Even in Taiwan tea requires its own rituals. While nothing stops at 4pm for tea here: unlike most people’s
impression of British afternoon tea, … Little do the Brits know that in other countries, like China, India, etc. with long tea drinking traditions of their own, the locals never bother to wait until 4pm for a cup of tea.
24-Hour Tea Consumption!
A quick trip to 7-Eleven here in Taipei highlights the reason: Taiwan tea drinking here can be a 24-hour affair – cheap or expensive, formal or informal, hot or cold, green or black, milk or sugar, (the list of options is LONG and surprising)….
Tonight I counted the varieties of tea that could be purchased in one of the stores. I managed to count 95 varieties, but this was after a long hot summer day, with some empty spaces on the shelves. I also forgot to count tea bags, large size bottles, or instant teas! The total could likely be a lot more!
Naturally, there are other channels for Taiwan tea, too. In this area of Tamsui, there are at least five stores that sell both iced and hot varieties of freshly made tea, and business is brisk, winter or summer. Not to mention four Seven Elevens, three other branded convenience stores, and numerous other outlets, including restaurants, stores, and machines, all plugging tea. It’s no wonder that Coca Cola’s products are hugely outsold in Taiwan.
Alternative Tea Drinks
Not only are there the more traditional varieties, but also a huge range of inventive alternatives, made using a wide range of local products, including jelly balls, ice, brandy, pudding, chocolate, as well as fruit teas. Tea stores compete with 7-Eleven in a number of product categories and sub-categories.
But they also compete on offering flavorings, sizes, and made-to-order drinks. Though the numbers of combinations in the made-to-order categories don’t equal Starbucks’ 87,000, the speed with with these drinks can be made is astonishingly fast.
Taiwan Tea Tastes Good!
This company is called Coco’s and provides both hot and iced tea beverages, juices and coffees around the year. Summer is naturally a peak period and here is a picture of one of their ‘standard’ products.
It’s a 700cc of ice cold milk tea, served to go. Priced at only NT$20 (about $0.70). It’s a welcome release from the searing heat and humidity of Taiwan’s summers.
It’s quite refreshing and highlights how an ordinary product can spur huge product variation, a solid clientele, and lots of repeat business.
The product retails from $10 for a small 250ml pack purchased at 7-Eleven, to $15 or $20 for larger sized Tetrapaks (350ml or 450ml). There are also 500ml bottles for individual use. It’s rare to find any tea sold at more than $25 in a store.
However, the teashops that serve the take away market start at $15 for sweet black tea, and can jump to over $35 for special or seasonal offerings. The most common varieties are milk tea, or jelly ball milk tea.
You won’t find any weight loss drinks on this typical convenience store shelf! That’s for sure. I took this picture last summer, when I went on a photowalk, and stopped by a convenience store to pick up something to drink. It was a hot day!
This display cabinet includes fruit juices (bottom), juice drinks (2nd from bottom), out of view, there are coffees, teas (green and black), yogurt drinks, and many more. The tea business is a huge market in Taiwan, and products are relatively inexpensive.
Freshly made, too.
The tea shops themselves typically can serve dozens of customers in an hour with two staff members behind the counter. Each drink takes less than two minutes to prepare, and people typically order more than one for their co-workers, friends, family, …
It’s difficult to estimate how many orders there are in a typical day, but these stores are open more than 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. The rental costs tend to be the bigger depending on the location, but the best locations like the one in this picture provide a high volume of traffic during the day.
The tea is made on the spot in vast urns. It is then mixed with the various ingredients, like milk powder, ice, milk, brandy, or whatever is requested, then dispensed by hand into plastic cups each of which can contain 700ml. The cup is then sealed with a plastic sealing machine and the cup is bagged or handed to the customer. All sales are cash and upfront.
The clientele is varied in ages, genders, income groups, education levels, etc.. The stores are located all over the metropolitan area, and provide service all year round.
Where else, I wonder?
Could this be replicated in the US or the UK or indeed any ‘Western’ country? Given the dominance of sodas, it would be a challenge to produce good products, but taking into account preferences for fresh products, a willingness to try new things, and a suitable urban location, it would be worth trying! Who knows? But here a trip to the local Taiwan tea shop takes on a different meaning for each generation that grows up here, but tea as a commodity retains its importance even now.