The history of tea in Taiwan is quite long - the first tea plants arrived from China in the 18th century. Surprisingly the history of what today we consider chinese tea houses is much more recent: these tea houses appeared in Taiwan during the '70s, just 30 years ago.
Before there were two different kinds of public spaces where people could drink tea. Both, for different reasons, were considered not acceptable by most Taiwanese.
The first was called "chashi" that means "tea room". "Chashi" tea rooms, beside tea and wine, provided also "nüpei" - that are ... "escorts". So these "tea rooms" had strong connotations of sex and prostitutes.
The second public space has virtually disappeared today. It was called with the colorful name of "old man tea house" - "laoren chaguan".
"Old man tea houses" were simple and usually not very clean places. Their customers were mostly older "waishengren", the Mainlanders that followed Chang Kai-shek to Taiwan in 1949.
These retired and often lonely old men, former soldiers or public officers, used to get together in the "laoren chaguan". They killed the time chatting, eating pumpkin seeds and drinking cheap tea.
Many Taiwanese were not interested in these kind of premises.
Also, at that time, Taiwan was more americanized ... in a kind of funny way. Offering tea was considered "cheap", at least in the cities. The new elite proudly served Coke to their guests!
The renaissance of chinese tea houses in the 70's was mainly due to two things.
First, the quality of Taiwan tea was improving all the time.
Farmers left the production of low and medium quality tea, where they could no longer compete. Instead they focused on creating and perfecting the best - and most profitable - teas.
Second, the so called "chayiguan" began to appear. "Chayiguan" means "Tea Art House". A tea art house provides teas of the best quality. The tea making follows the rules of the chinese tea art so the tea house also supplies proper and elegant utensils for brewing the tea.
These chinese tea houses cater the new sophisticated city dwellers. Here the people come to find their own roots, their own past, if real or idealized it does not really matter. Here they can come with the friends or the family to elope for a few hours from the stress of modern life.
The Tea Art Houses have been extremely successfull.
Nowadays "chayiguan" are spreaded everywhere in Taiwan, in the countryside and in the cities. In the latter case, these tea houses are designed to keep out the noise and the sight of the city.
In Taiwan, the best chinese tea houses are in Taichung and Taipei. Also, Taichung tea houses gave birth to phenomena as the "bubble tea" and "pearl milk tea".
So chinese tea houses are considered amongst the top attractions in Taichung. And I suggest, you like tea or not, a travel in Taiwan is not complete without a visit to a tea house. It might change your mind about tea.
Lets come to the point:
"Wu Wei" is a word that comes from Tao philosophy. It means "no action", "effortless action". It means to be in a state of "flow" ... like the artist when is creating or like kids that play in a long summer evening.
With such a name, it is obvious that Wu Wei aims to be a "classic" chinese tea house, a two stores wooden construction around a fish pond.
I have been in other tea houses of this kind. I think Wu Wei is one of the best example of "chayiguan" in Taichung. We had a good time here, thanks also to a quiet evening with a magic atmosphere.
Most of tables are with "tatami" (ouch!), Japanese style. They also have tables with "normal" chairs and many quiet compartments.
Wu Wei is not expensive at all. We ate and drank for two with 650 NTD (15 euro) - a "smoked duck" set menu and a few dim sums. Of course we drank tea, fragrant golden oolong from Alishan.
Live traditional music is played after 8 PM. Wu Wei also provide courses and tea tasting happenings.
The waitress showed us how to prepare the tea in the traditional way - she spoke a good english.
The Taiwanese method is quite simple indeed, unlike the Japanese tea ceremony. I will write about it later.
This all for the moment ... other chinese tea houses will follow soon!
Wu Wei Tsao Tang Teahouse
No. 106, Section 2, GongYì Rd, Nantun District
Website (chinese): Wuwei Teahouse
Types of Chinese Tea: an easy guide to the different teas you can enjoy in Taiwan tea houses.
A very good article from which i summarized the history of tea art houses in Taiwan:
Mapping the Tea Art Houses of Taipei by Joe Wicentowski.