The beauty of making tea in Taiwan

As tea enchants the world beyond the city coffee parlours and more tea shops pop out, increasingly also the thirst for tea knowledge deepens and many adventurers travel to experience how it is made. After seeing how the emperor of the Chinese green teas, the long jing is crafted, I departed for Taiwan to touch, roll and dry my own black tea. As I am sipping my malty brew of the Assam tea strain that I made with my own hands at Hugosum, I appreciate all hand-rolled teas much more. Making tea by hand rolling requires lots of effort as my arms are getting sore just from the pure memory of my first tactile tea making. Hugosum dwells in the scenic Sun Moon Lake district in central Taiwan, where Chiang Kai-shek savoured pondering about his dissident political strategy towards the communist China.
Sun Moon Lake Taiwan

Taiwan’s rich tea heritage: from wild exotic teas to floral scented

Look above at the mysterious subtropical charm of central Taiwan. Here, the mists, altitude, and high humidity, all create the perfect conditions for high quality tea. Although Taiwan is most known for its oolong tea, the incredible tea making skills of its locals facilitate for a superb black tea to be made there. Around the Sun Moon Lake, the country’s most celebrated black tea is made from the Assam cultivar, in 1925 smuggled into the country from India by the Japanese during the island’s occupation. “The trial planting was so successful that Assam became the signature tea of the lake area, with a deep red colour and a pure, full flavour”, writes Hugosum, but once the Japanese left the country the local tea production and export plummeted. In spite of the dire profits after its initial glory faded, the founder of Hugosum, Shi Chaoxing persisted and has been making tea continuously for over 60 years. Now a second generation family business, the focus shifted on education. Now there are seven diverse classes at Hugosum related to tea, its making and appreciation.
His tea shows that tea like wine shows subtly different character in a different terroir. While in India, the powerful dark brew is more spicy and slightly floral with its characteristic malty undertones and orange peel scent, at Sun Moon Lake, it is bolder, sharper, while still guards its orange fragrance, which whispers its use in the mosts popular tea blend ever made, the Earl Grey. In this black tea, orange and bergamot oil scent the leaves into an irresistible cologne. My favourite is made by the East India Company in London as the brand uses the highest quality ingredients.
Taiwan is lush with wild tea tree bushes, some yielding unmatchable complex flavours. Although most known for its oolongs, or semi-fermented teas, green, white and black teas are also produced. The last trio is scattered more as curiosities at very good tea shops. Currently I am relishing the floral abundance of San Xia Chin Shin Gan Zai Shou Mei (to simplify meaning the “eyebrows of longevity”) white tea from Tea Mountain in Prague, while an excellent Taiwanese black tea is offered by Postcard Teas in London. Still, osmanthus flowers scented oolong and white tip Oriental Beauty are the most popular teas exported from Taiwan. Processed with a very low fermentation, they are very close to green tea, and their sweet floral fragrance is easily likeable when compared to any bitter black tea. Although, the tanginess needn’t be so in the black tea, as the superbly smooth wild cultivar that I annually buy at my local store Le Teashop in Monaco proves. Enchanted by its elegant bouquet with a soft mouthfeel and at least three, but up to six infusions render this tea as my favourite black beauty out there. Taiwan promises an abundance of wildness, so I set out to feel it and see with my own restless eyes.
Tea seed Tea seed
Wild tea Wild tea

Wild tea bushes and tea plantations in steep mountain ranges of Taiwan

Before we rolled up our sleeves for tea making we hiked uphill to the tea plantation just next to Hugosum. Here, tall palm trees mingled with tall bushy tea trees. Seeing the wild, untrimmed tea plant strikes most of these who thought of tea being some little shrub. Their lush, verdant leafy heads looked rather authoritative in the jungle of greenery of the steep mountains around Sun Moon Lake. These were the direct opposites to the French polished perfectness of the tea plantations in Japan. You can plant tea either from the seed (sexually) or from the cutting (asexually), both giving you a different result. The later is identical to the original tea plant, while the seed is an entirely new plant. Our tea guide explained that not all seeds are identical as some pouches contain two while others three seeds (as shown on the image above). Like with any plant, tea proves that nature does not favour sameness.
Red and black tea is basically the same thing, but the Chinese consider the colour of the tea liquor as red tea and Westerners look at the colour of the fermented tea leafs so call it black.

