Something about today feels restorative and auspicious (it feels like Autumn ;), so I thought I’d indulge in one of my 11 remaining TeaVana Forbidden Kingdom set teas (I gave away number 12, Liu An Gua Pian, to a close friend and tea lover). I’d really like to give away more tea on a regular basis, but truth be told, even if i thought I could get someone interested often enough to write in for a giveaway, I couldn’t afford the postage. ^^;; So why is that I can afford all these uber-rare teas, you might ask? …*cough* Umm… that’s because… it’s an addiction. *eyes downcast* But you know, i think i’m getting better. I haven’t bought any loose-leaf tea in a while, only the far less cost effective bottled iced teas… Can you tell i need some serious help with my financial mindset?
Tai Ping Hou Kui (traditionally spelled Taiping houkui and written in Chinese as 太平猴魁 (peaceful monkey leader)… even the name sounds a little pompous. I think I’ll start by describing the tea and then move on to relaying what it is and what TeaVana has to say about it (lest your eyes glaze over and you pass out before getting to the important parts). Tai Ping Hou Kui is the only tea I’ve ever made that actually tastes better burnt. Usually, with a subtle Green or White, you want to steep the leaves at a lower temperature to bring out the finer notes. However, in my notes I wrote that at 175 degrees Tai Ping Hou Kui is just a “traditional Chinese Green with a White-like softness.” In other words, it lacks any definitive quality that sets it apart. However, since I was in the office this morning I could only brew it at somewhere between 195-208, quite a bit hotter than indicated. So of course this time i get something really interesting: a mellow, almost chrysanthemum or thistle scent with a full-bodied jasmine Green taste with a bit of a nettle-like texture. Obviously there’s no chrysanthemum or jasmine or nettle in this tea so that definitely got my attention. Also, the spent leaves lay down flat in a pile, papering the floor of the strainer. But actually the most amazing part is that I only brewed this for just one minute. Can you tell I’m a total tea nerd? Ironically, i utterly suck at science labs and any sort of cooking or baking. My real world skills are far less useful like proofreading, consulting and translating. Unfortunately, like most any jasmine, Tai Ping Hou Kui is also high in caffeine. I’d say, all-in-all, indeed a most auspicious tea.
So what is it? Listed as being one of the top ten Chinese greats, Houkui is a handmade wide leaf that’s only about a century old (historically speaking it was born yesterday in a test tube) and can only be found in the village of Houkeng, Anhui. The very few teas I’ve been able to get my hands on from Anhui have all been fun and high class so no surprise there. But it turns out real houkui come from the rare Shi Da Cha plant which grows only in Anhui and its leaves have a very specific shape (“two knives and one pole”). The far more common cousins that are pressed together to appear with this shape in the factory are usually longer and fuller looking. So likely what I have is common knock-off, especially given the kind of overhead involved. Maybe I’ll never know what real Taiping Houkui is, but for the laywoman it’s probably nearly identical.
And for a chortle or two, here’s what TeaVana advertises their Tai Ping Hou Kui as:
“This rare ‘Top 10’ Chinese green tea has been produced by hand for over 100 years in small villages…” (note they said villages plural ^^) “The long straight leaves resemble “two knives and one pole” with two leaves embracing a tea bud in the center. Plucked from the Shi Da Cha variety tea tree, after withering and steaming, the leaves are carefully pressed flat to dry. Once infused in water, the leaves sway gracefully described as a ‘phoenix dancing’. This unique process yields a sweet, delicate, mellow cup with floral orchid notes.” (‘orchid notes’ could mean infused with jasmine but i doubt it).