Taiwan is about tea, and to say that Taipei is filled with tea shops would be an understatement indeed. From Xindian to Tamsui, Nangang to Tucheng, every avenue and neighborhood in Taipei offer a plethora of shops selling tea. These range from privately owned sit-down tea shops to franchise grab and go spots like Coco, Comebuy, 50 Lan, TP Tea and Milk Shop.
The Taiwan Scene crew spent a tea-filled week sampling teas from some of the finest shops in the city, but that’s the subject for another article.
In this article, we’ll focus on three particular tea shops we visited in a single day on our quest to sample a broad yet unique swath of Taipei’s tea scene. (Read also: A Day of Tea – Tea Culture in Taiwan)
Tea Shop One: Ten Ren
Ten Ren is one of the oldest (and hence as these things go) more traditional of Taiwan’s modern grab-and-go tea shops. It was therefore pretty natural that the teas we sampled at Ten Ren were mostly of the more venerable variety.
Ten Ren One: 913 King’s Oolong Tea (Ginseng High Mountain Oolong)
A very traditional blend whose recipe dates back thirty years, the 913 King’s Oolong Tea is a popular beverage (with over 5000 cups being consumed a day in Taipei shops alone). The sample we tried had a nice flavor and was surprisingly refreshing, with a bit of sugar to balance the flavor of the ginseng (which some might find medicine-y). The shop mixed me up a batch of the unsweetened version, which had a stronger flavor and a pleasant hint of bitterness on the back of the tongue absent in the sweetened version.
Ten Ren Two: Fresh Orange Green Tea
Our second sample was Ten Ren’s Fresh Orange Green Tea. I found this almost like an orange-ade, with the green tea flavor following behind the stronger orange taste. Our tea barista explained that the tea used was always locally grown Taiwanese Green and that the drink itself changed seasonally. “In a few months when oranges are back in season, we’ll be using fresh oranges. For now, it’s fresh Sunkist, which is a bit more on the sour side.” In a nutshell, I liked it.
Ten Ren Three: Fresh Fruit Matcha Green Tea
Matcha is increasingly popular in Taiwan, and the green tea powder is finding its way into ice cream, beverages and cakes around the island. That said, I’ve never been a fan of the stuff, finding it a bit bitter in any incarnation. Though the bitterness of the Matcha was way offset by the sweetness of the honey. The flavor of the orange wasn’t nearly as pronounced as with the previous drink. Another member of the Taiwan Scene crew, more of a Matcha fan, called it “surprising,” and said that the Matcha flavor was well balanced.
Ten Ren Four: Green Milk Tea with Taro
While Ten Ren is definitely thought of as a more traditional tea shop, their fourth offering was probably the least traditional of the bunch. The use of Green Milk Tea was a good choice, as black tea would have overpowered the more gentle flavor of the taro (which the green tea complimented). My only complaint with this beverage was that the presence of the chunks of ice made it hard to fully enjoy the taro chunks.I had it with regular ice, you may adjust the portion of ice and sugar according to your personal preferences.
Ten Ren Five: Bubble Milk Tea
It was back to basics with Ten Ren’s fifth and final sample, a traditional Taiwanese-style honey bubble milk tea made with black tea from Sri Lanka. The honey bubbles were chewy, and the tea just strong enough. All in all, Ten Ren’s Bubble Milk Tea is a good drink to serve to someone looking to sample the best version of the drink that put Taiwan bubble milk tea on the map in the first place. (Related content: Bubble Milk Tea and Beyond in Taiwan (part one))
Tea Shop Two: SOMA
Opened just five years ago in Taiwan, SOMA has recently spread its wings to reach an international market. What makes SOMA special is that every black milk tea has three different types of black tea, giving their beverages a more complex flavor. SOMA also boasts a much lower sugar rating than most other shops, with a few of their blends being served mandatorily unsweetened.
SOMA One: Kid At Heart
We knew we were in for something less traditional with the first beverage! “Kid at Heart” blends Yakult (a yogurt drink that’s a staple at kindergartens around Taiwan), club soda and Grapefruit. The drink was created by Soma’s owner, who calls it “a flavor from my own childhood.” This turned out to be my favorite drink of the day, as it was refreshingly sour, fizzy and bright. Also, it was the first drink of the day to be completely caffeine free, which makes sense; the last thing a child needs are artificial stimulants.
