Wistaria (website) is an iconic, Taipei teahouse. The building itself is nearly 100 years old and lived through its share of history. As a teahouse, Wistaria and it’s proprietor (Zhou Yu) have played an important role in the development of modern chayi (tea art) and tea culture in Taiwan. For tea folks or people traveling to Taiwan looking for a tea experience, it’s usually one of the first places on the list. The tea menu is a mix of Taiwanese tea, older teas, green tea, pu’erh, etc. It’s also relatively English friendly with an English menu and a conversationally fluent staff.
Pu’erh at Wistaria, Zitenglu + Baohongyinji Cakes
Zhou Yu is a pu’erh tea collector and well-respected authority.. There’s a special menu where you can order special old teas from his collection, including the famed 1950s Red Mark straight from the menu. Mr. Zhou has also produced a number of Zitenglu brand pu’erh cakes in the 2000s. Many of these can be ordered straight from the menu, but you can also purchase cakes to take home.
As of 2013, Mr. Zhou began producing a couple cakes for a modern pu’erh boutique called Baohongyinji. Baohongyinji release several cakes a year, with Mr. Zhou lending his hand in creating a couple, typically a Wangong area cake and Zhenren Yufeng, both greater Yiwu area teas. Being more recent productions, these reflect the current market and tend to be more expensive than the teas from the 2000s.
How it’s Setup & How to Buy
Wistaria is a tea house, not a tea shop, and is structured to accommodate people drinking tea. There’s a room with normal tables in the front and a tatami room in the back, with a few private rooms scattered around the side. They use some sort of mountain/spring water and unlike a teashop it’s not really a place that’s setup to evaluate tea for purchase.
How to buy tea to take home? Go up to the counter where you can ask the price of specific cakes or teas to take home and can purchase them.
2003 Qingteng ($0.53/g)
I like this tea, but it’s also definitely not for everyone. Pretty light in flavor and a tea more about tasting this with your body. Medium viscosity that increases but never becomes ultra-thick tea. Smooth, sweet, plum, earth, leather. Hits back of mouth a lot and coats the throat. There’s still some astringency if pushed hard but it’s very drinkable now. Flavor wise, it’s quite basic and I could understand some being underwhelmed with this..
2003 Zipin ($0.57/g)
This is a nice tea, but seems prone to some inconsistency and varies with brewing. I’ve had maybe five or six sessions with this, from a few different sources with varying results.
Soft, medium-heavy body. Sweet wood, leathery. Good depth and fairly obvious qi. This overall is a much easier sell in my opinion than the Qingteng. Good depth down to the throat and the body. Other times, I’ve had sessions dominated by more smoke and drying. It’s still a good tea despite this, but it gives a different experience.
2003 Ziyin ($0.46/g)
This is supposedly a Nannuo production and fits my stereotype of the area. Leathery for more or less the duration of the session. Eventually more of those characteristic floral notes com into the Nannuo. Taste is mainly focused in the mouth without much of a push to the throat. Robust, medium body. A bit of tanginess. Some returning sweetness to the throat but the aftertaste is mainly focused on the mouth. Strong buzzing/numbing mouthfeel that converts to a strong sweet feeling especially on the roof of the mouth.
The qi is for me less than the Qingteng or Zipin and hits much slower. Chesty, relaxing tea that isn’t nearly as strong as the 2005 Mengsong Peacock but somewhat similar. The tea is also astringent and drying towards the mouth which is exacerbated if overbrewed. Longevity is similar to it’s other 2003 colleagues. I suspect it’s the roughest of the 2003s and I’d rate it as my least favorite of the four 2003 teas I’ve tried (Qingteng, Zipin, Ziyin You).
2002/3 Ziyin You, Youle ($0.51/g)
Confusingly thought this was the Ziyin Nannuo for the longest time. This is supposedly from Youle and bridges the gap of the Ziyin and Zipin. Leather, flowers. Immediate feelings in throat. Some cream and qi. There’s definitely still some bitter bits in this tea and some astringency that dries out the mouth. Strong feel on the mouth. Partially relaxing qi. Body is medium, not super thick.
Similar to the Zipin, this sometimes is smoky and is exacerbated when its pushed hard with a high amount of leaf and the brewing.
2004 Jiangchen, ($0.50/g)
360g brick.. Had this at Wistaria twice (perhaps not the best place to judge) and it’s alright I suppose. Kinda boring fruity taste. Slight throatiness to it but is also astringent and drying too. Not terrible, but there’s far better options available.
2006 Longpa, Youle ($0.35/g)
Heavier compression and it’s noticeably more youthful than the 2003s. Still some bite/drying to it. Stone fruit, floral and leather in aroma. Fairly cleanly pressed, with a lot less scraps lying around the wrapper. Medium, oily soup with a straightforward stone fruit + wood + floral profile. Drying astringency that needs to be brewed around a bit. Sits in the middle of the mouth and does extend a bit to the back. Some light qi that doesn’t really match the top here.
I had a somewhat boring session in Taiwan, and a much better one upon my return. Decent tea and cheaper than the 2003 options.
2007 Hongyin, Red Mark ($0.51/g)
I immediately liked this tea, although I wish it were less expensive.
Blend of medium and small leaves. Medium, oily body that gets progressively stronger. Immediate qi felt in the chest. Strong floral, honey aroma. Light throatiness that thickens and eventual returning feelings to the throat. Some throat coating. Bitterness comes more prevalent in the middle steeps begins to thicken. Hints of some herbalness developing. Flaws being it brews out comparatively fast.
2008 Lanyin, Blue Mark ($0.42/g)
Robust, invigorating tea with backbone to it. Smoke remnants, pungent tastes, still fairly bitter. Has a strong, quick returning huigan. A decent tea to age and I think mainly an alternate to Menghai area factory productions. This does make it fairly expensive for that purpose, but it’s the price of Wistaria.
|2003 Qingteng||$6,000||$187.50||357||$0.53||Very Good.|
|2003 Zipin||$6,500||$203.13||357||$0.57||Very Good.|
|2003 Ziyin You||$5,800||$181.25||357||$0.51||Very Good-.|
|2007 Hongyin||$5,800.00||$181.25||357||$0.51||Very Good-.|
Zhou Yu makes quality teas that are well worth checking out. And while sampling is admittedly tricky, it’s also the rare place where you can send your coffee-drinking aunt to pick up a cake blindly and you’re unlikely to end up with 2012 fishy-smelling ripe pu’erh.
I own a cake of the Ziyin You from 2015 trip to Taipei, a pair of Qingtengs from my most recent trip and a 2006 Longpa a friend generously sold to me at a discount. The teas beyond these would otherwise would be:
- 2003 Zipin
- 2007 Hongyin