Making black tea

As we returned back to the workshop, we were initiated into the process of making high quality black tea:
It was so much fun and hard labour despite having the first part done by others.

  • Harvesting of the the buds (green tea, top quality black and pu-erh) and top tips of the tea plant (most oolongs) usually happens in the spring when the freshest leafs bloom. Summer and fall harvests are common for oolong and black tea though.
  • Withering of tea leafs is a partial dehydration on the air so fermentation of the leaves spontaneously commences. Over a tightly weaved straw basket we gently rolled the green leafs from side to side.
  • Fermentation by air happens spontaneously so oxidation of the tea leafs turns them darker.
  • Fixation by high temperature stops fermentation and prevents further alteration of the tea.
  • By rolling the leafs’ cells rupture and release nutrients, in the case of black tea the rolling is more intense.
  • Drying in a fan oven to remove any excess moisture so the leaves do not form mould and the flavour is stabilised. Our black tea was done now. After this step floral scents can be applied (jasmine tea, osmanthus oolong).

Finally, the optional roasting by fire which is popular with some oolongs such as the Rock Tea or over coal for a charred intense aroma. Roasted tea is also known as ripened tea.
The personality of each tea is decided by this process as much as the quality of the raw tea leaf and the correct brewing before consumption. The local black tea has a typical malty, full-bodied and intense woody tanginess of Assam. It should be brewed at 90°C (195°F) for 3 min maximum, otherwise it turns very bitter too fast. Then, have it with full-fat milk or liquid cream.
Hugosum family black tea factory in Taiwan
At Hugosum they make there styles of top quality hand-picked “one heart, two leaves”  black tea:
Ruby, Emerald” and Red Jade black tea.
Hugo in the local language means both “good fruit” and “Japanese delight”. Shi has recently passed his tea making skills to his daughter Shi Zhuhua whom he proudly calls “Princess Assam”.
The family has opened a small tea museum in 2015 , where visitors can learn, watch and even make their own black tea “to make a contribution to the cultural heritage in the land”. At Hugosum the tea classes and tastings are organised daily upon reservation.
Make an appointment through this online form.
 No.5, Xiangcha Ln., Xincheng Village, Yuchi Town, Nantou County
+ 886 49 2897238

RAW Taipei: Taiwanese bistronomy and Michelin chef

Trendy, affordable, young and creative. RAW, sets a high ladder for the rest of Taiwan’s restaurants. Using mostly local Taiwanese ingredients, uplifted by some imported treasures such as uni from Japan, French nouveau cuisine cooking techniques and concepts of the Parisian bistronomy, the one year baby is rooting its steps firmly on the Taipei dining scene.
Vegetarian gourmet diningTasting menu at RAW Taipei
Born as a contemporary dining project supported by the Singapore-based, Taipei-born chef Andrew Chiang RAW attracts diners of all ages with slightly adventurous taste preferences. Like in a design studio, the “Creative team” is led by a trio of culinary wizards. The originator of the flavours and ideas Zor Tan, overseen by the experienced eye of André Chiang, and brought to life through produce sourcing Alain Huang who also heads the kitchen. They have been very busy the past year. I’ve been reaching the chef Alain for two months now, but my questions were too much to write about, and our time difference was not in favour for a phone interview, so I gave up. To snack off the reservation list is tough, but we were lucky booking well ahead of our trip there in December.
Bread at RAW in TaipeiRAW menu

