Monday, April 25, 2011

Vegan in Taiwan

Taiwan is a vibrant and beautiful island filled with great people, incredible tea, and abundant delicious vegan food. It is not difficult to find all of the above even if your Guoyu (Taiwan's word for Mandarin) (國語) is limited to Xiexie (謝謝) (thank you) and Ni Hao (你好) (hello). The key is to have a few phrases written in Chinese before you travel.

Lucky for us, Taiwan is home to many practicing vegans and countless vegetarians, some of whom regularly update websites and blogs with vegan tips and restaurant reviews. Before you go, search the web, and your guidebooks, for restaurants that sound intriguing. Write down, or print out, their names and addresses in Chinese as well as English.

As a vegan in Taiwan, the Chinese word Su (素) will quickly become your best friend. It means "simple" but is commonly used to mean "vegetarian." If you see it on a sign or a menu, the chances that you can eat something are pretty good (though not 100%). When ordering food at a new restaurant try opening with wǒ chī sù (我吃素), meaning "I eat vegetarian." If they can't understand you, show them the printed Chinese. Things will only get easier as your Mandarin skills improve and probably after a few days in Taiwan you'll master several more advanced phrases such as wǒ bù chī jīdàn (我不吃雞蛋) meaning "I don't eat eggs" and wǒ xǐhuan dàsuàn (我喜歡大蒜) meaning "I like garlic" (which, along with onion, is not considered Su).

For the most part, vegan foods in Taiwan will seem really cheap. You can self-cater with lots of fresh exotic fruits, tasty snacks and street foods, from numerous grocery stores, night markets and convenience stores. There is even a popular breakfast chain called Yong He Doujiang Wang (Eternal Peace Soymilk King) (永和豆漿王) which makes fresh soymilk every day. At Yong He, you can order a cup of soymilk and a vegetarian steamed bun (sùcàibāo 素菜包) for about $1 US.

Another great option for vegan backpackers in Taiwan are the Buddhist buffets (素食自助餐) which you'll find all over the island. Upon entering these restaurants you will see greens, rice, faux meats, soup, buns, and noodles presented on large tables. It's all vegetarian, but some dishes may contain mayonnaise (these are easy to spot) and some of the dessert cakes may contain eggs or cream. Best to avoid them if you're not sure. After you've got the lay of the land, find a paper tray and a pair of metal tongs and then go to town grabbing tasty bites. Be careful that your eyes are not bigger than your stomach, but don't worry too much about the cost. After you get all the food you need, they will weigh your plate and give you a total. They may then ask you if you want a bowl of rice which usually adds an extra $0.30. Your whole meal will probably end up costing less than $3.00 US. Wash down your meal with a bowl of thin, nourishing soup which is included in the price of you meal, so help yourself.

If you feel like treating yourself to a truly innovative and delectable meal, most of Taiwan's major cities do have a handful of fancy vegetarian restaurants including the world's only totally-vegan
international chain restaurant, Loving Hut (愛家). I have had wonderful experiences at Taipei's Kuan Xin Yuan (寬心園) restaurant and Lavender Garden Restaurant (天母古道森林花園).

During my time in Taiwan I have really come to love the island and it's amazing vegan-friendly food culture. This post barely scratches the surface of all the culinary and cultural treasures Taiwan has to offer vegan backpackers.

If you would now like to visit my two Vegan Taiwan Food Gallery posts here are direct links:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Infuser Basket vs Tea Bag Experiment

Last week, my coworker Elliot and I conducted an "Infuser Basket vs Tea Bag Experiment" while working at the Teacup (a retail tea shop and cafe here in Seattle).

The three products we tested were: a medium Finum brand brewing basket, a Finum brand paper tea sack and a (sadly not compostable) polyester tea bag from Japan.

The Packaging

The experiment was conducted in three rounds with the exact same weight of leaf, water temperature, steeping time and cups used each time. Round #1 was Dragon Well green tea, #2 was Darjeeling black tea, and #3 was Kukicha green tea. I choose these three teas because I drink them often and thus already know them quite well.

