Literally translated as winter melon (also known as wax gourd) tea 冬瓜茶, the beverage technically does not contain any tea. It can also be called winter melon punch, but punch echoes a different kind of drink for me, so let’s stick with the tea.
Traditional winter melon tea is made by cooking the flesh of the vegetable for a long time in water and sugar, until it caramelizes and turns into what is called winter melon sugar 冬瓜糖. The sugar is split in pieces and sold, or melted again to become a beverage. What does it taste like? Besides the caramelized flavor and fragrance, I’m missing the right words to describe it, but if that gives you a better idea, another blogger compares it to butterscotch and angel kisses.
I’ve never been a big fan of winter melon tea, on a few occasions I would buy some at one of those tea stands, and then simply stopped because I found it sickly sweet. Unlike the usual tea drinks, sugar level cannot be adjusted on order with winter melon tea. Then, this summer on a day trip to Tainan, as a good tourist, I stopped at Yifeng 義豐阿川 and Two Corners 兩角銀, two famous shops specializing in winter melon tea. I tried both versions, they all had this depth of flavor missing from what is sold at tea shops, was overall more fragrant, so just like that, I rekindled my affection for winter melon tea. I simply made a note of buying it from specialized stores who confection the drink on their premises and not at random tea stands.
So when I picked up a copy of 雄好呷, I was glad to see Tianchi 天池, a winter melon tea shop mentioned in it it. for over 20 years, located in a small alley of the historical Yanchengpu 鹽埕埔 district, you’ll know the shop is not afar when the sweet aroma of the winter melon sugar starts hypnotizing your senses. They cook batches of it everyday, in a big pot which you cannot miss on the front of the shop.
On my first visit, I got a cup of lemon winter melon tea 冬瓜檸檬, and a bottle of plain winter melon tea 冬瓜茶 to redeem the coupon discount that came with the book. The lemon drink tasted a little too sweet for me, while the plain version felt almost under sweetened which is rather unusual when it comes to winter melon tea. To form a second opinion, I went back a few weeks later to get another bottle of winter melon tea, but still felt that it could use more sugar, then, as made my way through the bottle, I realized that I kind of liked it that way, no need to add another grain of sugar. So I’ve been going back every once in a while to buy a bottle of winter melon tea, always looking forward to this mesmerizing scent of caremelized winter melon as I get closer to the shop.
Per an update from the 雄好呷 author, I tried Tianchi’s latest creation on my last visit, mint winter melon tea 冬瓜薄荷 which is made by infusing mint leaves, and totally fell in love with it. The drink is not overly sweet, and I especially enjoy the freshness of the mint lingering on my taste buds. If you’re already a fan of the Moroccan mint tea, then this should be a no brainer for you to order. Oddly so, I prefer my Moroccan mint tea loaded with sugar.
Extra kudos for the owners of the shop who are super welcoming and nice. I remember a time when I was done buying my drink, then nonchalantly took pictures of the shop, I finally packed my stuff to leaves, and the owners who I thought were already minding some other business, were like both waiting to thank me again and say goodbye (once again).
If you’re visiting Kaohsiung, and in particular the Yangchengpu area, consider making this your first stop, they have complimentary maps (on the counter) of the area where other eateries, also mentioned in the 雄好呷 book, are indicated. So if you came to eat, you have your work already cut out for you!
Name: Tianchi Winter Melon Tea 天池冬瓜茶
Additional Reviews+Photos: xuite/ca062
Address: No. 43 Yánchéng Street, Yancheng District, Kaohsiung City (高雄市鹽埕區鹽埕街43號), second shop in the Nanzih district 高雄市楠梓區東昌街123號
Menu: Chinese only (consider Pleco to help you deciper the menu)
Business hours: 9:30-22:00 (closed on Sundays)