Where Are the Cats?

Ascending Maokong in Taipei.

The mist that enshrouded Maokong lent the place an air of mystery. The higher we climbed, the more the place felt... surreal. Little pockets of land carved out for farming. Intertwining roads bearing the footprints of long-gone travellers. The cool, tranquil atmosphere broken only by the songs of birds in the distance.

The tea plant camellia sinensis on Maokong.

The tea plant camellia sinensis on Maokong.

It would be a lie to say we came without expectations. While it is very much a tourist spot now, Maokong 貓空 — literally "cat empty" — used to be a significant tea-producing district, particularly for Taiwanese tieguanyin 鐵觀音.

There are numerous teahouses and cafes nestled near the Maokong Gondola station. At one of the shops, we were chuffed to find a pretty delightful Shuixian 水仙, which couldn't be more different from the Shuixian of China's Wuyi 武夷 region. Rolled into tight little balls, the tea yielded a sweet, delicate liquor with nuanced malty notes.

The neighbouring region of Muzha 木柵, which we had wanted to go but couldn't, produces tieguanyin defined by darker, heavier firing — a classic style that has regrettably been largely ignored in favour of greener, fresher expressions.

Would we go back to Maokong? Definitely. Even if it weren't for the tea, the scenery itself is reason enough to return.