Drink up! Tea culture of Luye Township
By Cheryl Robbins
Taiwan has a history of more than 150 years of tea cultivation, and has developed a reputation for producing high quality teas. As most of this island is covered in undulating hills and towering mountains, there are many areas well suited to the growing of tea. The East Rift Valley, nestled between two major mountain ranges, is blessed with fertile soil and crystal clear mountain spring water. Many crops grow well here, including tea. In and around Luye Township of Taitung County, five varieties of tea can be found: Jinxuan, also known as Milk Oolong; Foshou; Oolong; Red Oolong and Honey-flavored Black Tea. Red Oolong is a new variety of Oolong developed in this township.
As you travel through Luye, you are sure to see numerous tea plantations. Your interest piqued, how can you learn more about this age-old beverage and its culture? There are several options. One is to visit a shop selling locally produced teas. Shop owners are more than willing to allow visitors to taste their teas, as a way to inspire them to buy some. They use small teapots and tea cups, common in the brewing and serving of tea in Taiwan. Thus, this is also a good way to gain some insight into the Taiwanese "tea ceremony".
The Lin Wang Tea Factory (Tel: 089-550698; 089-550699) is a five-star tea processing plant. Here, visitors can tour the facilities and learn how tea is harvested and processed. A visit to a plantation can also be arranged. Moreover, this factory offers visitors the opportunity to make "fruit tea". The pulp from a citrus fruit, such as lemon or pomelo, is removed and the remaining peel is filled with tea leaves and then dried and roasted. This infuses the leaves with a unique citrusy aroma and flavor.
Just across from the Luye Plateau paragliding launch area and observation platform is a two-story brick building. This is part of the Luye Plateau Tourist Tea Plantation visitor center (Tel: 0976-773355). On the second floor is a classroom for holding a variety of DIY activities. There is one based on the five varieties of tea grown in and around Luye, mentioned above. It is a series of guessing games, which can take up to two hours (NT$250 per person). Before each round, a certain characteristic is introduced, such as color, aroma and taste. Based on this information, participants guess which type of tea has been poured into which cup. This is accompanied by a Chinese calligraphy demonstration, which can be best described as performance art. A calligraphy master beautifully writes the characters for each variety of tea introduced, not only right side up, but also upside down. Reservations are required at least one day in advance to participate in these guessing games. You can also inquire about visiting the tea plantation itself, as well as half-day, one-day and two-day tour packages of the Luye Plateau.
After spending some time learning about tea, you may have worked up an appetite. At Aijiaoyi Restaurant (Tel: 089-550678), try some specialty dishes prepared with tea or tea oil. Examples include High Fiber Green Tea Fried Noodles, Fish Steamed in Jasmine Tea, Wild Greens Fried in Tea Oil, Chicken Soup With Peeled Chili Peppers and Tea Oil, Prawns in Lemon Black Tea, and Fried Tofu with Green Tea. For dessert, tea jellies are served in a variety of tea flavors. All of this can be washed down with cold brewed tea, which is very refreshing on a warm Taitung day. There are set menus available for two persons (NT$500), three persons (NT$800), four persons (NT$1000), five to six persons (NT$1,500) and 10 persons (NT$2,500-NT$4000). Reservations are highly recommended. This restaurant also sells locally produced teas. A staff member is on hand to prepare sample brews. In its gift shop are tea jellies and cold brewed teas, as well as other local agricultural products. Next to the restaurant is an observation platform for viewing the surrounding slopes and tea plantations.