Round #1 - Set Up

Round #1 - Steeping

During the first round (the Dragon Well) I knew before I started sipping which cup had been used for each brewing method. The next two rounds, on the other hand, Elliot poured the liquor into new cups while I wasn't looking, so that I was cupping them "blind."

The results of the Dragon Well round were as follows: The Finum basket yielded the nicest, nuttiest flavor with the most color, depth and complexity. The Finum paper tea bag was pleasant, a bit lighter than the basket and had a slight dusty note. The Japanese tea bag tasted like garbage compared to the other two. It was too weak with a very faint unpleasant "envelope glue-like" aftertaste.

The results of the Darjeeling round were as follows (keep in mind that this time I didn't know which of the three methods was used until after I'd formed my opinions): The Finum basket had the nicest, richest, cleanest flavor. The Finum paper tea bag fell flat with and odd sort of "filmy" texture in my mouth. The Japanese tea bag actually tasted fine. It just tasted a little weak.

The results for round #3, the Kukicha, were pretty much the same as with the Dragon Well. Even though I didn't know which method was used to brew each cup, I right away guessed the basket because it yielded the greenest color (the other two looked more yellow). Elliot and I thought the basket tasted twice as good as the others and I even picked up a tiny hint of that "unpleasant envelope glue flavor" from the Japanese tea bag cup.

These results were in line with my past experiences but it was still a great exercise to test them with all the variables controlled.

Monday, April 18, 2011

2005 Haiwan factory sheng brick

Last Friday, I had the great pleasure of once again meeting my new friend Richard for tea at the Teacup. This time he brought me a sample of that 2005 Haiwan factory sheng brick that I mentioned he was trying to sell in my last post. I took a few photos of the packaging but we didn't drink it together because we already had a lot of other really exciting teas we wished to drink.

The real star of this epic tea gathering was my newest tea friend Bev (author of the gorgeous and insightful listening to leaves blog). Bev brought in a few teas including a breathtaking 1970's sheng sample from Bana Tea Company which she brewed to perfection.

This morning I finally made some time to drink the Haiwan brick, and I'm now ready to offer up my first review.

Each brick comes in a lovely little box...

...and has a paper belt with a card tucked inside (classy, eh?).

The leaves are quite beautiful...

...and the liquor is dark, sweet and a little bit "aged tasting."

I used a 100 ml glass gaiwan with about 5 grams of dry leaf. The first rinse with boiling water stirred up a lot of pleasant aromas such as peppermint, camphor and orange rind.

The soup itself was darker than expected, with mellow warming qi, and nice throat-feel. I got hints of those three formerly mentioned aromatics, but new ones such as blackberry and clove flitted about as well. The fourth infusion is when the earthier aged-flavors began to come out. Their smell sometimes reminded me of a 100 year old book with a leather cover.

I enjoyed this brick wholeheartedly.

If you're interested in adding one (or more) of these bricks to your own puer collection please email my friend Richard at

Monday, April 11, 2011

Richard's Sheng Puer

I recently met a Bainbridge Island tea lover named Richard. On Saturday, April 9th, we shared an unforgettable puer tea session at Teacup in Seattle. Hopefully it was the first of many.

Richard came across my tea blog while searching for someone who might be able to help him sell some of his puer tea.

In particular, he wishes to sell the following 3 teas:

2005 - 250 gram bricks from Haiwan (海灣) Tea Company
$20 each or $8 for 100 grams

2005 - 500 gram cakes Yi Wu Cha Wang (易武茶王) from Yan-Ching Hao (楊慶號)
$120 each or $25 for 100 grams

2006 - 500 gram cakes Gu Shu Cha Wang (古樹茶王) from Yan-Ching Hao (楊慶號)
$95 each or $20 for 100 grams

I told him that I would probably be interested in helping him... but we both agreed that first we should meet for tea before making any formal plans. After several hours sharing great tea and conversation, I was convinced that Richard was a kindred spirit and a true lover of the leaf. I got the impression that he drinks a ton of strong sheng puer (which he called his "medicine").

