After our morning tasting tea and cooking with “Ivy Chen”:http://www.silvertraveladvisor.com/travel-product/attraction/158404-cooking-with-ivy-chen, we had our ‘tea head’ on and decided to visit the tea houses in Taipei’s Maokong Hills. We took the metro to the end of the line (also the stop for Taipei’s Zoo) and easily found our way to the Maokong Gondola. As a keen skier in my youth, riding in a gondola was not a new experience. However, I’d read about the ‘crystal cars’ with their glass floors. I then saw two queues and quickly worked out that the one for the crystal cars was much longer. It was a late Saturday afternoon and people were milling around and it was all slightly confusing, but eventually with the aid of the country’s equivalent of an Oyster card, we were soon boarding our ‘Hello Kitty’ car along with three elderly Taiwanese. It was a surprisingly long way with the journey taking 25 minutes. The views of the tea plantations were stunning. On alighting we found the visitors’ centre, picked up a map and a helpful girl with good English suggested a walk. The map looked clear and easy to follow with the 50+ tea houses being numbered and named both in English and Mandarin. How difficult could it be? Well the main problem was that we both had different ideas of distance and what the tea houses would look like.
We stopped – I didn’t think we’d walked far enough but Roy was adamant that the ‘shacks’ we’d passed were the tea houses and if we weren’t careful we’d be heading back down on foot! Just as World War 3 was about to break out, a young couple stopped and asked if they could help. Roy was right, we had gone too far. As their English was so good, we asked if they could recommend a tea house. Not only did they recommend one, they took us there and after checking whether we wanted the short or full ceremony, gave instructions to the waitress.
After saying a grateful goodbye we were left in the hands of a tiny young girl who put the kettle on and explained the process. We had a list of tea to chose from, and I plumped for the recommended one at what seemed expensive at NT$400 (£8) until I realised this was for the packet and that you then bring away what you don’t use.
The tea was poured and discarded (the first pouring always is) and we were shown how to keep refilling the small tea pot with boiling water. It’s said that the experts can make a pot last all afternoon and the tea houses seem more than happy to let you linger.
The views over Taipei were amazing and we could easily make out Taipei 101 (the city’s tallest building and the fourth tallest in the world). As well as our tea, we had a sample of a tea jelly and tea biscuit.
As we had a dinner reservation, we decided not to wait for the sunset and as is often the case, the return journey seemed quicker and this time we had the carriage to ourselves.