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June 24, 2017

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[Hakka Trifocal] Tea — an icon of Hakka culture

In what is known as a first-grade historical and cultural site, Beipu Old Street (北埔老街) is one of the most storied places for the Hakka community. Filled with cobbled streets and red brick houses, Beipu Old Street is home for many Hakkas that find happiness in a simpler way of life.

From Hakka crafts like handmade teacups to clothing, the Hakkas that continue to live in Beipu understand the importance of self-reliance and maintaining their Hakka culture. Besides the local manufacturing sector, the Hakka cuisine industry is thriving and making a huge impression on those who visit the Hsinchu County (新竹縣).

Oriental Beauty Tea

With thousands of high-end teas already on the market, the Oriental Beauty Tea (東方美人茶) is still one of the most desired teas in Taiwan. Claiming an average of NT$1,000 per quarter-pound price tag, the Oriental Beauty Tea has a high demand because of its high quality and its long lasting flavor.

As a resident in the Hsinchu area and owner of the Well Tea Restaurant (水井茶堂) store located on Beipu Old Street, Huang Zhen-mei (黃珍梅) knows everything there is to know about the Oriental Beauty Tea.

"The origins of the tea are extremely complicated," she said. "It was once thought that a tea farmer in Beipu noticed that small green insects, later known as cicadas, had damaged the leaves of his newly picked spring crop. Rather than destroying his crop, he decided to process the leaves into tea. He than took his product to a local tea merchant, who liked it well enough to pay him twice the price of his usual tea. When he returned to his village, he boasted to his neighbors about his success. His neighbors believed he was exaggerating and so named his tea, 'Peng Feng Cha' (膨風茶), or Braggart's tea."

Eventually the tea arrived in England, where the Queen tasted it and named it the "Oriental Beauty Tea" because the tea's lovely appearance resembled the beauty of a lady.

For as long as the Hakkas have been in Beipu, they have been harvesting this crop and have perfected its flavor so that they might further spread their culture through their tea.

Lei Cha, Pounded Tea

Although not as popular as the Oriental Beauty Tea, Lei Cha (擂茶) or pounded tea is a Hakka beverage that is starting to gather notice from foreign tourists. At Beipu Lei Cha Restaurant (北埔擂茶堂), one of the popular authentic Hakka restaurants in the Beipu district, Wang Xin-xin (王欣馨), the owner and chef, is open to share the culture of Lei Cha while teaching people how to make it.

"Many Hakkas in the past did not have a lot when they immigrated to Taiwan. But whenever guests came to a Hakka household, the Hakkas had to prepare something for their visitors. In the beginning, Lei Cha was considered a luxury so only those who were better off could afford it," Wang explained.

"Over time, other people began using their leftover nuts, seeds and grains in Lei Cha. Today, Lei Cha is considered more of a cultural drink that attracts many tourists. The flavors are now more adjusted to foreigners, but Lei Cha in the past was very different," Wang said.

Even though flavors and tastes have changed over time, Wang stressed that the old ways of making Lei Cha handmade have remained, making Beipu Old Street one of the prime spots to discover the Hakka culture.

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