Tea Tasting in Taipei -- Savor a Sip in Dadaocheng
In 1860, an open trading port was established at Tamsui (淡水), and Dadaocheng, just up the river, was connected to the outside world. Foreigners brought in new ideas and products, and local people started to explore the globe with wide eyes, discovering new business opportunities in the process.
This is how the Dadaocheng tea trade started, and from 1869 to 1895, the industry was at its peak. Crates of tea were stacked high on the dock and stayed there only as long as it took the longshoremen to load them onto ships. At that time, Dadaocheng exceeded all other ports in Taiwan in volume of tea exported, which placed it at the head of the most important distribution channel in the country.
The Tea Trade Brings Honor to Taiwan
When referring to the Dadaocheng tea trade, one can never omit two main characters: John Dodd and Lee Chun-sheng (李春生). Afrer the port of Tamsui opened, foreign businessmen came to Taiwan seeking goods, and among them was English businessman, John Dodd who first ventured into the northern mountains in search of camphor. But he noticed that the soil, climate and environment there were highly suitable for tea cultivation, so he hired Lee, who had worked in the Xiamen (廈門), China tea business to be his comprador, and together they started a new tea enterprise in northern Taiwan.
In order to get local farmers to grow tea on a mass scale, Dodd imported oolong (烏龍) seedlings from the renowned tea county, Anxi (安溪) in the Chinese province of Fujian (福建省), and sold them on credit. He also offered the planters horticultural advice. Later on, when he wanted to improve the tea’s quality, he invested in special production equipment, hired tea masters from Fujian, and produced high-class oolong tea in Dadaocheng. In 1869, Dodd loaded almost 130,000 kilos onto two big sailboats and shipped them to New York, where the tea was a big hit and launched the Taiwanese market in the West. Formosa Tea soon became known the world over, attracting other foreign businessmen to come set up shop in Dadaocheng.
The Scent of Tea Filled the Dadaocheng Air
Situated alongside the Tamsui River, Guide Street (貴德街) was built by two rich Taiwanese entrepreneurs, Lee Chun-sheng and Lin Wei-yuan (林維源). It became known as a tea street, and was famous for its western-style buildings. Many foreigners settled here, but the western architecture was home to rich Formosans as well. With tea shops popping up everywhere, the air was always redolent with a delicate bouquet whenever tea was being produced, and that made Dadaocheng the most fragrant district in Taipei!
After a few decades of active tea trading, Dadaocheng had made its name and business expanded rapidly. The neighborhood around Dihua Street (迪化街), Ganzhou Street (甘州街), and Minsheng West Road (民生西路) became the place for tea merchants to gather. At its peak, there were over 200 tea shops in the neighborhood, and this spectacular tea emporium carried on through the Japanese era. Today, the glory days are over, but there are still many old businesses producing tea leaves of the highest quality, and passing the culture of Taiwanese tea on to the next generation.