Tai Ping Hou Kui
Tai Ping Hou Kui Green Tea is one of China’s most notable classical teas. As such, it continues to appear on the annually updated list of the “10 Greatest Teas of China”. However, Taiping Houkui is rather little known, a fate it shares with quite a few Chinese tea classics. This is mainly because these teas are actually rare, which is due to their limited availability. Plus, they are rather costly, for the same reason.
Most of the classic Chinese teas are bound on the one hand to their geographical place of origin and the associated “terroir”. On the other hand, they are bound to a specific tea plant variety. Then, to these unique features add each individual tea’s specific picking and processing characteristics. Only if all these defining properties are present, a tea can be considered as an authentic representative of its kind. Also, it should only then be allowed to carry the name of that specific type of tea. However, in trade, everything is allowed that the customer will allow… And advertising their teas with big names, such as Long Jing, Da Hong Pao or Tai Ping Hou Kui, is an all too tempting option for many retailers.
The geographical place of origin of Taiping Houkui are the foothills of Huangshan in the Eastern-Chinese province of Anhui. There, it’s specifically the area around Hou Keng and Hou Gang villages, from where this tea originally comes. Even today, it’s a very common assumption the best qualities of Tai Ping Hou Kui still come from there. However, due to the high demand on the market, Taiping Houkui is also produced in the wider Huangshan region. We can still consider such tea as authentic, if coming from the proper tea plant variety related to Taiping Houkui.
Tea Plant Variety
Tai Ping Hou Kui Green Tea is picked from the large-leaf “shidaye” tea tree. This is a subspecies of Camellia sinensis, native to the Huangshan region. Accordingly, the 7-15 cm long tea leaves are one of the characteristic features of an authentic Taiping Houkui.
Just like Mao Feng (from the same region), Taiping Houkui is defined by a specific picking standard. This consists of two equally long leaves, enclosing a large, white-hairy bud. Here, too, it becomes clear why such a tea must be “rare”. Because, with such meticuously defined picking standard, a lot of picking work is necessary to yield even small amounts of tea from even large areas in the tea garden.
After picking, the intitial processing for Tai Ping Hou Kui is similar to that of other Chinese green teas. That is, the oxidation processes in the freshly picked tea leaves are stopped through heat feed. This must take place rather soon upon picking, before oxidation processes can change the taste of the tea. Then, the tea leaves – still under heat – undergo the common rolling procedure. However, it takes another specific processing step to bring the Taiping Houkui tea leaves into their characteristic, flat-pressed shape.
For this purpose, the rolled tea leaves are first placed on a grid fixed in a wooden frame. Then, one puts a second grid upon the first one, so that the two lattices enclose the tea leaves. After covering both outsides of the construction with cotton towels, a roller goes over them. Then, after separating the two wooden frames from each other again, the tea leaves, now pressed into the lattice, are removed by hitting against the wooden frame with a stick.
Taste and Appearance
The intensely deep green tea leaves are unusually long and have a flat-pressed shape. At this, the bud’s fine white hairs are visible through the tea leaves enclosing them. In the bright green infusion, the rolled and pressed tea leaves unfold to their full size.
The light green infusion exudes a delicate foral fragrance. It is as if you could smell the orchids that grow abundantly in Huangshan’s tea gardens. This delicate floral orchid aroma also finds reflection in the extremely complex taste of Taiping Houkui. In this, it combines with pronounced grassy-vegetal notes and a deep sweetness to a colorful composition of flavors.
Name and Legend
Just like with all major Chinese tea classics, there’s a legend around Tai Ping Hou Kui. And a very sad one, in this case…
Once upon a time, it happened at Taiping Lake, at the foothills of Huangshang Mountains, that a young monkey got lost in the fog and couldn’t find its way home anymore. When the worried father noticed his son’s absence, he immediately set out on a search. So, he searched and searched, but could not find his son. Driven by fear for his child, he continued his search until he finally broke down and died from exhaustion.
The following day, a poor man collecting berries and seeds passed by the same spot. There, he found the lifeless corpse of the monkey. Moved by compassion, he decided to at least bury the monkey, rather than just letting him there to rot away. After finishing, he planted some of his collected tea seeds on the grave.
A year later, the man returned to the same place again. There, he found that very impressive tea bushes had already been growing on the monkey’s grave. This appeared to be quite surprising, after such short time. Then, pondering about this, he felt like hearing the monkey’s voice sounding from inside the mountain: “These tea bushes are my gift to you. Take care of them and you will never starve again.” Upon this, the man called the place “Hou Gang” (monkey mountain). And the tea he called “Hou Cha” (monkey tea).
Because of the story, the people later renamed the tea “Hou Kui” (monkey king). Together with the name of the region (Taiping), this composes the tea’s nowadays name, “Tai Ping Hou Kui”.
Our Tai Ping Hou Kui
Our Taiping Houkui comes from the area around Hou Keng village, at the foot of the Huangshan Mountains. There, the tea trees serving the leaves for our tea grow at an altitude of 700 meters.
The picking time of our Tai Ping Hou Kui is always about the penultimate week of April. After picking, local tea master Laohan Liu is responsible for selecting the leaf material and its subsequent processing.
During processing, our tea leaves undergo three stages of roasting (and rolling), before reaching a residual moisture content of about 6%. Only then, they obtain their final shape through the above method.
Of course, tea leaves from other tea plant varieties can also be given the characteristic shape of Tai Ping Hou Kui. Basically, this applies to any tea leaves, from anywhere. Now, the result of such doing will reproduce the visual appearance of Tai Ping Hou Kui quite well. Accordingly, not every tea carrying the label Tai Ping Hou Kui will indeed be Tai Ping Hou Kui. Don’t worry, though,! Of course, you are on the safe side in Siam Tea Shop!
The tastiest way to prepare our Tai Ping Hou Kui is with 70-75 ° C hot water. Of course, you can always use higher temperature on a quality green tea like this one. However, more bitter-tasting compounds will resolve, but also more of the green tea’s healthy ingredients. With a dosage of 200ml of water on 4g tea leaves we recommend an infusion period of 2 minutes.
To get the most out of your tea leaves, infuse them at least a second time (about 1 minute). At this, you might choose a slightly higher water temperature, about 80-85° C. And a third infusion (2-3 minutes, 90 ° C) will still be quite tasty.