After meeting the man, I'm am honored to tell you more about his teas and hope that you'll contact him directly if you're interested in purchasing any. His email address is and he is open to discussing different methods of payment and shipping depending on the individual needs of anyone who contacts him.

Richard and I did not have time to cup his 2005 Haiwan Brick. Maybe I'll get a sample and write about it in the coming weeks. We did, however, enjoy many awesome infusions of the Yi Wu Cha Wang and the Gu Shu Cha Wang cakes.

Firstly, here is my review of the Yi Wu cake: Wow. It's not often that I get a chance to drink tea this flavorful and satisfying. All of the leaves are beautiful, long and plump and the yellow-orange liquor is like sweet nectar to me. The broth is crisp, clean and floral. I really liked this tea, and may have to buy one for myself.

Yi Wu Cha Wang

Yi Wu Cha Wang - Dry Leaf

Yi Wu Cha Wang - Spent Leaf

Click here for Houde Asian Art's product listing for this Yi Wu cake.
Click here for Tuocha Tea blog's review of this Yi Wu cake.

And now... my review of the Gu Shu cake: The leaves are an attractive blend of broken and whole pieces with a fair bit of stem. They appear plump and juicy. Richard brewed this tea a little strong for me at first but I didn't mind and I could still tell it was a very high quality cake. I wasn't in love until the fourth or fifth infusion when the richest plum and brown sugar notes started to emerge. The tea was always complex and interesting and like the Yi Wu cake left me feeling very mellow and comfortable.

Gu Shu Cha Wang

Gu Shu Cha Wang - Dry Leaf

Gu Shu Cha Wang - Spent leaf

Click here for Half-Dipper's review of this Gu Shu cake.
Click here for Houde Asian Art's product listing for this Gu Shu cake.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

2006 Gu Zhuang Loose Leaf Shu

My online tea buddy, John Jelly, gifted me this 50 gram pack of loose leaf shu puer (熟普洱) back in 2007. I'm not sure how he came by it.

The brand, Li Ji Gu Zhuang (李記谷庄) is based out of Jinggu (景谷) in Yunnan, China. They appear to me to be an upscale, though relatively new tea company. claims their owner is a descendant of the inventor of the Tuo Cha (沱茶) and that "they still use traditional processing methods that were passed down from one generation to another for more than a hundred years." That may just be marketing but it all sounds pretty good to me.

Here is the wrapper for my 50 gram bag:

Everything appears to be in order... so let's have a drink!

I filled Xiao Xiao about 1/3 full of dry leaf and gave the leaves a 5-second rinse. They had a warm, toasty aroma with delicate forest and soil notes.

The first infusion (about 25 seconds) poured a dark reddish-black color and had a milky texture with soft smokiness. My daughter took a little sip, and when I asked her opinion, she replied "it tastes funny, and it tastes like honey."

This is a shot of the second infusion.

I enjoyed four more dark, malty infusions and one weak, orange-colored fifth infusion. My tasting notes included: fat ripe blueberry, carob and sugar cookie. I found the Gu Zhuang to be a smooth and worthy shu puer.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Teacup Tea Classes - April 2011

This month, I am excited to present a fun new tea class at Teacup (2128 Queen Anne Ave. N. Seattle, WA, 98109).

Saturday, April 16, 2011 - 10:00 to 11:00 AM
Tea and Mandarin Chinese - In this class, participants will taste three different and delicious Chinese teas while we practice speaking Mandarin Chinese together. My Mandarin speaking skill is barely elementary level but I think this class will attract a mix of people whose skills range from newbie to fluent. I will prepare a handout of Chinese tea names and other tea-related vocabulary so everyone will have a fun time chatting and sipping.

