Taiwan Tea Trip- Yuchi Town (Sun Moon Lake)- Part 1

A view of Sun Moon Lake

A view of Sun Moon Lake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rise from the Ashes of the Phoenix – the black tea of Yuchi (Sun Moon Lake)

浴火重生的魚池(日月潭)紅茶

Many of you may be familiar with the Ruby Black (Taiwan Tea #18) at Sun Moon Lake if you are a fan of black tea.  However, fewer people know about the story behind it.  As the subtitle saying “Rise from the Ashes of the Phoenix”, it is not only a story of the rise and fall of black tea in Yuchi Township, but also a story of people strove forward when it seemed no hope at all.

如果你是一個紅茶愛好者,你可能對日月潭的紅玉紅茶(台茶18號)很熟悉。但是,比較少人真正去了解它背後的故事。就像副標題所說的”浴火重生”,這不僅僅是魚池鄉紅茶興衰的故事,同時也是一群人努力不懈,在看似無希望之時,仍堅持不放棄的故事。

921 earthquake 

Before telling the story, I would like to share with you some photos.  In the midnight of 21th Sept. 1999, a great earthquake, which was later called as 921 earthquake, struck and woke up everyone in Taiwan .  The epicenter was at southwest of Sun Moon Lake, near the town of Jiji, Nantou.  2,415 people were killed, 11,305 injured, and numerous people being homeless.

在開始說這個故事之前,我們先來看看下面這些照片。在1999年9月21日,一陣天搖地動驚醒了全台灣 (日後被稱為921大地震),地震震央在日月潭西南方靠近南投集集的方向,共有2,415人死亡,11305人受傷,以及無數的人無家可歸。

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It was such a terrible earthquake.  However, it did not have much impact on Yuchi’s balck tea industry even though the epicenter was just southwest of Sun Moon Lake.  Why? You may be asking. The answer is simple.  921 earthquake did not kill/ have great impact on Yuchi’s black tea industry because it was already dying.

然而,這可怕的震災並沒有對魚池鄉的紅茶產業造成巨大損害與影響。為什麼? 答案很簡單,因為在這當時,魚池鄉的紅茶產業可謂早已經名存而實亡了。

History of Yuchi’s Black Tea & its Terrior

魚池鄉紅茶歷史 & 風土條件

Yuchi’s black tea had its good old times which could be traced back to Japanese occupation era (from 1895 to 1945).  It is said that the Japanese royal family loved to drink black tea.  But since the high latitude of Japan is not suitable for black tea growing, the Japanese tea experts go to Taiwan in hope to find a ideal place for growing/manufacturing black tea.  Finally, after looking up for hundreds of places in Taiwan, they decided to make it in Yuchi Township. (area around Sun Moon Lake)

魚池鄉的紅茶歷史可以追溯到日據時代。坊間傳說,日本皇室嗜喝紅茶,然而,因為日本是高緯度國家,不適合紅茶生長,於是便派出日本茶業專家到台灣找尋適合的場所來栽種/製造紅茶。經過一番跋涉,查考台灣各個地點後,日本專家們最終選定魚池鄉(即日月潭附近)來做為紅茶培育的中心。

Yuchi is around 600 ~700 meters altitude, with annual rain fall of 2,000~2,800 mm, and average humidity is around 80~85%. (trust me, it’s really humid and hot there!!! I got whole body wet with sweat in my trip to visit tea farmer) The temperature deference between day and night could be large, ranging from 15 ℃ at night to 35  ℃ in the noon.  It’s usually foggy in the morning and evening.  Plus the red soil with acid, all the conditions are very similar to the state of Assam, India where the Japanese introduced the first bath of assam tea seed into Taiwan.   

魚池的海拔約600~700公尺,年雨量約2,000~2,800 mm,相對溼度介於80~85%之間,(相信我!真的是又悶又熱,在找茶的旅途中,全身濕了又乾好多次,難道紅茶就尬藝這味ㄟ?) 日夜溫差大,早晨氣溫15度,中午可到35度,晨昏間常有霧,加上帶有微酸性的紅土,所有的地理條件與日本人預計要引入的原生種所在地的印度的阿薩姆省十分相似。

(@Lawrence’s note, Yuchi means “fish pool” in Chinese, see below emblem of Yuchi Township and you will get what I mean)

魚池鄉的鄉徽,真的有魚!

2011-7-17-15-58-46-pic2

Yuchi’s Assam Tea

魚池的阿薩姆紅茶

According to old local people in Yuchi, the Japanese at first wanted to import some assam tea trees from India, but got declined by India authority.  Nevertheless, one of the Japanese tea experts  managed to obtain some seeds of assam, hidden in the head of his crutch, and brought back to Taiwan.  (yeah! it was a time when no X-rays machine in custom)

根據魚池當地耆老,日本人原本想要向印度進口阿薩姆茶株近來培育,但是遭到印度官方拒絕。但有個日本茶業專家偷偷將一把種子藏在他的枴杖頭裡面,將之夾帶到了台灣(當時的海關還沒有配備X光機阿)。

The Fallen of Yuchi

魚池的衰落

The Taiwan Assam Tea was very successful in the first place.  It became the Japanese royal family’s favorite tea, and soon become famous in the export market.  However, in 1990’s, due to price competition from other foreign black teas, the price of black tea dropped greatly.  Many tea farmers, in order to make a living, switched to grow Bing Lang (Areca catechu, which is another Taiwan spcial culture) instead.  If you visit a tea garden in Youchi, you will probably find many Bing Lang trees grown besides the tea trees.

台灣阿薩姆茶一開始是相當成功的。它成為日本皇室最愛的茶品,也很快在外銷市場上有了知名度。然而,好景不常(其實應該還算不短,至少紅了十多年吧),因為外國紅茶的低價競爭,紅茶的價格一落千丈,以至於茶農們為了養家活口,轉而改種檳榔。如果你現在去拜訪茶農,常常可以在茶園的旁邊,看到種滿滿一排的檳榔樹。

都是檳榔樹@@

都是檳榔樹@@ (Photo credit: 今 ゆっくりと 歩いていこう)

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Dear readers, you might be asking that if the tea was really that good, why would it ever became so cheap that tea farmers could not make a living by growing/selling it?  This is the question I am asking myself as well.  After visiting and talking with numerous tea farmers along my tea trip, I have my own answers.  I am not going to disclose my answer here, at least not in this article.  I encourage you guys to find your own answers.  But. If you are familiar with the concept of fair trade coffee, you are probably getting close to the core of my ideas.    

親愛的讀者,你或許會問,如果這茶的品質真的夠好,怎麼會淪落到價格這麼低賤,連茶農都不願意種植呢?這也是我曾問我自己的問題。在追尋答案的旅途中,與許多當地人士/茶農交流,我逐漸獲得了我的答案。這答案,我目前還不打算在這裡談分享,至少不是在這篇文章裡面談到。如果你也覺得疑惑,我鼓勵你自己去發掘屬於你的答案。不過,如果你對咖啡的公平交易有所涉獵/了解,你大概就很接近我的想法了。

(to be continued)

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One thought on “Taiwan Tea Trip- Yuchi Town (Sun Moon Lake)- Part 1

  1. Pingback: Easy Tea Hard Choice – Tea Club Round 1- Club of Red | TALK ABOUT TEA

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