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Jenny’s tea house in Taipei

When Ken (our host) studied in Seattle, he met Jenny who was a fervent coffee-lover at the time. She then returned to her native Taiwan, found an office job, quickly realized that she didn’t want to clock in and clock out for the rest of her life, and finally figured out that she wanted to become a tea master. When I asked her what prompted her to make such a decision, she replied that it was partly due to the fact that she had re-discovered tea (thanks to her mother who’s always been a tea drinker) and partly because she wanted to preserve the old Taiwanese tradition and share it with her peers.

As a result, she bought the books, enrolled in the course, passed the exams and she is opening her own shop in Taipei today – a stylish tea house that is a perfect blend of old charm and modern Taiwan, designed by her cousin according to her taste and wishes.

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For someone like me who is used to drinking Earl Grey with milk, it’s kind of awkward to have a real tea conversation. And Jenny knows tea. I showed her the photos of Gorreana tea plantations in the Azores (the only European tea plantations) and she immediately knows what kind of tea that is – she can tell that by the height of the bushes and the shape of the leaves. “In Taiwan, we have lower tea bushes. We would never let them grow that tall”, she says.

We’re sitting at a long, rectangular, wooden table: Ken and Sarah on my left, my boyfriend on my right and we’re all facing Jenny.

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The conversation turns around oolong and its fermentation: light-fermented, medium-fermented or fully-fermented. Let me put it in layman’s terms – the lighter the fermentation, the lighter the colour will be. You see, what you need to know about tea is that many types of tea come from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis. The different types of tea (e.g. Black tea, Green tea, Pouchong tea, Oolong tea) are the result of differences in the tea manufacturing process (including the fermentation), and not due to different types of tea plants.

In total, we tasted six different types of tea:

  • Two types of High Mountain Oolong (can you imagine tea plantations on more than 3500m of altitude!!!)
  • High fermented oolong
  • Rock tea – which gained its name because the plant grows in cracks of rocks
  • Pu-er tea which is a variety of fermented tea produced in Yunnan province in China and which is almost as dark as coffee
  • Pu-er tea in Japanese teabags (for those who have no time to involve in a proper tea preparation)

We learnt about the types of leaves, the temperature of water needed for a perfect cuppa, how to inhale the steam from tea leaves, how to pass on a teapot to your neighbour and how to fully enjoy your tea once it reaches your taste buds.

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But Jenny is not only a tea master, she is also an excellent pastry chef. I can tell you that she can easily rival with any French pâtissier when it comes to her crème brulée.

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Her tea house is cosy and the high ceiling makes it look even more spacious. Nothing sticks out, the white leather chairs are super comfy and the fake indoor living walls perfectly blend in. While we’re having a chat, a man comes in and asks if he can have a table for two. He is disappointed to hear that the shop will only open on 29 November.

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Jenny’s tea house is not in the centre of Taipei but you can tell that it will be a success. All the ingredients are there…

Thank you Jenny for letting us discover the old ancestral tradition of your country – the tradition of drinking tea in Taiwan.

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