SOMA Two: Soma Essentia Milk Tea
Like all black teas on the Soma menu, Essentia is served with a mix of three types of black tea blended with honey and fresh milk. Of the teas we’d try at Soma, Essentia struck me as the most traditional, the sort of beverage that a serious tea aficionado would enjoy. I found the flavor surprisingly complex, though the milk & honey combination was a tad too thick on the tongue for my liking, especially following the sparkling tones of the Kid At Heart. Overall, a good beverage for milk tea fans.
SOMA Three: Red Jade and Black Tea
Another selection that would be well enjoyed by more serious tea aficionados, the Red Jade and Black Tea had a bright, cheerful flavor with a slightly mysterious peppermint aftertaste. Our batch was served unsweetened, but I could see how someone with a less serious tongue might want just a tiny bit of sugar in theirs.
SOMA Four: Mulberry Golden Fruit Tea
Another black tea, the Golden Fruit Tea was rather unique, being served with floating sweet basil seeds. The result was a good and strong tea, with something of a healthy aftertaste. The sweet basil seeds provided the most interesting texture combination of all the teas we tried at SOMA.
SOMA Five: Taiwan Pineapple Golden Fruit Tea
The first green tea selection of the bunch, the Taiwan Pineapple Golden Fruit Tea is made with a High Mountain Green Tea, and also had sweet basil seeds, providing a similar texture experience to the Mulberry Golden. The infusion of fruit and green tea gave this a somewhat lighter flavor, allowing the pineapple to come through in a way that would not have been the case with a stronger black tea.
SOMA Six: Coco Milk Tea
This one had a very nice and none-too-strong flavor of cacao owing to the infusion of cacao powder imported from Africa. While definitely the richest drink of the bunch, it wasn’t overpowering.
Tea Shop Three: Bobii Frutii
If Ten Ren represented tradition and SOMA fusion, then our final tea shop of the day, Bobii Frutii, was sort of like…a beverage carnival. Offering the most colorful drinks of the three – nearly all of the shop’s drinks are multi-layered, making them a feast for the eyes – bobii frutii is the kind of shops where a group of close friends can hang out and have a good time together.
Bobii Frutii One: Extraordinary Bubble Milk Tea
Made with black tea from Sri Lanka, brown sugar pearls, and fresh milk, BF’s Extraordinary Bubble Milk Tea offered a very distinctive light charcoal roasted flavor. Though this tea might be a bit too sweet for some, we found it tasty and chewy, with the grilled flavor coming through the sweetness.
Bobii Frutii Two: Don’t Want to Work
Though similar in looks to BF’s Extraordinary Bubble Milk Tea, flavor-wise the amusingly-named Don’t Want to Work is different, being made with a distinctive Oolong tea, fresh milk and light blue bobii made from Butterfly Pea. While lacking the roasted flavor of extraordinary, the Oolong tea definitely made this one stand apart.
Bobii Frutii Three: Camouflage
For our second offering, the Bobii Frutii barista offered us something that isn’t on the menu.Camouflage is named for its distinctive green and white pastel color created by the mixture of Green tea, Matcha and fresh milk, creating a very unique layering effect. Fans of Matcha will find this a very energizing beverage, though it might be too intense for some.
Bobii Frutii Four: Uji Snow
A very beautiful drink, Uji Snow is made with fresh milk, powdered Matcha and very pretty white bobii pearls. What made this drink particularly attractive is what happened when we stirred it up. The green powder slowly settling down onto the white pearls, created something of a textured snow globe effect. Like Camouflage, this beverage would be best enjoyed by fans of the strong-flavored Matcha.
Bobii Frutii Five: Pandora Treasures
Perhaps the most ethereally beautiful of Bobii’s offerings, this beverage is made by layering two different colors of bobii pearls (white and blue) with a shaved ice lemon and honey drink. Sweet and refreshing, this beverage was as interesting to look at as it was to consume.
Can’t get enough of Taiwan’s Tea Scene? Neither could we. Check out Taiwan Scene’s Food & Drink Section in the next couple of weeks for our next (even more expansive) tea-tasting extravaganza!