TILAT #7: All the tea in (The Republic Of) China

Must admit, this one crept up on me. I’ve always been a fan of the odd cuppa but it’s never been something I’ve actively sought out or broken a sweat over. Coffee was always the weapon of choice, with my consumption ranging over the years from ingesting every ounce I could get my hands on, regardless of quality (i.e. raging addiction) to my current more tempered approach, appreciating the finer roasts the world has to offer. Either way, tea couldn’t get a look in edgeways, it was breakfast tea and maybe, just maybe, an Earl Grey if I was feeling saucy. Until now…

Taiwan has opened up a whole new realm, a utopia of leafy pleasures which is so deeply ingrained into the local culture as to be unavoidable, although only the insane would ever wish to avoid it in the first place. From milk tea to bubble pearl tea, the simple pleasures of oolong to the ritual of grinding your own lei cha mixture, there’s (cliché warning) something here for everyone. From the lightest, most delicate concoctions to brews so strong and heady they should be taxed as spirits, the island is Xanadu for tea-lovers.

It’s late and I’m tired so I’m only going to mention two in detail. First is the bubble teas, something that I’m surprised to find myself enjoying as I viewed them as some kind of practical joke on my first encounter with them in Thailand. Tasting them in their birthplace I now understand the kerfuffle over them – a simple glass of milky (really, seriously milky) iced tea served with a collection of black tapioca balls floating around the bottom. The drink is served with an extra-wide straw to suck up the jelly-like orbs while drinking – it sounds odd, I know, but it gets better every time I taste it. Apparently it was invented just around the corner from my flat, one of these days I’ll remember that and try a glass from the source.

Lei cha, stolen from Wikipedia as I was too busy making my own to bother with the camera.

The other revelation is lei cha, a traditional hakka recipe which is part cuppa, part meal. Basically a mixture of peanuts, sesame, mung beans, rice and other assorted seeds, nuts and grains (the recipe varies from place to place, family to family) is pounded to a rough cornmeal consistency in a mortar and pestle before being added to tea. The resulting mixture is unbelievably tasty, a nutty tea with all manner  of pleasant undertones, and also rather filling as it resembles  something of a light soup as much as a cup of tea. I first encountered this delicacy on an expedition to the mountains last weekend, grinning like a schoolkid as I prepared my own mixture, and have now made it my mission to track down a vendor in the city despite my TA’s telling me that it’s impossible. We’ll see…

So there we are. Taiwan has made a tea fan of me. Yet another reason that an extended stay on this island is looking like a  cosy proposition at times🙂

2 responses to “TILAT #7: All the tea in (The Republic Of) China

  1. I have come to really enjoy Thai Tea – the bright-orange, milky-sweet tea. The “jelly balls” are called “boba”. We buy them dried, in a big, vacuum-sealed package, then boil them as needed.

    My wife has been drinking it forever, but she turned me on to drinking Gen Mai tea, or “popcorn tea”. I love the roasty-toasty flavor.

    The Lei cha sounds awesome! I’ll have to look for it the next time we go to the asian market.

  2. Thanks for dropping by Brent🙂 I’ve not tried Gen Mai tea yet, will have to keep an eye out in the local stores but it sounds good. I must warn you about store-bought lei cha though, I managed to find some via one of my students and it was quite a disappointment compared to the real deal. Mind you it was still a good brew so if you’ve never tried the genuine article it may be fantastic…

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