Almonds probably first made their way to China in large volumes during the Tang Dynasty, as trade along the Silk Road boomed and numerous goods began to circulate across much greater distances. Originally cultivated in the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, almonds thus travelled thousands of miles overland to find a very receptive market in China, where the nut began to be consumed as well as cultivated. The Tang Dynasty capital, and starting / ending point for the Northern Silk Road was, of course, Chang’an (modern day Xi’an) and this may explain how almond tea – strictly-speaking a sweet soup made from ground almonds, water, and sometimes rice, than a tea – became a well-established northern Chinese dessert. Today, almonds continue their role as an important agricultural commodity with global trade in the nut totaling billions of dollars annually.
Camel trains crossing the desert, haggling traders, and ancient entrepeneurs are probably not the first thing on the minds of customers at Yuan Hsing Almond Tea (原杏杏仁茶) as they sip their delicious dessert, but the little nut’s presence in Chinese cuisine owes a lot to those long-forgotten merchants. Located in a lane just off Zhongxiao East Road in Da’an District (opposite a branch of Alleycat’s), Yuan Hsing is a low-key street stall with a lot of passion for making excellent almond tea and yoghurt. Passers-by appear drawn to the little stand with its pleasant covered seating area outside the entrance of a residential building: some sort of almond-scented magnetism commands their attention and, with encouragement from very capable and friendly staff, would-be commuters and clothes-shoppers are steadily converted into devoted almond tea drinkers.
The secret behind Yuan Hsing’s superior flavours is supposedly in their name: in Chinese Yuan Hsing means ‘original almond’, and the emphasis here is on respect for traditional methods of making almond tea: no preservatives, no additives, and only the freshest ingredients. This approach complements the nutritional benefits of the almonds, which research has shown improve complexion, lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart disease and contain some very helpful vitamins and minerals. According to some research, consuming almonds can even, allegedly, improve alcohol tolerance, though it’s up to you to decide whether that’s a benefit or a drawback.
Yuan Hsing has teas that are tailored to the temperature, with summer coolers in the form of almond tea smoothies (including chocolate and green bean flavours), and winter warmers including sesame and red bean almond tea. Their sales pitch is aided by free samples, and we would recommend taking advantage of this, particularly to figure out what degree of sweetness you want your tea to be. We think their original-flavour is best, and definitely the tastiest, healthiest, most refreshing almond tea we’ve sampled in Taipei! For customers who are feeling peckish and prefer a solid accompaniment to their almond tea, Yuan Hsing also stocks a supply of fresh fried dough sticks (油條), which are perfect for dipping into their hot beverages. With very reasonable prices, great service, and a focus on the quality of its main product that yields such delicious results we think Yuan Hsing may be onto a real winner. With a bit more work on branding, it might not be long before we see more branches of Yuan Hsing popping up around Taipei. In the mean time, go and try this place before the word gets out and the queues start to grow!
Love Taipei Rating
Value for money: 10/10
500cc cup of almond tea: NT$90Address No.1, Lane 248, Section 4, Zhongxiao East Road, Da’an District, Taipei 台北市大安區忠孝東路四段248巷1號 Tel: 0932857504 MRT: Zhongxiao Dunhua / Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall Open: Monday – Friday 11.00 am – 10.00 pm; Saturday – Sunday 11.oo am – 11.00 pm.