Healthy and high quali-tea: My top 3 tea joints in Taipei

gongfu-sig-cover2

Delicious pun, eh? Thought you’d like it. Tea-riffic.

Anyway. Despite being a small island, Taiwan is home to a number of fantastic teas, yet the traditional gong-fu method of tea brewing seems to be less common in the 21st century. Arguably the modern lifestyle has played a part in that; people like convenience, speedy service and value for money, hence the rise of the bubble tea shop. Also, it may have something to do with the fact that for 9 months of the year Taiwan is essentially a sauna, so the chance to get thirst-quenching fruity iced tea is a godsend.

20170824_130513.jpg

Gong-fu style. Well, an extremely simplified, non-pompous version.

Bubble tea was invented in Taiwan during the 1980s, and there is no single definitive story to establish exactly who invented it, but two people from different cities claim to be the inventor. The story isn’t as magical as you might hope; both tales involve the creator deciding to put some jelly/dessert into tea, Bob was confirmed to be their uncle, and bubble tea was born.

There are tons of chain shops, and I’ll bet you a couple of kwai that you’ll find one within ten minutes walk from wherever you are in Taipei city – but I’m not talking about Yangmingshan or any other places out in the sticks btw, so don’t get cute with me. However, the difficulty doesn’t lie in finding a tea shop, it’s finding one that has decent quality refreshments.

Personally, I’m a tea purist. I don’t like milk or sugar involved (with the exception of a power-shot of Indian chai) and feel the addition of fruit often makes it difficult to retain the flavour of the tea itself without overpowering it. Most chain stores realise this and tend to use low quality tea leaves which are easy to spoil and thus taste bitter, but this is normally covered up with some sugar and/or fruit flavourings, which coincides nicely with the popular tastes. So, if you’re like me and prefer a classic iced tea with no flavourings and without 4 kilograms of sugar, then often you’ll be disappointed.

Here’s a list of my go-to shops that provide good quality, non-bitter tea:

Yi Fang Fruit Tea (一芳水果茶)

20171018_131945.jpg

It’s hard to know exactly how many Yi Fang shops there are, but my investigative Googling tells me it’s around 40 branches just inside Taipei and New Taipei city. This is great news chaps, because their tea is BANG ON THE MONEY. Also on the plus side, they buy all of their ingredients from within Taiwan and use no concentrate liquids in their tea. And it’s pretty cheap too, a medium cup of decent black tea will only set you back 20NTD, cheaper than a bottle of tea from the 7-eleven. And they have a pretty cool traditional style theme going on; unvarnished wood, old windows, and Japanese noren (them door curtain things). Menus are in Chinese and English, so non-Mandarin speakers need not panic.

yifangmenu

Alright, what’s the downside I hear you ask? Well, if you go during lunch time or any other busy period, expect to wait a while. It can get a little hectic, and they even have a little butcher-style number screen so you know when your order is ready. FYI, I normally go for the Sun Moon Lake black tea or Four Seasons oolong tea which are both phenomenal. I tried a “Yilan kumquat green tea” recently which was fine, but a little heavy on the kumquat and so tasted more like lime juice than tea. Depending on your opinion, another criticism could be that their menu isn’t as vast as other shops, but in my mind it’s a positive point. More often than not (and this includes restaurants too) a balance between range of choice and quality is struck, so the more choice the less quality.

SUMMARY: Excellent tea if you are lucky enough to be near one, and definitely worth the wait if you can spare the time.

*************************************************************************************

“Show Tea Shop” a.k.a Da Cha Pu (打茶舖) – No. 110-1, Yitong Street, Zhongshan District (near Songjiang Nanjing MRT)

20171018_133523.jpg

Coincidentally living up to its name, this was the first tea shop that showed me that iced tea doesn’t have to be bitter. The quality here is outstanding for a reasonable price, but sadly they only have one branch! They have a pretty decent selection of teas, more than Yi Fang but less than the big boys.

20171018_133512.jpg

Big plus: everything here is organic. They source their honey and plums locally from partnering farms, and use freshly squeezed juice in their teas. STS appear to be passionate about using local produce and keeping their drinks free of any preservatives or additives at every stage of the process. The sugar cane used to sweeten their tea is brewed daily, and used to provide a more natural and distinct taste (all according to their Facebook page).

They sell their own packs of loose leaf tea in-house, so you can take home a foil bag of deliciousy goodness.

SUMMARY: Truly top notch tea. But for me, because they only have one shop it dictates that unless I’m around the Songjiang Nanjing area it’s too much hassle. If they had more shops, it would be no contest. Build more pls!

*************************************************************************************

Ten Ren’s Tea (天仁茶業)

20171020_125654.jpg

An old stalwart established in the 1950s, and is Taiwan’s most globally famous tea brand with stores introduced to Canada, Japan, Malaysia, USA, Australia and Singapore. First impressions are good here as you can see the whole drink preparation area, and the fact that it doubles up as a tea retailer. And they’re pretty stocked on ginseng products too, if that’s your thing.