RAW menu to start with

Falling into the set menu only crowd, the servings are small, the dishes light without any extreme molecular transformations happening in front of you, so it easily pleases. RAW is a rebel to Mr Chiang’s highly sophisticated and more intimate dining experience at his calm white restaurant “Andre” in Singapore (which I reviewed here on LMB). You won’t find your cutlery wrapped in a perfectly ironed and starched white cloth. Instead, pull a drawer on your right-hand side and you get anything you need, no treasures but the menu, cutlery and napkins are included.
The menu is raw, served in a grid of ingredients. No poetry, fussy words, just ingredient names hinting at what will be served. A play of words, that can engage the entire table, since some menus have different item filled in the box, while others are left blank. Find the missing ingredient in your partner’s printout. Fun!
You will be customarily asked about allergies and food dislikes or restrictions. Do not worry, you won’t be left to the mercy of the vicious chefs serving foie gras if you are strongly against it, even if just for ethical reasons.
RAW restaurant in Taipeitasting menu at RAW
In general, changing with the slightly variable Taiwanese seasons and the whims of the local market, the menu is always a tasting of eight courses. Before any serious creation arrived, we got an amouse bouche (a small pre-appetizer or teaser as I call it) of grapes and fresh mint leafs. It’s more complex than the wording sounds as the grapes are frozen, so like a sorbet they clean your palate before the first course or before you stuff yourself with the crazy addictive, yet optional (extra NT$150), sourdough. A board with inverted tacos sprinkled with edible flowers and herbs came as another warm up for our eight-course match.
The bread is a chewable warm treasure to be indulged in generously. We were warned by our well-on-top-of-things server not to overindulge too much so the upcoming eight courses will not get wasted. Our French bellies voraciously devoured the entire bread basket served with charred buckwheat over whipped butter, sorry it was too good. The smell of warm bread lured our fingers inside the basket until it was totally empty. Unlike the regular Asian customers at RAW we live in France (but are not from there, but well adapted) and used to eating lots of bread so this was not a problem for our digestive systems.
We tested the chefs’ skills asking for one regular, no restrictions or allergies, and one vegetarian tasting menu. Already the first course called for a variation challenging the chefs. For one an aberration of a Japanese flavored soda drink, Ramune, together with the Indian masala spices on the crispy chicken skin sprinkled with diced toasted cauliflower and smothered by liver pate was a great start. In the meat-free, cross the chicken and liver, variation, a cauliflower was served with toasted cauliflower shavings and seasoning. Not very creative, but a perfect crunchy tapa with our introductory glass of crisp white wine. The list by the glass is intriguing, rather off the piste, so go for an adventure or get one of the jazzy coktails (alcohol-free also available).
tasting menu at RAW in Taipeitasting menu at RAW in Taipei

