Thursday, July 9, 2009

Wistaria tea house 紫藤廬

Taipei's Wistaria* tea house (紫藤廬) has been inspiring tea lovers for decades. Although many more qualified people have already written volumes about this serene establishment (Ang Lee even shot a tea drinking scene for his beautiful 1994 movie "Eat Drink Man Woman" at Wistaria), I think it's about time I catalogued my own happy experiences.

I first heard about Wistaria in 2004 when my mentor and friend Rob Bageant recommended that I seek it out. Because Rob truly loves Taiwan and tea culture I promised I would try to find it. I had him mark its location on my Taipei map.

It turns out that the Wistaria Tea house is not too hard to find. Here is a map. As you are walking along busy Xinsheng South Road, you turn into the courtyard of this Japanese colonial era house and instantly the air feels 10 degrees cooler, the din of scooters has been muted, and the gentle smell of good tea greets your nose.

The courtyard

I visited this tea house in 2005 (solo) and 2006 (with my buddy Darald). I tried to visit it in 2007 (with my wife) and in 2008 (with my little sister and some friends) but it was closed for a remodel. I'm not sure what they were doing or why it took so long to finish but I've since heard that it has been reopened and still retains the same tranquil feeling it had before the remodel. I definitely plan to visit Wistaria again on my next trip to Taiwan.

On my first trip I sat by the window sipping some fresh winter Alishan high mountain oolong and writing in my journal. The staff were so sweet to me. They offered to take my picture and gave me a few English language brochures of Taipei and Wistaria. It was very relaxing to mindfully sit and sip in this famous tea house.

Savouring my winter Alishan (January, 2005)

In 2006 my friend Darald and I spent several hours at Wistaria sipping tea, people-watching, chatting and snacking on dried mango, dried cherries and watermelon seeds. We choose a delicious aged puer tea from the beautiful, handwritten, all Chinese menu. It was easily worth the cost (about US$20) as we got 15 infusions out of it and felt so mellow and peaceful in the tea house.

D. and I May, 2006

The follow text was taken directly from Wistaria's own English language brochure given to me in 2005:
Wistaria-House is a place full of beauty and vitality, full of contradiction and experiment. The former tenant, Professor David Chow, introduced Western liberalism into Taiwan during the 1950th, transforming the house into a place for critical debate. The Japanese-style house was damaged by a typhoon in 1961. Afterwards, the front part was refurbished into a western-style edifice. Although the building embodies disparate architectural styles, the utensils, artworks and furniture are uniquely blended into a special aesthetic atmosphere. In 1976 Chou Yu began to transform the house into a center for cultural activities. After the "Formosa Incident" in 1979 (the brutal crackdown of Taiwan's raising democratic movement), Wistaria-House became the meeting place for political dissenters and a new generation of artists. In 1981 Chou Yu opened Wistaria Tea House which deeply influenced the renaissance of tea culture in Taiwan. Wistaria Tea House successfully developed a new "way of tea" by creatively transforming daoist aesthetics and the idea of self-cultivation traditionally cherished by Chinese literati within the sphere of consumer culture. Furthermore, it became a meeting place for social activists and critical scholars holding many symposiums and public discussions. This mixture gave Wistaria-House its unique atmosphere and cultural significance. In 1997 Wistaria-House was declared a Taipei City historical site. In January of 2003, the Taipei City Cultural Bureau formally turned the operation of the teahouse over to the Wistaria Cultural Association, which heralded a new era for this "public space of Dao".

Inside Wistaria (January, 2005)

The Wistaria tea house has been an inspiration to many tea house owners and managers around the world and while there are certainly other old, peaceful, and beautiful tea houses in Taiwan (and I'll admit that I have not yet been to very many) Wistaria is my current favorite!

*We spell it Wisteria. They spell it Wistaria.

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