Get real

“Authenticity” is an intriguing concept[1]; at a basic level it means that a tea we enjoy is what it purports to be. For example, an authentic Taiwanese oolong should be from Taiwan and not, say, Viet Nam.[2] On a more abstract level, authenticity is a cultural construct that can mean different things in different cultural settings[3] And, from third perspective, the notion of the authentic can have a temporal sense: what is seen as authentic may, with the passage of time and events, change radically. In this essay I will examine third notion of authenticity by looking at how what is “authentic” Wenshan Bao Zhong has changed over time.[4]

This examination will be in two parts. The first part will look at what clues about authenticity might be buried in the name “Wenshan Bao Zhong and the second part will deal with the history of the tea from the 19th century to today.

It’s quite a character

In Chinese, the name of the tea in question is: 文山包種. This name has been Romanized in several different ways: Wenshan Bao Zhong, Wen Shan Baozhong, Wenshan Paochong, Wensan Paochong and on and on. Yet no matter how the name is Romanized, the Chinese remains the same: 文山包種. I shall attempt to deconstruct the name somewhat and see if that can tell us anything about Wehshan Bao Zhong.

Harvest in Pinglin

Wenshan is a reference to a place. So where is Wenshan. Well, there really is no peak known as “Scholar’s Mountain.” [5] Currently, Wenshan is a district in the southern part of Taipei City that was formed in 1990 after the merger of the districts of Muzha and Jinmei. Historically, however, the name “Wenshan” was applied to the south and east of the Taipei basin. But the region only acquired this name in 1894, the year before Taiwan came under Japanese rule.[6] Prior to that, it was known as “Quanshan” (Fist Mountain.)[7]

Pinglin area shown in red stripe. Map by Google Maps.

The important take away is that currently, Wenshan tea comes from areas “immediately” adjacent to Taipei City. The principal area of production is in and around the Pinglin area in New Taipei City (we’ll complicate this a little bit next month.) Teas from areas other than those adjacent to Taipei City are not considered to be authentic Wenshan Bao Zhong and many argue that, even if made in the style of Wenshan teas, they don’t deserve the name Bao Zhong
at all.[8]

So far, things seem fairly straight forward. But what about the rest of the name?

Wrapping it all up

You will have noticed that I always Romanize 包種 as two words. This is to avoid confusion for baozhong, as a single word, means “to take care of oneself,” although, of course, the characters are different (保重.)

In the west 包種 generally has been translated as “wrapped kind,” or “wrapped type.” But there is a problem with the character 種 for although it can mean “kind” or “type” these words are used in the biological sense, as in “species” and not simply as differentiators.

Wrapping Bao Zhong

Li Chih-Jen has proposed what I believe is a much more intriguing and informative way of looking at包種.[9]  包裝 (baozhuang) is the word for package and this lent the character 包 to the name. 種仔 (zhongzai), in the argot of the region at the time, referred to the qing xin wulong cultiver and this gave the 種 to the name.Therefore, Bao Zhong (包種) simply means packaged qing xin wulong tea. And that is exactly what authentic Wenshan Bao Zhong was: packaged tea from the qing xin wulong cultivar.

But it was considerably more than that as well. That will be the topic of next month’s opinion.


That’s my take. What’s your view?


[1] I have delved into this topic in a more general sense in an earlier post: “Over the Rainbow: In Search of Authenticity”

[2] Yet even this often is unclear in Taiwan. Authenticity for many in the Taiwanese trade relates to specific levels of tea quality and has little, if anything, to do with provenance.

[3] See “Over the Rainbow.” See also Jinghong Zhang Puer Tea: Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic (Seattle and London, University of Washington Press, 2014). Zhang shows that the definition of authentic puer changes as one moves from one cultural setting (Yunnan) to different cultural setting (Hong Kong.)

[4] The balance of this post is based upon research presented initially at the Toronto Tea Festival in February 2018.

[5] There is a city in Yunnan Province in China that is called Wenshan, but clearly we’re not speaking of that.

[6] Taiwan was ceded to the Japanese by the Qing at the end of the Sino-Japanese war of 1894 – 1895. See Denny Roy Taiwan: A Political History (Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2003.) The Japanese ruled Taiwan until the conclusion of the Second World War.

[7] See the entry in Wikipedia:

[8] Especially the growers in the Pinglin area.

[9] Li Chih-Jen 文山包種茶 TRES

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