Monday, October 24, 2011

Taiwanese Shaken Tea

The first time I heard about Taiwanese shaken tea was back in 2005, when my friend Josh C. hosted me for two nights in Tainan (臺南). We went to a beautiful teashop where Josh was clearly considered a VIP. While we savored some of the finest oolongs I've ever experienced, Josh pointed out the servers behind the counter, who used martini shakers to blend chilled tea with natural flavors and sweeteners. These shaken beverages were then poured into lovely glasses and served to delighted customers. During my first few trips to Taiwan, these shaken tea beverages seemed to be all the rage.

My first taste came a year later. While waiting for a bus in Fengyuan (豐原), my buddy Darald and I walked around the nearby streets in search of tea. We randomly entered a stylish teahouse and attempted to order some good tea using our limited Mandarin. It turned out they didn't serve regular tea, only shaken tea. We almost left, then decided "what the heck" and placed our orders.

After a few minutes of waiting next to an indoor waterfall our drinks were served. I can't remember what Darald ordered, but I got this:

It turned out to be "honey, grapefruit juice, and baihao oolong garnished with a cherry tomato." I saw the server shake it up. I'd never had anything like it before and yes, it was delicious.

I've since tried similar beverages a few times and have learned a few interesting tidbits in the process. For one, shaken tea is synonymous with bubble tea in Taiwan because it has foamy bubbles floating on the surface of the glass. My previous notion that bubble tea must contain tapioca pearls turns out to be a misconception. Also, the reasons for shaking the tea go beyond just mixing the ingredients and making bubbles; it is believed that shaking oxygenates the tea which results in cleaner, bolder flavors.

I wonder what would happen if you were to vigorously shake a martini shaker full of plain pure tea and compare its flavor to its unshaken counterpart? Perhaps I should try some experiments.


Miss Tea Delight said...

Just a wild guess. Shaking tea might very well oxidise the good healthy stuff in it.

Alex Zorach said...

I often tend to have a bias against tea-derived drinks other than just straight tea, but reading about examples like this gives me a little more motivation to experiment with trying or creating new combinations.

I actually do stir teas (I suppose, making me unlike a certain fictional British agent) although I would not shake them.

In certain teas, certain flavors sink to the bottom of the cup...resulting in a light, almost bland top to the cup and an overwhelmingly bitter or astringent bit at the bottom. This usually only happens when I drink in taller mugs -- one advantage of the small teacups -- but as I often drink tea from a mug, it's something that happens from time to time.