Picture your dream city. What does she look like? Does she have polished edges or are they slightly tatty? Is she chaotic and noisy, or is she orderly and chic?
When I picture my dream city she’s buzzing but laid back. She’s organised enough, but not so much that you can’t find moments of madness in her. She knows where she comes from and she’s holding onto that even whilst moving forward. In fact, she bears a striking resemblance to Taipei.
After the beauty of Taroko Gorge we return there, with two more days and too many things to tick off the list.
We check into our hostel then take ourselves on a walk through Da’an Park. We stroll the red dirt paths past trees with twisting trunks. They’re strategically placed enough to offer shade whilst not feeling too structured.
We have a Disney moment as we enter when a squirrel springs onto a bamboo grove we’re passing as if to greet us. Moments later we see a dinosaur-esque heron squatting in the grass like the second leg of the welcoming committee. It is unperturbed when I get all up in its grill to pap it. Maybe it loves the attention.
Tea is better than coffee. There, I said it.
We reach Wistaria Tea House, one of the oldest traditional tea houses left in the city. It was designed as a space for critical debate, and during the mid-20th century served as a meeting place for political activists and artists. We enter through a small zen garden complete with koi ponds and tumbling orchids. Inside it’s a quiet space, sparely decorated, all beige and exposed wood.
A perfectly poised Taiwanese girl in neutral linens rises from her own tea ceremony to greet us. She eyes the length of my dungaree dress and suggests politely the tatami mat floor seating might not be for me. As usual in the face of an immaculate, composed Asian woman I feel like this:
AKA a scruffy, sweaty mess. I’m used to it by now luckily. And at least the two normal chairs she gives us are in a pleasant spot, overlooking the garden.
To the tune of tinkling ceramics we scrutinise the menu, 10+ pages of poetic tea descriptions. We opt for two types including an oriental beauty from the cute little town of Pinglin we visited a few days earlier.
With the drinks comes what is essentially a tea making trainer. He brings an assortment of pots, dishes and cups along with a gas ring and a large bowl. He demonstrates all the proper steps of tea making. There are hundreds of them. Most involve pouring water from one vessel to another, then somewhere else, then back again. There’s even a sniffing stage. We both watch attentively, forgetting everything he said the moment he walks away. Cup to jug to tiny cup to massive bowl to, um, eye? No, not the eye Tanya. Never the eye.
Here’s a video someone made of the full ceremony in case you’re keen to learn.
The tea we’ve ordered is exquisite. I love the subtlety of fine tea, where you might get a little hit of something like lavender 30 seconds after you drink it. I love coffee too, but it’s a sledgehammer hit of flavour in comparison to tea, which is more of a gentle stroking. And even if we’re doing it wrong, the tea making ceremony is soothing. You have no choice but to take your time over the preparation, and you’re actively encouraged to delight in, and savour, the whole process. It’s the opposite of a Saturday night downing shots in Wetherspoons.
In summary, go there. It’s a beautiful experience. And having seen those elderly farmers, crookedly trekking up to their plantations to lovingly cultivate their tea, it’s an industry I feel pretty happy supporting.
My dad loves tea and spends a lot of time sampling different types, although oolong is his favourite. He recommends Oriental Beauty and Osmanthus. Generally he orders his tea online from somewhere like the Canton Tea Co.
Does the Wistaria tea house sound like the height of refinement? Well, think again. Our next stop was a post-modern, concept restaurant, the height of fine dining and chic interiors.
That’s right, our next stop was the Modern Toilet Restaurant. This establishment warrants its own post, it’s so utterly insane. That post is coming soon. Right now I’m going to fetch a nice cup of tea.