Taiwan tea house brews up heady cultural preservation strategy

The Sin Hong Choon building is hosting a cultural exhibition in Taipei's historic Dadaocheng district through December

A tour guide points out the finer details of a model tea processing facility at the Sin Hong Choon building in Taipei City’s Dadaocheng area (Taiwan R...

A tour guide points out the finer details of a model tea processing facility at the Sin Hong Choon building in Taipei City’s Dadaocheng area (Taiwan R...

TAIPEI (Taiwan Today) -- The Sin Hong Choon building, nestled amid the bustling streets of Dadaocheng in Datong—one of Taipei’s oldest districts—embodies the city’s capacity for innovation and reinvention while preserving its rich cultural heritage.

In the 1930s and 1940s, the three-story structure housed one of the largest tea production and trading companies in the area, a major commercial and shipping hub from around the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries. Today, SHC hosts an exhibition bringing this rich past to life through an assortment of displays ranging from artifacts and photographs to re-creations and multimedia presentations.

Running until December, the exhibition features a different theme for each floor. On the first, visitors can learn about the history of the building and its immediate neighborhood during the height of the tea trade in the 1930s. Items on display include cards and letters, export orders and crates, tea canisters and utensils, as well as photographs of the Wang family, who operated the business during that time.

The end of the exhibition hall converges into three rooms that once housed the tea processing and assembly line. Drying, packaging and stemming machines of yore sit silently in the age-worn red-bricked rooms.

Helping visitors understand the ins and outs of drying tea leaves is a top priority for SHC tour guides (Taiwan Review Image)

As visitors ascend steep steps of the buildings from that era onto the second floor, they enter a world consigned to the annals of history. Cultural memorabilia like movie posters adorn the walls and period clothing is draped over mannequins. The space is set up to resemble a high-class tea house, replete with antique tables and chairs, china tea cups and saucers and a gramophone.

In addition to acquainting visitors with the glory days of the tea trade in Dadaocheng, the exhibition details techniques used to restore the landmark building. After sitting empty for several decades, it was designated a cultural heritage site by Taipei City Government in 2009 before undergoing extensive renovations from 2011 to 2015. On the third floor, blueprints, original bricks and tiles, as well as photos of the restoration process, are displayed.

The Sin Hong Choon building is one of many historic structures benefiting from the local government’s restoration and repurposing projects (Taiwan Review Image)

SHC is one of more than 60 heritage sites in the area revitalized under the city’s adaptive reuse project, according to the TCG Department of Cultural Affairs. Such structures play an important role in the metropolis’s urban regeneration efforts, enabling entire communities to write new chapters as opposed to saving one building from the wrecking ball, the department said.

Other successful examples include the century-old Beitou Hot Spring Museum and the 110-year-old Red House in Wanhua District’s Ximendeng area. The former was the largest bathhouse in East Asia during the Japanese colonial period (1895-1945), while the latter has been transformed from Taipei’s first public market into a thriving venue for cultural and creative businesses and tourist attraction. (E) (By Wendy Kuo)

Built in 1908 as Taipei’s first public market, the Red House is a popular tourist attraction in Wanhua District’s Ximending area (Taiwan Review Image)