I’ve never been much of a tea person. Don’t get me wrong—it’s not that I don’t enjoy the occasional steaming mug of peppermint tea on a crisp, winter night. I actually quite enjoy tea while I’m drinking it. Really the thing is that coffee stole my heart years ago, and given the choice between java and tea, I’ll always go for the caffeine-fueled cup o’ Joe. I also just don’t really know anything about tea, proven by the fact that I can probably list of ten different slang terms for Mojo, yet I only know that tea is called, well…tea.
I thought that my coffee addiction might prove a problem in tea-loving Taiwan, but luckily that’s not the case at all. On every couple of blocks you’ll find a Starbucks, and in between those Starbucks you’ll stumble upon ten more coffee shops. In fact, I’m currently writing at my favorite independent coffee shop with free wifi, outdoor seating and outstanding cappuccinos. The culture of tea still holds its own in Taiwan though, so naturally Dan and I decided we needed to experience a bit of it.
Our destination was Beipu, a small town outside of Hsinchu known for its Hakka population. Hakka people are Han Chinese who migrated to Taiwan a while back; about 98% of the population in Beipu is Hakka, so it’s a great place to experience Hakka culture. Specifically, it’s a great place to try leicha.
Leicha directly translates into pounded tea, and it is essentially a medley of tea, nuts, seeds and grains. It’s a filling beverage that has traditionally been drunk for breakfast or as an energy recharge when performing hard agricultural work. There are numerous places in Beipu to try leicha if all you seek is a taste of the thick, green substance. However, there are also quite a few DIY places where you can actually pound the tea yourself. We opted for the latter, and quickly found a small and simple restaurant with the large flashing DIY sign outside.
Immediately upon entering, we were hastened to a table adjacent to the window. Our supplies were then brought to us: a mortar and pestle; peanuts, seeds and grains of some sort; tea and hot water; and, of course, complete directions in Chinese. The waitress was kind and helped demonstrate the directions to us, although we will admit she didn’t seem very impressed with our grinding technique. Every time we asked if our nut/grain paste was ready, she would shake her head while simultaneously grabbing the pestle from us to show us what we should be doing. Maybe we don’t have ‘professional leicha maker’ in our future, but we did figure out the general process:
1. Grind up the nuts and stuff.
2. Ask the waitress if it’s good enough, and when she says “No”, grind some more.
3. Allow the waitress to take over and finish the grinding process for you because clearly you are completely inadequate at doing it yourself.
4. Mix in the green powdered tea and hot water.
5. Drink up!
The end result may not look all that appealing, but it was actually pretty tasty. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the actual ingredients have been adjusted to please tourists, the main people who drink leicha today.
So there you have it! Everything you ever wanted to know about leicha (hopefully). If you’ve tried leicha, what did you think of it? Would you actually go back for seconds?