The Farm

The Daguan Pavillion and Tian Chi.

Fushoushan Farm, comprising over 800 hectares of land, overlooks Lishan village from high on the mountainside. Located between 1800 and 2560m in elevation, the farm produces many delicious high mountain fruits and vegetables together with some of the most expensive and highly sought after tea in Taiwan. Sadly, and despite it being the only protected trade mark in the Taiwan tea industry[1], there is far more tea sold as Fushoushan than the farm produces. And what the farm does produce is all presold, in special packaging, on a subscription basis – it is not even available at the farm itself[2]. In other words, the prized Fushoushan you have in your “stash” probably isn’t.

Fushoushan Farm is owned and managed by the Veteran Affairs Council, a Taiwanese governmental entity. It was established as a farm in 1957 when 100 Republic of China military veterans were settled in the area following the construction of the trans-island highway (the infamous Provincial Hwy 8.) The strong connections to the military remain to this day. Fushoushan also is the site of Daguan Pavillion, a former summer home of the dictator Chiang Kai Shek, and of Tian Chi the “celestial pool” situated directly in front of the pavilion.

The tea story begins

When, in the 1970’s, Taiwan’s export tea market collapsed[3], the government decided to pursue a strategy of focusing production on oolong tea, developing the domestic market and exploring new areas for tea production.  High mountain tea gardens were now on the radar and one of the first sites to experiment with high mountain tea was the Fushoushan Farm[4].

Fushoushan was the location chosen by the Taiwan Tea Experiment Station (TTES)[5] as the site for many of their experiments with high mountain growing practices. These experiments led to the adoption of the Lugu (Dong Ding) production methods including, notably, the practice of “ball rolling” the tea.[6] However, TTES also recommended lower levels of oxidation and lighter roasting in order to highlight the unique character of high grown tea.[7]

Packing Foushoushan tea into canisters

The tea gardens at Fushoushan were fully planted out in 1983 and production of the Fushoushan high mountain tea began shortly thereafter. Two principal cultivars were planted; qing xin wulong and tie Guanyin. Both of these varieties are still cultivated at Fushoushan but it is the qing xin wulong that is highly prized. The tie Guanyin is marketed in a yellow canister and the qing xin in a green canister. The total production of Fushoushan tea is approximately 8200kg per year or 4100kg per harvest.[8] It is packed in special 75g bags that are placed in the canisters and sealed with a numbered anti-counterfeiting label. The tea is officially known as “Fushou Everspring Tea;” it is expensive and very hard to come by.

Smoke and mirrors?

“Fushoushan” sold on the open market is almost certainly not true Fushoushan tea. True Fushoushan tea sells for about $335 per kilo at the moment. That is $0.335 per gram directly from the farm. Using standard industry margins this would translate to a retail price of $93.80 per 2oz package. Yet most “Fushoushan” in the west sells for about $35 – $45 per 2oz package.

Some not so real “Fushoushan”

So what is that tea? Many have tried to profit from the notoriety of Fushoushan tea by selling other tea as Fushoushan. The most reputable of these vendors are supplying “Fushoushan” tea produced on the plateau above Lishan village, which is known in the Taiwan tea trade as Fushoushan.[9] Although this tea really should be called Lishan, its quality tends to be very good and often surpasses the quality of tea from the farm itself.

At the other end of the spectrum, however, are the shysters and all of their schemes. Unfortunately, copies of Fushoushan canisters and bags are readily available throughout Taiwan. Low quality tea often is packaged in these items and passed off as Fushoushan, usually at unbelievably low prices; but nonetheless ones that assure a handsome profit to the schemers. Very often, this tea is not even from Taiwan.

Be smart

True Fushoushan tea in its official packaging.

How to avoid being “taken?” First and foremost deal only with vendors you know and respect. And ask questions about the provenance of the tea they are proposing to you; who made it, where is it from, why isn’t it in true Fushoushan packs and so forth. Second, as I have noted often, true Fushoushan tea is expensive, very expensive, so if the tea on offer seems a great buy, it certainly is not the real thing.

Is it worth it?

So what is all the fuss about? Fushoushan is sought after. It is expensive. But is it any good? Well, truth be told, in recent years true Fushoushan has been a disappointing tea. It is not bad but it is not outstanding either and given the price and the hype, one has the right to expect outstanding tea. “Fake” Fushoushan from the plateau on Lishan has often been far better than the real thing. Things are definitely looking up, however, for last year Dr. Wu, a noted Taiwanese tea scientist and tea maker was appointed to head the tea operations at Fushoushan Farm. We’ll soon see if the promise is realized.

That’s my take. What’s your view?

[1] So far as I am aware. Several producing sites have logos that designate teas from that location but these are rarely, if ever, used.

[2] Fushoushan Farm is an active tourist center with comfortable accommodations. It is definitely worth a visit if you find yourself exploring the tea routes of central Taiwan.

[3] The collapse was precipitated by rising production costs in Taiwan coupled with the reopening of Chinese tea production to the world market.

[4]There was a high mountain site, which no longer exists, developed around 1969 in the Da Yu Ling region. Current Taiwanese regulations prohibit high mountain tea gardens above 2500m.

[5] Now the Tea Research and Extension Station (TRES.)

[6] For the history of “ball rolling” see my earlier blog, “Getting the Ball Rolling”

[7] See Yu Shuenn-Der “Authenticity, Terroir and the Invention of Tradition: French Wine versus Taiwan Tea” proceedings of the 2015 International Conference on Chinese Food Culture. p. 92

[8] There are two harvests per year; one in the late spring and the other in the “winter” (it is late September or early October.)

[9] I thank Philip Brook of Yamadai Tea in Ming Jian, Nantou County, for this insight.

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