Bistronomy, bare style and casual mood

Wood, clay and neutral natural tones smooth for the eyes accompany you on the culinary journey. The plates are simple and mostly looking the same, no gold and elaborate design patterns. The raw and zesty kampachi sashimi arrived, smack, it was superb, but I was salivating over the idea of the next course. My weak spot, the sanctified uni or sea urchin was served in the greenery of Kenya Bean, Split Pea, Leek and Asparagus. As a sauce down under was another naughty treat, a Peanut Butter. Heaven I reached you! The creamy contents of the same named sea creature with sharp needles, when served at its best leaves your eyes rolled up for minutes!
The hairy thin Cappellini pasta with sakura ebi (tiny prawn) and the umami-rich C.C.C. broth (mushrooms) as well as the Cod with burnt cabbage in soubise, criss-cross the seasonal variations. The pasta could have been cooked by a three Michelin Italian chef in Tokyo. A blend of Italian and Japanese flavors, the perfectly al-dente cooked noodly pasta left us craving for more. The cod flesh was tender yet rich, slightly crispy on top and ideal fit with the soubise, a creamy white onion Béchamel sauce. The burnt (just right) cabbage added richness to the fish.
In the Mushroom, Mushroom, Mushroom mystery are Button, Shiitake, Shimeiji and Oyster mushrooms. These forest specimens fit perfectly into the fluid wood carved interior, designed by Singapore-based Weijenberg. As the light accentuates the handcrafted features sculpted across the restaurant, the seasoning elevated the mushroom dish.
The meaty pinnacle of the menu in the form of saucy Ribs arrived and my husband was licking his fingers as he craved more of this delicacy. Well, this time, I slightly regretted going veggies, but my plate of barley with succulent scallops was not bad at all! Another glass of wine, red Menetou-Salon (French), and I was ready to roll for more.
Desert at RAW in Taipei
Peaking inside the kitchen, we were curious about the desserts. The open space allows for any table close enough, inspect the action in the kitchen. You know what is going on there all the time… no abuse, rather the back corner looks like an enjoyable cooking class in the process. As the cooks assemble over the stoves and tables, whipping their sauces, slicing their greens, pulling the pasta and sizzling the meat, like at most contemporary restaurants it is a live show for the entire restaurant.
Two sweet plates rounded up our tasting at RAW. The Granola with sweet potato became a staple on the dessert menu as I have seen it featured in many past reviews. Crumbly, unusual and not too sweet. Perfect if one was to have another dessert. Second came a much richer Chocolate with by liquid ice formed cocoa chunks, chewy mochi cakes and devilish crunchy burnt butter. The chefs like to burn things, I learned from the menu, but luckily they got the level just right. A mini version of the local Pineapple cake might disappoint the locals, but we came from afar so unbiased enjoyed the sweet mouthful. We were sated, satisfied with the friendly service and excited that Taipei now has also more accessible and creative local bistro a la high cuisine.
The design, the team serving you as well as the food presentation makes for an energized, casual dinner with a group of friends on a perfect weekend night out. If you cannot snatch a table on weekends, then try weeknights or lunch. Currently the set menu for lunch and dinner costs $1,850 per person (add 10% Service Charge). Good luck getting in!
🕗 Closed on Mon & Tue. Open Wed- Sun;
Lunch: 11:30 am – 2:30 pm
Dinner: 6:00 pm – 10:00 pm
✉ No. 301, Lequn 3rd Rd, Zhongshan District, Taipei City, Taiwan

Din Tai Fung: Taiwanese soup dumplings at their best

Din Tai Fung is a Taiwanese empress of xiaolongbao, the Chinese word for steamed soup dumplings.
For almost half a century, this Taiwan-bred eatery has been expanding its sizzling hot brand across the globe, stretching from its native Taipei to China, but also far away to Australia and North America.
The picture from Din Tai Fung’s menu in Shanghai below sums up its global rise as the dumpling empire.
Din Tai Fung

Humble beginnings in Taipei

It took a long journey from only a humble shop in Taipei to being a Michelin-awarded restaurant. Now there are several locations around Taipei, but its maternal home on a busy thoroughfare remains the most popular. The long line of people waiting for their seating number to turn up on the digital screen is the prove of success. The turn over is impressive, and such superb organizational skills of the management and the efficiency of the cooks are rarely seen at any restaurant.
You can watch the perfection through a window into the busy kitchen turning around hundreds of diners every day. The food there is good, but as I dined at their multiple locations, still I like the Pudong branch in Shanghai the most for its most refined taste and also better drinks selection than the first Din Tai Fung in Taipei.
Xiao Long Bao soup dumpling

