That growth is due in part to the nearly missionary zeal of merchants like Lee. During the early 1980s, he would travel to different Bay Area supermarkets, set up a table with two chairs and brew tea for shoppers. He would patiently explain to Westerners unaccustomed to Asian tea that their brew, full of complex flavors, does not need milk and sugar.The tea culture is indeed highly developed, and not well appreciated among foreigners, even those who have lived here for a long time. There are some excellent tea blogs out there, including Stephane's masterful Tea Masters.
"We emphasize the aroma, the taste," said Chen Hsuan, deputy director of Taiwan's Tea Research and Extension Station in Yangmei, while sipping high-mountain oolong, the signature Taiwan tea.
The government facility, which employs some 60 researchers, contains tasting rooms, labs and small patches of land lined with neat rows of knee-high tea plants. In addition to providing the latest research on tea cultivation, government scientists are continually developing new strains of the crop.
More than 16,000 Taiwan family farms grow tea, and the average plot size is no more than 21/2 acres. Tea farms in other countries typically are at least 10 times larger, Chen said.
Taiwanese were not always so high-minded about commercial tea production, which dates back hundreds of years to the early Qing Dynasty's rule over the island. During the 1970s and '80s, Taiwan transformed itself from an agricultural society to an industrial one.
Despite the shift to a high-tech economy, the government began promoting competitions to boost interest in the local produce and spur farmers to create quality tea. The tea industry, which struggled to compete with cheap teas from countries like Vietnam and Indonesia, invested in costly cultivation processes to grow crops that catered to the newly affluent citizens. Today, the more expensive oolong and paochong teas are picked and processed by hand.
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