Oolong tea is not just a beverage but a way of life here. Its complex brewing routine is a social ritual for many, and fine oolong from the nation's mountains are considered unique and tasteful gifts.
While all the mysteries surrounding the art of making tea might be a little intimidating, there is an easier way to become acquainted with the beverage.
In convenience stores all over the nation, the popularity of tea beverages has outpaced that of sodas.
Ready-to-drink tea beverages represent approximately NT$20 billion (US$607.6 million) out of an overall convenience store beverage market of NT $47 billion, estimates by the convenience store chain FamilyMart said.
Premium bottled unsweetened oolongs -- served, contrary to tradition, chilled and ready to go -- account for an increasingly large slice of the burgeoning tea beverage market.
"Sweetened green teas have been bestsellers for many years, but oolong sales have recently surged," said Esther Lin (林翠娟), public relations specialist at Family-Mart. Lin said that sales of oolong tea drinks experienced a 40 percent growth last year at FamilyMart, with unsweetened teas overtaking sweetened ones this year.
"Sweetened drinks and carbonated drinks have declined as many people have become more health-conscious. We are seeing a transition from a segment of a more traditional culture to a segment of the mass culture," she said. "I would expect many beverage companies to introduce new premium oolong drinks selling for NT$25 this year."
Tea expert Chih Chung-hsien (
"However, to truly appreciate tea is an art form," he said. Taiwan is a nation of tea drinkers. Every Taiwanese consume 1.6kg of tea leaves per year, numbers by the Tea Research and Extension Station (TRES) showed.
Although much of this quantity comes from imported black and green teas -- such as those used in the nation's ubiquitous bubble tea stores -- Taiwanese reserve a special place for oolong tea, the tightly rolled, semi-fermented tea that accounts for 97 percent of the nation's tea production.
Not all bottled oolongs sold here are grown in Taiwan, however.
"Those that advertise their product as Taiwanese tea use Taiwanese leaves," TRES station manager Lin Muh-lien (
"We're happy young people are getting to know tea through convenience beverages," said Wang Lien-yuan (
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