My tea classes are great for tea lovers of all levels, so feel free to bring a friend or family member that you'd like to "get hooked" on tea. The cost is $3 per guest and a RSVP is required. You may RSVP anytime by visiting or calling the Teacup (206-283-5931) or by emailing me at

I will let you know as new classes are scheduled, and please feel free to suggest a class idea on a subject you'd like to learn more about. I hope to see you soon at a class!

Friday, April 1, 2011

88 Treasures Tea (八十八寶茶)

A week ago, while browsing the tea aisle at 99 Ranch Market in Kent, a little red box of tea caught my eye. It was called 八十八寶茶 or 88 Treasures Tea, and I could see that it was from a tea company based out of Xining (西寧), China. It didn't cost too much so I decided to give it a try. In the least, it would make a good blog post.

You may already know that ba bao cha (eight treasure tea) is very popular in Xining. Eight is considered a lucky number to the Chinese and so the blend will always contains eight ingredients.

I looked closer at the package in my hand... and, sure enough, this blend appears to actually contain 88 ingredients!

I knew it would take me a hundred years to translate the packaging on my own, so I asked a Chinese friend who sometimes visits me at Teacup. He took the box home and then emailed me his translation a couple days later.

Here's what it says: "New Organic 88 treasure tea is the perfect, healthy gift for dad! Our unique blend of herbs and teas contains eleven times the power and longevity of simple eight treasures! Our tea is good for the prostate and vitality. Give dad the gift of life and great taste!"

The box even has a little picture of a young man giving a cup of tea to an older man printed above the product name. At this point it dawned on me that the 88 also appeals to the Chinese love of puns, because 88 and dad can both be pronounced "Ba Ba" in Mandarin. (That's why Chinese father's day is August 8th.)

So what's in the blend you ask? Here's the list that I was given:
Chrysanthemum, Astragalus, Wolf Berry, Jujube, Ginseng root, Tuckahoe, Tangerine Peel, Danshen, Snake Gourd Seed, Star Anise, Common Squill Bulb, Horsetail, Longstamen, Common Smoketree, Fritillary, Wax Gourd Peel, Sweet Osmanthus Flower, Dogbane Leaf, Rock Sugar, Ginko, Pricklyash Peel, Elm bark, Chamomile, Rosehips, Towel Gourd Stem, Raspberry leaf, Korean Monkshood, Loquat Leaf, Papaya leaf, Peppermint, Shanlu Tea, Spearmint, Drug Sweetflag Rhizome, Raisin, Oak Bark, Strawberry Leaf, Bat Guano, Vanilla, Passionflower, Kelp, Red Clover, Wild Cherry Bark, Rhubarb, Peony, Sand Root, Licorice Root, Damiana, Goldthread, Ma Huang, Hyssop, Candied Hawthorn, Stinging Nettle, Dong Quai, Lemon Peel, Puer Tea, Wintergreen, Tuberous Sword Fern, Lavender, Lemongrass, Bombax Flower, Ginger Root, Nux Vomica, Elder Flowers, African Plum, Salvia, Japanese Climbing Fern Spore, Nine Winter Monkey Tea, Echinacea, Marshmallow, Fermented Yarrow Flower, Clove, Lycopene, Water Vapor, Gut Flora, Selenium, Nut Husk, Saw Palmetto, Balloon Flower Root, Gypsum, Zinc, Snow Lotus, Urea, Dandelion, Valerian, Linear Stonecrop, Mustard Seed, Wooly Datchmanspipe, and Green Tea!

Here's what it all looks like:

I steeped it for five minutes in a small ceramic teapot (Chip to be precise) using boiling hot water...

...and here's the result:

So what does it taste like you ask? It's very sweet, with an odd metallic note and a surprisingly mild finish. The most noteworthy flavors were mud and syrup. I did pick up a little bit of gingery-heat in my throat about an hour after drinking.

As for the health benefits of imbibing so many exotic herbs... I really can't make any firm declarations. I feel a little bit light-headed and sweaty and my pee has never looked darker.

I probably won't drink 88 Treasures Tea again.