Many visitors to Taiwan journey to the Southeastern reaches of Taipei to visit the Taipei Zoo. There had been about a 30 year stretch between my previous visit to the zoo as a child and when I brought my own daughters there two years ago. The zoo was much as I had remembered it, but there was something new and exciting: the Maokong Gondola, built several years ago to provide a scenic view of the Maokong valley and transportation to Maokong village, known for producing the excellent Tieguanyin. Despite the oppressive heat on our last visit there, my girls and I chose a ride in the gondola over a visit to the zoo (we were pressed for time). It didn’t hurt that the current theme of the gondola is everyone’s favorite icon, Hello Kitty:
A little rain made the view even more breathtaking. Blankets and wisps of mist gave the valley a mystical quality. The rain made the ride cooler and much more pleasant.
This time, we took time to explore the village on the other side and experience the peace of this tea-growing region. Directly after the gondola stop, there is a food court selling sausage, custard filled waffles (like Japanese taiyaki) and peanut ice cream. Further up the road are several shops selling locally produced tea, tea shops, and a temple.
After a stroll, we stopped to spend a while in a local tea shop, to have tea brewed the old fashioned way. This is known as “old man’s tea” or laoren cha, supposedly because you have to have lots of leisure time to properly enjoy it. It’s definitely worth the time.
Upon being seated, your table is presented a Chinese tea set, which includes a small clay teapot, small teacups and a pitcher into which you strain the brewed tea, so it doesn’t brew a second longer than ideal.
There is also a small gas burner which quickly brings a large kettle of water to a rapid boil.
Now you’re ready to brew your tea. Our server gave us these strict instructions for brewing:
1. First, pool freshly boiled water into the teapot and cups to warm them, then pour out the water.
2. Fill the pot to 1/3 with tea leaves.
3. Pour boiling water into the teapot and count to 30 seconds.
4. Immediately strain the brewed tea and serve to your guests.
5. You may repeat the process with the same tea leaves up to 8 times.
The tea was fragrant, floral and divine. We enjoyed with traditional Taiwanese tea-drinking (and also beer-drinking) snacks of beef jerky scented with chile, Sichuan pepper corn and soy; fried broad beans; and thick Taiwanese toast, one with garlic butter and one with condensed milk. We actively suppressed our Type A tendencies to sit back and enjoy 8 pots of tea. It was relaxing and peaceful, despite the surprising loud chorus of what my father told me were cicadas in the surrounding forest (glad I did not see them!)
And while we remembered (and I took notes) that we were not to exceed the 8th brewing limit, we were curious. We poured a 9th fill of boiling water, and… it was watery. Next time, we’ll stick to the directions.
For another post on Maokong gondola on a more typically steamy summer day and a recipe for classic Taiwanese papaya milk, visit this post my our last Taiwan homecoming 2 years ago.
Thank you for coming by! I hope you enjoyed this post and a glimpse into beautiful Taiwan. Please leave a comment and/or share this post with your friends. Come back next week for another taste of Taiwan.