The tea is good. My favourite is the 913 King’s oolong tea which will set you back an above average 60NTD for a big cup, but the tea itself is definitely above average. It contains a little ginseng and young tea leaf buds from the mountains of central Taiwan – according to their company website – and has a slight bitterness to it which compliments the strong and authentic aftertaste. The green and black tea taste pretty good too, but my brew of choice is the 9-1-thrizay. Furthermore, you can find these shops all over the city, and the option to buy your own leaves after tasting a cup of heaven is pretty convenient, and a nice little gift for the folks back home.

20171020_125910.jpg

Downsides? It is expensive. While good quality, I still think I would opt for Yi Fang over Ten Ren’s as the extra cost doesn’t seem good value if the two shops are within walking distance of each other.

SUMMARY: Reliable, have shops all over the place, and kicks the arse of other similarly common shops like 50 Lan, Ching Shin and Comebuy, though not Show Tea and Yi Fang. Expensive, but you get what you pay for.

*************************************************************************************

Advertisements

Losheng Sanatorium (樂生療養院)

IMG_5092coverlosheng.jpg

I am now enlightened and realise that this is one of the more commonly visited abandoned sites in Taipei, most likely due to the ease of access, preservation of furniture inside, and a lack of security; or perhaps just an indifference toward urban explorers. Though the negligible guard presence is particularly common around abandoned buildings in Taiwan, I want to believe that any watchmen at Losheng are keen for people to visit the sanatorium, take pictures, and share what they have seen with the world to advertise the historical beauty of the site and plight of the residents and neighbourhood. It’s almost certain the surrounding population feel this way, as I was told a story first-hand about how one explorer was offered tea with a couple of locals after being “caught” leaving the site.

The complex is, and has been going through a series of struggles. It was built in 1929 by the occupying Japanese administration to house and treat people suffering from leprosy. Back then the disease was believed to be highly contagious, so institutions like this were set in isolated places, such as islands or mountainous areas to ensure strict quarantine. Fast forward 70 years or so, and the sprawling tentacles of the Taipei MRT system are beginning to reach out further and further to combat high population density within the city limits. The site of the sanatorium has been chosen for redevelopment in the form of a brand spanking new MRT station by the Taiwan government, despite several protests from local residents, activists, and those pesky kill-joys pointing out that destroying a chunk of mountain could have dangerous consequences for the current residents – even the future station – and that the site should be relocated.

IMG_5087sig

Dr. Sun Yat Sen, the father of Taiwan. Placed just outside the operating theatre.

Nonetheless, the powers that be were insistent that the plans should press on, despite several landslides at the construction site in 2010 which paused matters for a couple of years. As things stand, it seems a compromise has been made to preserve 39 of the buildings, refurbish or reconstruct 10, and demolish 6. From my visit, I’d assume that the demolition has already happened but the refurbishment is on hold for now. The only notable act of preservation is the erection of a huge steel shelter above most of the buildings, shielding most of it from the rain.

IMG_5116sig

The current state of preservation. It’ll probably be a few years before anything else is done here.

Anyway, fancy having a look inside? Although it has been cleared of most of it’s intriguing articles (I read another blogger’s story about finding a heart in a jar) as of September 2017 there’s still more than enough to satisfy the curiosity of the average urban explorer. Loads of equipment, files, beautiful architecture and windows (very much my bag) and an eerie atmosphere that makes the hospital seem like it’s still in use. Maybe it is, I did visit during ghost month…

Managed to unearth a multiple entry permit visa for Hong Kong, I’m guessing it belonged to one of the previous residents. Dated 17th October 1990.

IMG_5043sig.jpg

IMG_5109sig.jpg

This is an interesting one: it looks like a sign made for a protest but has been left inside the hospital, maybe by a local resident to give visitors more information. Roughly, it translates to “The government is evil, no human rights – who will save Losheng?” Pictures of various politicians have been stuck to a red side and a green side of the circle, but the text is too faded to make much sense of either. The previous president Mr Ma Ying-Jiu is placed at 11 o’clock, who was charged with leaking secret information from a corruption enquiry earlier this year and is awaiting trial.

IMG_5107sig.jpg

Now I’m guessing again, but I reckon this is where the doctors kept their lunch.

IMG_5058sig.jpg

IMG_5047sig

IMG_5103sig.jpg

No idea what’s going on here, sorry.

IMG_5090sig.jpg

The old operating theatre. There’s still a fair amount of equipment here, and in pretty decent nick, too.

IMG_5077sig

…including this X-ray machine.

IMG_5082

IMG_5060sig.jpg

Quality sanding job the boys did on this ceiling. Good work lads.

IMG_5073sig.jpg

The nurses office.

IMG_5065sig.jpg

Looks like this may have been the mortuary. Unlikely that it wasn’t, as I can’t see anyone bothering to move those slabs.


IMG_5048sig

IMG_5062sig

IMG_5063sig

IMG_5091sig

I didn’t look close enough at these bottles while here, but from this photo the brown containers in the top left look like they may have something interesting inside… looks like I’ll be heading back soon, then.

IMG_5096sig

IMG_5113sig