The history of tea in Taiwan is a fascinating one, full of twists and turns that have shaped the island's culture and economy. Let's take a closer look at how tea cultivation began in Taiwan and how it became the primary export of the island.
The Dutch East India Company, also known as the VOC (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie), arrived in Taiwan in 1623, using the island as a base for trade with Japan and China. They quickly realized that Taiwan was a profitable source of products such as deer hides, sugar, and rice. The VOC also encouraged Chinese immigration and imported Chinese tea from Fujian province.
When Taiwan came under Chinese control in 1683 during the Qing Dynasty, Chinese migration to Taiwan was restricted due to civil unrest and rebellion. Despite these restrictions, many Chinese came to Taiwan, eventually marrying aboriginal women who enabled them to travel in the mountains where wild tea trees could be found.
It wasn't until the early 19th century that tea cultivation began in Taiwan, with seedlings from the WuYi district in China being planted near Jiufeng in northern Taiwan. However, it was the first Opium War of 1839-42 that forced China to open five ports to foreign trade, including Danshui and Kaoshiung ports in Taiwan in 1860.
This paved the way for new industries to be established in Taiwan, including tea. A Scotsman named John Dodd saw the commercial potential in Taiwan tea and provided loans to farmers in north Taiwan to increase their production of tea. Dodd and Company began exporting Taiwan tea in 1869, with shipments to England and New York. Tea exports grew from 180,000 pounds in 1865 to more than 16 million pounds in 1885, making tea Taiwan's primary export by the end of the 19th century.
During the Japanese era (1895-1945), Taiwan's tea industry continued to flourish, with the Japanese promoting the production of black tea, while exports of oolong and baozhong tea continued. In 1926, the Tea Research Institute of Taiwan was established to explore agricultural methods that maximize tea yields and develop new tea varietals specifically suited to Taiwan. Taiwan tea was promoted worldwide at international fairs, with primary markets for Taiwan tea exports including Japan, the United States, Britain, Hong Kong, and Russia.
In conclusion, tea has played a significant role in Taiwan's history, from the VOC's arrival to the Japanese era and the establishment of the Tea Research Institute. Today, Taiwan tea remains a treasured commodity that has helped shape the island's identity and culture.