Soup dumplings defined and slurped

Before devouring the contents of your steaming bamboo basket of Xiaolongbao (translated as “buns in small steaming basket”); it is wise to know how they were made and how to eat them, so you do not end up spraying your entire shirt with an oily liquid as it happens to many beginners. Although, it is fun to watch the others doing so, nobody wants walk around with stains looking like a baby that forgot a bib.
The dish itself is a type of dim sum snack, that I would translate as chinese tapas. Two or three bites suffice to eat the whole piece. Be careful though, since burning your tongue if you put it all in your mouth at once will make the rest of your dining rather unpleasant.
Xiaolongbao originated in the area around Shanghai, and it is similar to tang bao, a larger soup bun with a hole on the top and a straw inside to drink its liquid contents.
Tang bao soup dumplings
The dumplings at Din Tai Fung are about perfection: “every dumpling pastry is delicately hand-made to measure between precisely 4.8 and 5.2 grams at conception, with an exact 6cm diameter, before being stuffed and steamed in exactly three minutes.
The silky shining dough is made in small batches so it tastes fresh when the bunny tail-shaped dumplings are being served. The material is sliced into small pieces for each required to weigh between 20.8 and 21.2 grams cooked, and rolled out into thin-skinned sheets that wrap around a broth (in the firm form of gelatinized aspic) with minced pork (the original) or more modern stuffings like hairy crab, shrimps, vegetables and at some locations even truffles (the wealthy Singapore offers this delicacy). Twisting the top at least 18 times to close up perfectly the resulting buns is a must before steaming in a bamboo basket.
Xiao Long Bao soup dumpling at Din Tai Fung in Shaghai
As the server opens the lid on front of you and your nostrils inhale the fresh aromas of its contents, the fog is blinding, but quickly disappears. Keep your basket closed when not picking up a dumpling, otherwise you will ruin its perfect texture supported by the apt temperature.
The right way to eat these shiny dough morsels is to pick them gently with chopsticks, so the dough does not rupture. Place them on a deeply carved spoon, and bite quickly off a tiny piece of the dough like a rabbit munching his carrot. Then, let the liquid soup, usually a pork broth, run out on the spoon, slurp it without hesitating making noisy srrrrsss sounds (in China it is accepted), and chew on the pasta-like texture of the dumpling together with its solid filling of pork or other fancy stuffings.
Stir-fried tofu with chilli and vegetables
Din Tai Fung has other interesting Chinese dishes with a Taiwanese twist on its menu. I like the Asian branches the most, because of the authenticity, not cozying up to the Western palates, and breadth of the selection.
Starting with savory pickles like cucumber and various kinds of Chinese cabbage whets up your appetite and is fast on your table. There are dozens of plates to share. The Stir-fried tofu with chili and vegetables is hot, but if you do not pick the fiercely red peppers, your mouth will be just fine.
Strir-fried mushrooms at Din Tai Fung
The Chinese like to call everything as having a “Special” sauce, dressing, etc on the menus. Whether it is a marketing trick or simply a way to keep their house recipes secret, is unclear, but usually it intrigues one’s palate.
Like the Oriental Salad in Special Vinegar Dressing. A chilled starter with julienne cut seaweed, bean sprouts, spicy beancurd and rice vermicelli, sesame oil. Another great vegetarian treat is the Stir-fried Hong Kong Kailan with Special Sauce.
House specials are the Braised Pork Knuckles with Soy Sauce, Pan-roasted whole Tilapia Fish or shrimps in mild gooey sauce with various assortments. Some with vegetables, others with fruits like li-chi, that is very popular.
Steamed shrimps with vegetables
Everything can be steamed, even desserts like the Yam Paste Dumplings or Chinese Layer Cakes. But, in Asia, food conception is also tightly connected with healing and beauty enhancing properties, thus even the desserts can be “excellent for the complexion and balancing of the inner soul” as the Double-Boiled Papaya & Snow Fungus with Rock Sugar is indeed a healthy treat. The Taiwanese desserts in particular are the most interesting sweet delights (right after chocolate), I have encountered on my extensive gourmet travels.
Taiwanese bubble tea
They can be liquid like the bubble tea, also known as tapioca or pearl tea. The jelly-like balls made of tapioca starch are fun for their chewy texture. Often paired with iced tea, fruit juices and/or various milks, these are highly addictive Taiwanese versions of our Western smoothie. Sago is also used in puddings. Sago is much smaller pearl-shaped texture enhancer that usually sinks to the bottom of the creamy dessert or a fruity drink. In particular with mango it is marvelous!
Now a global business, the popularity of this Taiwanese joint mushroomed around the world from China, Hong Kong, Singapore to Australia and North America.
Address: 环球金融中心3层, Shanghai World Financial Centre, 100 Century Ave, Pudong, Shanghai, China.
Phone:+(86) 21 6877 6886
Opening Hours: Daily 10:30 am – 10:00 pm

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