice paddies, knew they should tend their crops, but when the sun was hot on this part of the island, they’d instead go into town and slurp beef noodle soup. When it was time to harvest, they would notice that small, aphid-like bugs had descended on their tea bushes and nibbled all the leaves. This made them ugly and hard to sell. They lowered their prices and went back to their soup. They also noticed that sometimes the smooth, black tea tasted of honey, but they didn’t think much of it.

 

 

Tea at the Jiaming Tea Garden

Then one day 33 years ago, Kao got tired of getting less money for his nibbled tea and decided, in the words of software engineers half a world away, to make the bug a feature. He started selling his damaged tea as a rarity and now gets 7,500 new Taiwanese dollars, or roughly $300, for 600 grams of the very best leaves. Kao has even built a museum to his tea, Jiaming Tea Garden, and offers 10-cup tastings to compare the flavours of teas that have been nibbled a lot or a little. When you get to the one that’s been nibbled just right, the honey leaps right out of the cup.

Jiaming Tea Garden Mizuho Maizuru Rural Village 65, Hualien County, 886-3-887-1325, jiaming-teagarden.com.tw

Tags

FARMER     TAIPEI     TAIWAN     TEA    

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