Tea has been the favorite drink of Taiwanese for hundreds of years, but previous generations would be amazed to see the innovative use being made of it by Taipei’s creative bartenders.
The cocktail lounges at the Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza (Marco Polo Lounge), Mandarin Oriental (Mo Bar), and W Taipei (YEN) are perfect places for both locals and visitors to enjoy the convergence of high tea and happy hour. Some of best-selling cocktails at these properties involve a tea component that is either steeped and mixed, infused into a spirit, or blended into a house-made simple syrup.
There’s something for every palate on the cocktail menu. Jie Wang, the Marco Polo Lounge’s lead bartender, is adept at creating bright and fruity concoctions crafted with seasonal fruit and rum. Andy Su of YEN Bar uses teas to enhance the herbaceous notes in his gin cocktails. The Mo Bar team (led by Marcus Su) is noted for its heady, modern riffs on brown spirits cocktails with Scotch whiskey, bourbon, and dark rum foundations.
“The bars have gained international attention thanks in part to the international bartending competitions staged there annually,” says Su of the W Hotel. “A big factor in our growth is our relationship with (liquor importer) Diageo. There’s a wonderful exchange where bartenders from other W sister hotels are invited to be guest bartenders and bring new ideas to local regulars and W guests. However, as Taiwan is a major international tea producer, we feel a responsibility to offer several cocktails, mocktails, and food items with tea infusions that are enhancing Taipei’s bar reputation.”
Imbibers interested in trying some local flavor, inside the glass and out, will also find inventive surprises at independent bars whose owners and bar chefs have made names for themselves internationally by combining Taiwanese teas and various local ingredients with Western spirits and techniques. Woo Taipei, Dig Out, Trio, and Ounce all excel at creating cocktails that serve as fantastic canvases, utilizing various teas that are as nuanced visually as they are in taste.
The owners and bartenders also share a genuine camaraderie, passion for quality, and reverence for locally sourced ingredients – tea especially – that can be adapted for every season. Although the Taipei craft cocktail scene is still in its infancy, it is easy to see (and taste) that the use of teas is adding new steam to their customer buzz and bar menus.
Yee Hung-Soong, one of the forces behind Ounce (which has placed at or near the top of many of Asia’s “Top 50 Bar” lists, and was moving to a new location at press time), describes the whiskey-focused venue as a “project developed by a group of friends” who wanted to infuse a touch of American-style bar culture into the local scene. The bilingual New Jersey native observes that prior to the current proliferation of craft bars, Taipei’s watering holes were chiefly influenced by Japanese cocktail culture. This made sense, as the Japanese occupation of Taiwan left an enduring culinary influence on food and drink. But Yee sees a more defined local bar scene emerging, inspired by American mixology combined with the heavy use of Taiwanese ingredients.
“The food is great in Taiwan, and chefs and bartenders have the advantage of Taiwan having many micro growing seasons throughout the year,” says Yee. “They have access to things that are in season for just a few weeks and get to play around with those ingredients. Teas, naturally, are big as well. At Ounce, we focus on classic cocktails, and while we don’t take the twists too far, we always find creative ways to work with what happens to be in season. Right now, passionfruit is at its prime as summer comes to an end and it’s perfect for this time of year. It’s fresh, fragrant.
“As I happen to like bitter flavor profiles in my favorite cocktails, I enjoy playing around with the teas and herbs available in Taipei,” Yee continues. “There’s a street near Longshan Temple where there are numerous shops specializing in teas, herbs, and various botanicals from this area. We bring some of that in for infusions, garnishes, vaporing elements, and so on.”
Yee also pointed me in the direction of Cody Yu, one of the veterans of Taipei’s early craft cocktail scene and owner of TRIO (a tiki bar with a touch of 80s influence), and Masa Wang, who holds court at Dig Out several nights a week. Yu’s creativity brings a touch of tropical island flair to various drinks on the menu, including tea-based creations that go down as smoothly as a summer day on a Penghu beach.
Wang, for his part, proudly informs me that he prefers straightforward names for his creations. What you see is what you get, and the heady blend of jasmine, two types of oolong, and whiskey happens to be delicious – and surprisingly appealing to those who did not think they could find a brown spirit drink so refreshing.
The sleek hotel lounges and casual independent bars may not appear to have much in common with the swanky tea lounges catering to the ladies-who-lunch crowd. However, once you get beyond the décor, they all share a “high tea” state of mind – of friends getting together, slowing down, and sipping on something conversation starting.
1½ oz Mount Gay rum
1 tbsp honey butter
1 oz mango puree
1 oz Earl Grey tea, steeped and cooled
½ oz lime juice
- Combine liquids in a shaker and shake
- Pour into a martini or rocks glass over ice and garnish with seasonal fruit.
EMPEROR OOLONG MARTINI
1½ oz oolong tea infused Tanqueray Gin
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1 oz honey
1 small golden chrysanthemum
- Pour the infused Tanqueray Gin into the shaker.
- Add fresh lemon juice and honey and shake all the ingredients
- Pour into a Martini glass and garnish with a golden chrysanthemum.
1½ oz Zacapa 23 Rum
¼ oz Cynar
½ oz Aperol
¼ oz Goldschlager
3 drops black walnut bitters
Smoking cinnamon stick
- Combine liquids in shaker, strain, and pour into a glass.
- Add a smoking (previously lit) cinnamon stick into the glass for flavor and garnish.
158 DunHua N. Rd., Songshan District, Taipei
201 DunHua S. Rd., Sec. 2, Da’an District, Taipei
10 ZhongXiao E. Rd., Sec. 5, Xinyi District, Taipei
Craft Cocktail Bars
307 XinYi Rd., Sec. 4, Da’an District, Taipei
309 XinYi Rd., Sec. 4, Da’an District, Taipei
No. 12, Alley 54, Lane 63, Sec. 2, DunHua S. Rd., Da’an District, Taipei
No. 39-1, Lane 205, ZhongXiao E. Rd., Sec. 4, Da’an District, Taipei
Tel: 8771-9813[ Drink Only in Moderation ]