2009年4月10日 星期五

Experimenting with Tea--the Story of Chun Shui Tang

Captions: Pearl bubble milk tea has become one  of Taiwan's best-known beverages.

Perhaps it is not pure coincidence that two noteworthy events in Taiwan's tea-drinking history both happened in 1983. That year Taiwan's first packaged tea beverage, Uni-President's barley-flavored black tea, hit the market, while in Taichung a teahouse called Chun Shui Tang started business and began impressing customers with its "bubble tea," a drink that was later developed into "pearl bubble tea," one of Taiwan's best-known specialty drinks. Both drinks were made available through channels that were unusual for average consumers of ready-to-enjoy tea drinks, the former mainly through Taiwan's first convenience store chain and the latter in the teahouse founded by Liu Han-chieh. For a long time Taiwanese had bought their chilled, ready-to-drink sweetened black tea from roadside stalls mainly as an everyday drink to quench their thirst, but the new products would change their buying habits and cultivate new tastes for a wider range of tea drinks.


Teahouse founder Liu was originally a public servant, but his tendency to seek change and experiment led him to quit the job to work as a manager in a publishing house specializing in books about food preparation and cooking. "But there wasn't a single book on tea from that company," he says. So Liu spent two years traveling in Taiwan, mainland China and Japan to collect and research tea-related data before publishing a book on Chinese tea-drinking culture. Soon, with a deeper knowledge of tea, he decided to develop his own tea-related business.


Liu benefited a lot from his research, which enabled him to see the huge potential in developing new types of tea drinks. In Osaka, Japan he saw shops making cold coffee with cocktail shakers. Back in Taiwan, he decided to open a teahouse, Chun Shui Tang, in 1983 and try this technique for tea drinks. The result of the experiment, black tea with a fine foam on the top of the drink, was dubbed bubble tea and proved to be a huge success. "The drink tastes much better after you use the shaker," he says, adding that much of the flavor is also due to the syrup of brown sugar added to the drink and made by the teahouse itself. "It takes time to make the syrup, but it tastes better than the fructose used by many beverage shops."


The next year he started to sell chilled oolong tea, which was unique because traditionally people rarely drank this kind of tea cold. Chun Shui Tang, he says proudly, was the first teahouse in Taiwan that served all kinds of iced tea drinks, from black tea, oolong tea, and green tea to pu-er tea.
But Liu wanted to explore more possibilities and encouraged his staff to develop new products. "In the long history of Chinese tea-drinking, so many ingredients have been added to tea drinks, some of them you wouldn't believe. So why can't we be creative today?" he asks. In the mid-1980s, Lin Hsiu-hui, the manager of a Chun Shui Tang teahouse, added her favorite dessert fenyuan, small black balls or "pearls" of tapioca, into some of the tea drinks with milk. The response from customers was surprisingly good and in 1987 Chun Shui Tang formally launched a product it called pearl bubble milk tea.


The teahouse succeeded in attracting customers not only with tea drinks, snacks and meals, but also its relaxed ambience, and has since expanded to 27 teahouses in Taiwan, plus two in Shanghai. As it rose to fame and saw more financial rewards, however, it also faced some difficulties.


A teahouse based in Tainan started to sell tea drinks with white fenyuan made of sago in 1986 and billed itself as the inventor of pearl milk tea. Chun Shui Tang owner Liu Han-chieh published an article denouncing the claim, saying that his teahouse invented the drink, arguing that pearl bubble milk tea is much better known for the pearls of black tapioca made by his store than the white version. The Tainan store responded to the article by suing for libel, and the resulting lawsuit, which ended in 2007, saw Liu win.

With the status of Chun Shui Tang as the inventor of pearl bubble tea decided, Taichung has become the official birthplace of the drink, which can now be found the world over. No one knows what new products Liu will market in the future, but his desire to experiment has already enriched Taiwan's tea-drinking history. --Oscar Chung

Many go to Chun Shui Tang  for its iced tea drinks and relaxed  ambience.

Source from: Taiwan Review, May 2009, p 24-25

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