In our March/April 2019 Travel Issue, contributing writer Max Falkowitz explores one of Taiwan’s most vibrant tea communities, Maokong. Here, Falkowitz shares his tips on traveling to the storied mountaintop village and where to find the best tea once you get there.
Journey to Maokong
The Maokong gondola station is a five-minute walk from the Taipei Zoo terminus of the MRT’s brown line, and a ride to the top of the mountain takes about 30 minutes. There are two stations in between Taipei Zoo and Maokong village. If heights aren’t your thing, you can also ride up or down the mountain by minibus or, should you have the calves for it, hike your way, as many older folks do. The gondola operates year-round, except on Mondays and holidays, and the village should be active, though most people visit in spring, summer, and early fall, when the elevation brings a small reprieve from the heat. Shops and restaurants start to close around 6 p.m., so plan to visit in the morning or early afternoon. Once you’ve reached the village, it’s easy to get around on foot. Street signs pointing to the major sights and temples are translated into English, as are menus at many restaurants. Shop owners tend to only speak Chinese, but it’s easy to get by with clever gesturing or a smartphone translator app.
Where to Find Tea in Maokong
Tea Master Chang Nai-Miao Memorial Hall: Named in honor of a pioneering planter who established one of the first Muzha tieguanyin plots in 1895, this museum is dedicated to the history and culture of Taiwanese oolong in general, and tieguanyin in particular. Lessons on tea processing, historical exhibits and tea tastings are conducted in English and Chinese.
Liu Ji Xiang Tea Restaurant: A local favorite with decent tieguanyin and incredible views down the mountain, this restaurant also offers the rare chance in Taipei to sample country-style Taiwanese cuisine, from omelets flecked with tea leaves to stir-fried slivered pork with fresh young bamboo shoots. No. 53, Ln. 34, Sec. 3 Zhinan Rd.; +886 2 2936 4371
Maokong Teahouse: You can’t miss this café just outside Maokong station, and you shouldn’t; the swirls of tea-flavored soft serve are a fitting way to get familiar with the local brews.
No. 116, Ln. 38, Sec. 3 Zhinan Rd.; +886 2 2936 6066
Finding Tea in Taipei
While a day trip to Maokong is the most immersive way to appreciate Taiwanese tea culture, it’s far from your only option. Head back down the mountain to Taipei to check out these must-visit spots during your trip.
Wistaria Tea House: This historic Japanese-style teahouse dates to the early 20th century and is currently one of the premier destinations for Taiwanese tea culture. While the teahouse offers some food, the real focus is DIY tea service, with a lengthy menu of Chinese and Taiwanese teas. The Muzha tieguanyin is among the best you can taste in Taipei, but owner Chow Yu’s specialty is house productions of pu-erh, a style of tea that’s fermented and pressed into cakes to facilitate aging for years or even decades.
Yingge Pottery Street: This is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in ceramics and teaware. It’s a functioning ceramics district and open-air market for everything from commodity teapots to thousand-dollar pieces of fine art. Purchase a Taiwan Railway ticket to Yingge Station from Taipei Main Station; the trip takes about 45 minutes.
Yongkang Street: For a more casual tea culture experience, hop off the MRT at Dongmen Station and stroll down this little lane full of tea and antique shops. You’ll find a wide range of traditional and modern tea vendors; most welcome visitors to sample their teas on the house.
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