Photography and words by NYC-based photographer Kyle Lui
During the Lunar New Year, I had the pleasure to visit the original Hwa Gung Tea store, the parent company to Dae Tea. I learned about the intergenerational roots of Dae Tea in the Hwa Gung Tea store in Fengyuan district in Taichung, Taiwan. I first met Ben and Thomas at an MSG Kitchen event in Brooklyn. After finding out that their family tea house is based in Taichung, I made sure I visited during my stay in Taiwan.
I spent the day with Ben and Thomas’s Auntie Yi and cousin Johnny. They and their team were incredibly welcoming and taught me about the history of their family-owned business and the history of tea in Taiwan, as their family business stretches back five generations to their inception in 1918.
One of the most highly renowned tea shops in Taiwan, Hwa Gung Tea annually wins awards from around the world, including France and Japan to name a few. And their tea company was the first in Taiwan to attain certification for Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) and from International Organization for Standardization (ISO), a few of the most stringent food safety certifications. Their family’s tea is primarily grown in LiShan mountain, where the highest quality oolong can be found in Taiwan due to the high altitude climate.
I even received some tangible lessons on how to properly slurp tea in order to allow for the development of a sophisticated tea palette, which is done by slurping the tea quickly and loudly in order to spray the tea over your palate so it strikes the entire cross section of your tongue.
What I loved most about the Hwa Gung Tea store and my experience there was how much it seemed to foster a sense of community. Throughout the day, friends of the family would pass through the store for a few minutes to chat and enjoy a cup of tea, making it feel like a community gathering place. As someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy drinking liquor, I would like to advocate for more tea parlors in lieu of bars. And at least it’s healthy too.
If you aren’t able to make it around the world to Hwa Gung Tea Store in Taichung, Taiwan, check out Dae Tea in New York and perhaps buy some tea for your family as a belated Lunar New Year gift.