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The Sipping Point: Tea & Whisky in Taipei

The Sipping Point: tea and Whisky in Taipei
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A short guide to one of the coolest, chillest spots of the East

There's something downright civilized about Taiwan, a country that runs, blissfully, on its own terms. Within minutes of strolling the streets of Taipei, its capital, one feels at ease. Those streets are swimming with pedestrians (Taipei is home to more than two and a half million people, after all), but they are less dense than those in Tokyo, which exhibits a sort of thick, fish-school vibe. Meanwhile, behind the space-age metropolis sits a lush, mountainous landscape: Taipei is surrounded on three sides by hills.

But the city and its surrounding area are more than just sanctuaries of refreshing zen-ness. They also host some of the finest street food, aged teas, and stiff drinks in existence. Here, a short guide to one of the coolest, chillest spots of the East.



An hour and a half from Taipei, up and through the mountains to the southeast, is Yilan County, home to Kavalan Distillery ( In most parts of the world, whiskey production comes burdened with centuries of folklore and generations of families passing on the rules of the trade ("this is the right way to make whiskey because that's the way it's always been done"). Not so at Kavalan. Under the direction of its master blender, Ian Chang, this distillery is a technician's fantasy. No folklore -- just testing and measuring. It may not make sense compared to the way other countries make whiskey, but in just 11 years Kavalan has managed to craft its own world-class version of the stuff.

Because the climate in Taiwan is considerably hotter than it is in, say, Scotland, the whiskey ages faster. Yet Kavalan's offerings are deep, nuanced, and very drinkable (almost too drinkable). Four new bottlings have just been released in the States, each aged in a different style of sherry cask: Amontillado, Manzanilla, Pedro Ximenez, and Moscatel. Find them at a reliable liquor store near you -- and see for yourself how science can sometimes trump romance.



You can nurse the oldest tea you've ever had at Wistaria Tea House ( Located in Taipei's tony Da'an District, the Japanese-inspired structure was built in the 1920s and renovated in 2008. You'll find usual suspects like verdant green teas and sophisticated oolongs such as the Chen San Ling Shou, with its orchid aroma. But the vintage pu-erh teas are not to be missed. There's a gentle dark one from 2004, and one from the 1960s that is smooth, supple, and knotty, like an ancient olive-tree trunk. The latter is said to mollify the effects of Taipei's sticky summer heat.



Taipei is dotted with several different night markets, and each has its detractors and proponents. Still, no matter which market you visit, you must try the stinky tofu. Some people like it fried; some like it stewed. Either way, it is intense -- a funky, deep-flavored kind of intense. Locals also suggest the lu rou fan at Jin Feng. It's one of Taiwan's national dishes, a simple, homey stew of pork belly and soy sauce served over rice with a side of bitter melon. Sounds inconsequential? It's actually exquisite.



After sipping your way through the city, wind down here. Located in Xinyi, in downtown Taipei, Humble House ( is equal parts breezy and futuristic. The lobby and its accompanying lounge and Italian restaurant are colored with warm earth tones, and its 235 black-and-white rooms feel modern, spacious, and just indulgent enough, with silk velvet bathrobes and, in some cases, a superb glass-walled shower. But the highlight is the outdoor pool on the seventh floor, whose backdrop is the colossal skyscraper Taipei 101. It's a sight so spectacular, you'd rather freeze than ever leave the water.

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Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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