Shop Name: Meinong I-Chan (美濃驛棧)
Address: 142 Cheng Gong Road, Meinong Town, Kaohsiung City, Taiwan (R.O.C.)
高雄市 美濃區 成功路142號
Phone: (07) 681-8475
Hours: Daily 10AM-8:30PM
English Service: No
GPS: 22.894215, 120.546794
Among my favorite day trips from Kaohsiung is the short trip to Meinong, a predominately Hakka city located about an hour and a half from downtown Kaohsiung. The backdrop of mountains, water lotus farms, and traditional houses make Meinong a perfect tourist destination. In my opinion, one of the things that make Meinong really special is the window it provides to Hakka culture.
The opportunity to make your own lei cha (擂茶) is one such way to experience this unique culture. Lei cha, literally grind tea, was traditionally made by the Hakka people using local ingredients that benefitted their diets. It is different than our traditional concept of tea in that the result is more of a nutty soup than a “tea leaf” tea.
I-Chan Meinong was the very first shop that assisted customers in learning about the preparation of lei cha by allowing them to actually prepare it. Walking into the shop what I imagine walking into a traditional house must be like. The walls are covered in umbrellas and lanterns. The women wear traditional Hakka dresses.
To begin, the women will bring you a mortar and pestle, along with peanuts, crisp rice, and white sesame seeds. They will instruct you (in Chinese) about how to grind the base ingredients. Their method is clearly the best. Hold the top of the pestle down with one hand and use the other hand/wrist to move the bottom part of the pestle around the bowl. This task is best shared among everyone at the table as it is incredibly tiring. Snacks and other tea will be served to you in order to keep your energy levels high.
After a while, the women will tell you that you’ve done a good job. At this point, they will add a green tea powder to the mix and tell you to keep going. (As if you weren’t already tired…) When the powder starts making clumps, you are ready for the next step. This is adding hot water.
First the ladies will prepare a drink for you using mostly hot water and only a little powder. This is so you know where you are starting from. After that, you are free to experiment for your taste buds by adding more powder or some puff rice. In my opinion, the result is not nearly as interesting as the process itself is. But, hey, some people love the stuff.
In addition to providing an education in tea preparation, I-Chan also offers an area to dress up in traditional Hakka costumes and traditional Hakka food. Of particular note is the tobacco leaf rice, which includes pickled Hakka vegetables, tobacco leaves, pork, and fried eggs. This dish must be special ordered and is sold for $130NT.
A lesson in preparing lei cha costs only $120NT per person and includes a few varieties of tea. Unfortunately, at this point, lessons are only available in Chinese, but the ladies are used to getting their messages across using sign language. Regardless, I-Chan and it’s tea preparation experience is definitely worth seeking out on any visit to southern Taiwan.