While studying abroad in Taiwan over this past summer, our teachers, who were students at the National Taiwan University (NTU or 台大), offered to take us on a few weekend trips to famous and culturally significant places in Northern Taiwan. On one of these weekends they took a small group of us to Maokong (貓空) to visit a “tea master” and drink some of Taiwan’s most famous tea. The trip there wasn’t your typical school bus field trip; we all rendezvoused at the Taipei Zoo, then proceeded into Sky Gondola building, where we boarded the zoo’s “Maokong Gondolas” (which, I think in the U.S, we call ski lifts), which propel your “gondola” along a cable to different parts of the zoo and to the final destination, Maokong.
After landing in Maokong, we walked about a mile (and maybe got a little lost), until the teachers pointed out a large (fake) silver rock on the side of the road with the “Wutie” in Chinese spray painted onto it. Past the rock and down a small path through a garden, we found a precariously perched cottage over looking a large plot of land dotted with bushes of tea. The man inside (our “tea master”) greeted us warmly. His small farm is family owned an operated, and produces a relatively small amount of tea every harvest, but he wanted us to be able to pick our own tea, roast it, and brew it for ourselves with his guidance.
Baskets in hand, he explained which tea leaves to pick, which to avoid, and why. It depended on the look of the leaf, not too young, but not too old, and the feel of the leaf (some had a glossiness to them you could feel if you rubbed them with your fingers). Picking the leaves correctly, and quickly, was something all of us struggled with. After some time, we gathered our harvest and tea master showed us how to roast the tea and periodically “squeeze” the leaves with our hands throughout the roasting. He even used a large square of cloth to roll the leaves and squeeze them tighter, then left the ball to rest, before roasting them further.
Our tea, in the end, was pretty good, despite a hastened roasting process and our amateur tea-picking technique. The real treasure of this trip, however, was the Wutie Alishan Oolong. Served in much tinier tea cups, and served after a long, complicated, brewing process which involved several cups and more than one tea kettle, this complex tea was well worth the wait. Alishan high mountain tea is very expensive, and you can taste why. My own interpretation was that this oolong had almost a hint of a coffee taste to it, and to this day was the best tea I have ever had the pleasure of drinking.
A truly memorable experience I will never forget in my travels, hopefully, someday, we can take all of out Boba Guys to Maokong to try their world famous tea at it’s source.