Trying a real Formosa tea for the first time is an experience no tea drinker will ever forget. The intense scent of dry Oriental Beauty leaves, sweetness, creaminess and lightness of high mountain teas and unique strong honey flavor of the Honey oolong may surpass every expectation you ever had for one tea, and turn you into a tea lover for life. Taiwan is producing some of the most fragrant and beautiful oolong teas in the world. Learn what is Formosa tea and how to brew it.
What is Formosa tea?
In wider meaning, Formosa tea is all tea from Taiwan. About 500 years ago Portuguese named the main island of Taiwan – Formosa – or the beautiful island. As the main tea produced in Taiwan was and still is oolong, the term is almost always related to oolong tea. It first appeared in the 19th century when the Scottish tea merchant started selling tea made on the island of Taiwan.
Although the name for used for a specific type, today it may be used for many oolong teas, as long as they come from Taiwan. When the name of the tea is not specified, it will mostly describe a more oxidized tea with twisted leaves, more or less broken, that give a rich and darker infusion.
Any other oolong tea from Taiwan can be called a Formosa tea too. However, specific types like high mountain teas, or dong ding or Taiwanese Ti Kwan Yin will rarely be sold under that name and will often include the real name of the tea instead.
Interesting fact: There is another Formoso tea in the world, and it comes from the Portuguese Azores. It’s not related to Taiwan at all, but to the name of the civil parish where it’s grown – Porto Formoso – or the Beautiful Harbor.
What teas are produced in Taiwan?
Unlike in the Mainland China or Japan, the Tiwanese tea history is not as long. Nevertheless, it’s mastered to perfection. It started only a few hundred of years ago and today, Taiwan is one of the most important producers of oolong teas. It produces exquisite teas, mostly grown on high altitudes or unique for some other characterictis – like a bug bitter leaves.
The next most important category of teas in Taiwan is black tea. Green and white and even yellow tea are still very rare in Taiwan.
It’s safe to say that you can’t understand a full beauty of oolong tea unless you try oolong from Taiwan. Most of them have leaves shaped in balls, rather than twisted. When brewing, they unfurl into full, beautiful branches. This is a unique characteristic of Taiwan high mountain teas.
The most important Taiwan oolong teas:
- High mountain or gao shan oolong
- Dong ding oolong
- Baozhong oolong
- Oriental Beauty or white tipped oolong
- Muzha Ti Kwan Yin oolong, a tea similar to the Chinese Ti Kwan Yin, but only produced using traditional methods, medium oxidized and charcoal roasted
The most popular Formosa black tea is a Sun Moon Lake tea, a unique tea somewhere between two main tea varietals – sinensis and assamica.
Benefits of drinking Formosa oolong tea?
Oolong teas are made from the Camellia sinensis plant, same as all other real teas – white, yellow, green, black or pu’erh. Depending on their processing method, they will be closer to green teas or closer to black teas. Caffeine content of oolong tea is generally lower than in black tea, and around the same as in green tea. However, every tea is different. One research showed that a high mountain oolong from a Taiwanese Li Shan mountain had double the amount of caffeine than all other tested black teas. Generally, expect around 20-30 mg of caffeine per cup of tea.
Oolong tea contains L-theanine, an amino acid responsible for calming effect. It generally has less L-theanine than green tea, but more than black tea. It contains EGCG too, a catechin linked to many potential health benefits – from weight loss to fighting cancer, lowering cholesterol, reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, lowering high blood pressure and protecting the heart and brain. Read more about oolong tea benefits here.
How to brew Taiwan tea?
- Short multiple steeps
The beauty of oolong teas from the Beautiful Island comes from a very complex flavor, with different layered notes present in at least 5 to 10 infusions. And all of them from the same leaves. In fact, most high mountain oolongs and White Tipped oolong are best if you brew them using this technique. Use a smaller teapot, preheat it and fill the bottom with tea leaves, usually around 5-10 grams. Use very hot, nearly boiling water, and wash the leaves with one very short 10-15 second infusion. The next one should be around 20-40 second long, and good for drinking. Gradually increase the steep time until there is no flavor left.
Tip: You can use the used up leaves one more time by cold brewing them overnight in the fridge.
- Western style brewing
Some Formosa oolong teas are perfect for western-style brewing. The western-style brewing means using about 1 teaspoon of tea leaves per one cup of water and brewing for 1-5 minutes, depending on the type. Most Formosa oolongs can be brewed using this method, and some may even give a better flavor than when using short infusions. Use water temperature of around 185°F to 203°F and steep for 1-3 minutes. Some Formosa oolongs should be steeped for more than 5 minutes, so always read the instructions on the packaging.
- Cold brewing
Formosa oolongs are great for cold brewing. Put around 1-2 tablespoons of tea leaves into a large teapot or a pitcher with a lid. Add about 1-1.5 litres of cold water and let it steep overnight. Depending on the type, leaves will need more or less time to steep.
What’s the best Taiwan oolong tea?
The most difficult question to answer is which Taiwan oolong is the best. Taiwanese oolongs offer a wide range of flavors, from very light and floral Four Seasons oolong, to a creamy Milky Oolong, or a ripe fruit and honey notes of Oriental Beauty tea. Depending on your personal preferences, Taiwan offers lightly oxidized or heavily oxidizes teas, unroasted or heavily roasted oolongs or fresh, sweet and floral high mountain teas. All of them will give at least 3+ infusions. Read about all flavors of oolong tea here.
Dislaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It’s not intended to replace medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Every person is different and may react to different herbs and teas differently. Never use teas or herbs to treat serious medical conditions on your own. Always seek professional medical advice before choosing home remedies.