The Tea in the shadow of the Black Dragon

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 Today, Taiwan Tea Crafts proposes a short historical chronology to explain the presence, and rebirth, of Black Tea in Taiwan. There’s nothing like a good story to make us further appreciate the tea we are sipping, especially if you are drinking a superb black tea from Taiwan!

It may come as a surprise to many tea enthusiasts that only consider Taiwan as a source of magnificent oolongs, but Taiwan has also a long history of producing black teas that date back to the early 1920’s. Then under Japanese rule, Taiwan was chosen as the territory to launch an economic offensive to compete against the rule, if not the monopoly, of the British Empire over black tea. Why such a venture you may ask? We are not sure to be quite frank (in fact, we will research this further and get back to you on it). Nevertheless, Yuchi township, situated on the shores of the scenic Sun Moon Lake of central Taiwan, was chosen for it’s perfect climate and soil for the growing of Assamica tea bushes and build a successful black tea industry.


On the positive side of foreign rule


Needless to say, black tea was not favoured by the local tea drinkers then, nor was there an expertise in place to develop such a sector. Nonetheless, Assamica bushes were imported and planted, modern factories were built based on the same layout as Britain’s colonial factories in India and Ceylon, properly fitted with British machinery, and by the 1920‘s a striving industry was developed. Never could they compete in yield, but, surprisingly enough, the quality of these Taiwanese black teas attracted such attention that it sold very well in New York and London. At the height of this trend, just before the Second World War, black tea plantations occupied 3000 hectares of land, compared to a little less than 100 today, and produced more than 5800 metric tons of tea representing 93% of all tea exports from Taiwan.

Despite the demise of the Japanese at the conclusion of WW II, the black tea sector maintained its importance despite the growing popularity of oolong tea amongst the local tea drinkers. The black tea sector remained an export only commodity until it’s sharp decline in the mid 1980‘s. By that time, Taiwan’s economy had been growing feverishly for over two decades, making labor more expensive and labor-intensive black tea production much less profitable. Consequently, many growers switched to more profitable crops such as betel nut palms and strains of tea best suited for making oolong tea. In the 1990‘s, black tea production had virtually disappeared as Taiwan became more of an importer of black tea than an exporter by bringing in 20 times the quantity it produced.

If Darjeeling produces India’s finest black tea, then Yuchi Black Tea is Taiwan’s Darjeeling

Su Shui-ting, chairman of Seshui Community Development Society

 Surprisingly enough, today, it is quite the opposite that we can witness while driving through the Fish Pond valley (Yuchi means fish pond). Yuchi Township is undergoing a true revival fueled by the renewed interest in tea cultivation and in the production of black tea. What prompted this rebirth of Taiwanese Black tea you may ask? A dramatic event, of course!


On the positive side of natural disasters


Some of you may recall the devastating earthquake of 1999 which killed 2415 people and left a good part of the island in shambles. The epicentre of this 7.7 Mw quake was situated only a few kilometres away of Yuchi Township, in JiJi (which also happens to be only a few kilometres away from our premises). The township’s economy was very badly hit from the devastation caused by landslides in the surrounding hills where betel nut tree plantations had replaced the assam tea plantations. These tall palm-type trees simply did not have the root system to structure and retain the soil. It was determined, after the fact, that the widespread replacement of tea plantations by betel nut trees greatly worsened the devastation.


A short visit of the new black tea plantations of Yuchi Township (click to animate slideshow)

On the positive role of elders in a community


In the years following the disaster, while communities were gathering in town hall meetings to ponder on how to rebuild the local economic fabric, some elders were reminiscing about the good old days when Assam plantations covered the slopes of the local mountains. Some spotted the few remaining Assam trees on the hills, reminding them of the tea plantation they once had. These post-earthquake reconstruction committees could not ignore how the township’s geographical conditions were very suitable for growing tea trees.

The geographic conditions of our community give us sufficient sunshine and rainfall, and the slightly acidic soil in our community is favorable for the tea plantation. That is the very reason that the Japanese planted tea tress in this area some 80 or 90 years ago

Su Shui-ting, chairman of Seshui Community Development Society

 Government instances that were also involved in the rebuilding process could not ignore these inherent positive conditions and past successes. And this is where the Tea Research and Extension Station steps into the picture.


On the positive role of government


The Tea Research and Extension Station, or TRES for short, is the government body responsible for the development and improvement of the national tea industry. One of its many mandates is to elaborate and supervise the development of new tea strands. During these same years, TRES has just completed the development of a new stand that was in the works since 1951. This hybrid of a Burmese large-leaf tea and Taiwan’s indigenous wild mountain tea was specifically developed for making black tea. It was said to possess a unique and wonderful aroma, with a hint of mint and cinnamon.

Villagers immediately saw in this new strand the potential to build a new value-added black tea industry. To strengthen the foundation of this higher value tea it was decided that the new plantations be managed under organic practices, that only organic fertilizers would be used and to handpick only the choicest tea leaves. They also decided to let the harvested leaves wither and ferment naturally. Thus was born what is now known as Red Jade or Ruby Black Tea made from the now famous TRES No. 18 tea strand.

During the colonial period our black tea was sent to Japanese Imperial Palace to serve the Imperial House. Recently we received an order from the Imperial Palace once again – to be used as gifts for their guests

Su Shui-ting, chairman of Seshui Community Development Society

 Today, other areas just like Yuchi Township are developing a black tea sector, like the Ruisui Township of Hualien County, but none has garnered the same international attention yet. In fact, most oolong tea growers are now offering black tea made from their oolong specific varietals and a lot of them are worthy of our attention. But no other area of Taiwan has made Black Tea an exclusive speciality like Yuchi Township. So Much so that the area is no only relying on Red Jade tea to distinguish themselves. Further R&D work in collaboration with the Yuchi local branch of TRES have garnered interesting results in new breeds being introduced very recently, like the TRES No. 21 Hong Yun strand that we are proud to feature and offer.

Taiwan Tea Crafts is proud to feature and highlight the work of the Yuchi tea growers and producers and all of its community that has turned challenging events into a distinctively dynamic and successful tea venture by proposing 5 of the area’s distinctive teas for your enjoyment. Do give them a try. You will not be disappointed.


TaiwanTea Crafts’ selection from Yuchi County is as follows:

Sun Moon Lake Assam Black Tea, Lot 147

Premium Sun Moon Lake Assam Black Tea, Lot 140

Red Jade Black Tea, Lot 152

Yuchi Hong Yun Black Tea, Lot 138

Yuchi Wild Mountain Black Tea, Lot 139






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