A Trip to a High Altitude Tea Plantation in Taiwan
Up in the high central mountains of Taiwan, you'll find the unique Formosa Dong Ding "Frozen Peak" Oolong Tea. The misty, high-altitude mountain climate contributes to creating the "Champagne of tea". The sceneries leading up to the tea plantation were awe-inspiring but the road was perilous. Join me on this trip!
Journey Up the Bamboo Mountain
My grandmother recently passed away. She was from the Bamboo Mountain (Zhu Shan 竹山) region in the central mountains of Taiwan. We went on a trip to this area in her memory, brought my mother and our kids, talked about her and things past. I do believe that the best way to mourn a loved one is to make the memories live on. Travel through the traces, and the story continues.
We drove up from Sun Moon Lake up into the mountains. What met the eyes on the road were mountains of bamboo forests... the region was not named thus without a reason.
The road leading up to the mountains offered views of steep hills covered in patches of bamboos and rows of tea shrubs. The slopes were sharp and the turns were abrupt, many parts of the road allowed only the width of one car. We held on to our seats but couldn't stop marveling at the emerald green hills covered with the dreamy fog veil.
Bamboo Forest Meets the Tea Plantations
As we went further up, the bamboo forests made way for more tea plantations. At some places, we saw 45-degree slopes lined with tea shrubs.
This particular environment is great for tea growing. Ocean mist meets the tall mountains results in year-round fog, which provides the humidity appreciated by tea plants. The high elevation stresses the tea plants and result in slower growth rate and lower yield, which in turn means more time for the tea leaves to develop more concentrated and complex flavors.
An Ideal Environment for Tea
We visited in May, just towards the end of the highly-prized Spring tea production. The best quality is always hand-picked, the baby tea sprouts then go through the process of bruising, withering, fermenting, then through oxidation and roasting to achieve the best flavor. Taiwanese high-altitude oolong tea is favored by tea connoisseurs for a reason. This unique terroir and fabrication method create a fragrant and bright tea that leaves an enduring sweet taste in your mouth. If you have a chance to encounter this tea, you'd always come back for more.
Take a close look at the tea plants... what better material to use to support young tea branches than the abundant bamboo here in the mountains?
Ba Gua Tea Plantation (八卦茶園)
We visited an enchanting tea plantation perched high up on the mountains. Ba Gua Tea Plantation (the website is in Traditional Chinese only) sits at an altitude of 1,200m/~4,000ft and has such an amazing view that it's one of the most photographed tea plantations in Taiwan.
A classic Chinese pavilion allows you to take in the view, you can almost imagine that you're in a Chinese Kung Fu movie, about to meet a Grand Master who's retreated into the mountains.
We walked around the plantation, taking deep breaths of the fresh air and the misty fog.
A Friend in the Formosan Mountains
Take a stroll along the tiny paths in the tea plantation, and you'll further appreciate all the efforts that went into collecting and eventually creating the tea in your teacup. As I walked around the aisles of tea shrubs, a strange companion followed me...
In such a heavenly setting, why did I have such a sour expression on my face?
It was because of her, the volunteer tour guide of the tea plantation that decided to follow a bit too close for comfort. At one point she prepped herself on a higher position, ready to pounce. No matter how playful and welcoming she seemed at first, I would always keep my guards up in front of a Formosan Mountain Dog. They are excellent hunting dogs, and I did not want to be part of her game. However, she was most likely a loyal dog guarding the plantations and meant no harm.
We bid farewell to our temporary host, and left the mountains with tea trees and bamboo forests behind. The same road that led up to the tea plantation seemed easier and friendlier on the way down.
Much like the famed high-altitude oolong tea, this trip to Bamboo Mountain leaves a sweet aftertaste. It was a short trip with some ups and downs and a strange encounter, but we left with more stories to tell.
If you want to visit this tea plantation, I would hire a local taxi who knows these roads to take you there. Here's the location: