Thursday, September 2, 2010


Tai Ping Hou Kui green tea dry leaves.

This is an extraordinary looking green tea from China -- big, long leaves pressed flat and having the imprint of either paper or cotton on its leaves.  The dried leaves are whole and 2" and 3" in length -- unusally large for tea.  Another unusual aspect of this tea is that it's both pan fired and basket-fired.  Besides its toasty flavour, the leaves' crispy flatness hints that it's pan-fired -- pressed into a wok-like hot pan. But The Story of Tea explains further that after the pan-firing, the leaves are scattered on a sheet of rice paper, then another sheet is laid on top and the leaves are blotted to remove moisture without removing their aromatics.  This is what's responsible for the distinctive cross-hatched pattern on the dried leaves and, of course, ultimately why the tea is flat.  After this the tea is finished by basket firing.

Tai Ping Hou Kui.  You can still see the distinctive rice-
paper  imprint on the wet leaves.  (Click to enlarge.)

This tea is from Tao's tea house, and the package says its origin is Hou Keng Village in AnHui province (China).  It's considered by some to be one of the "Ten Famous Teas" -- although there is no definitive list of which ten they are*.

"Tai Ping" is a region in the south of the Huang Shan mountains in Anhui province, and "hou kui", according to Babelcarp, means "monkey king."  Some legends say that, due to the area's steep slopes, the locals trained monkeys to pick the tea, but I find that abit of stretch.  According to other googled sites the word "Hou refers to Hou Keng Village where the highest grade of this tea is made and the word Kui refers to a tea-grower Wang Kui-cheng who made this tea by improving the processing of a local green tea Jian Cha around 1900."   The Tea Drinker's Handbook notes that "according to another legend, it is the Taiping Rebellion of the 1850s, a tragic epidsode in Chinese history that ends in a bloody repression, which is linked with its name," and further notes that a "special feature of Tai Ping Hou Kui is revealed during the infusion when the veins of the leaves turn bright red -- some claim in tribute to the blood spilled by the rebels during the revolt."

I like to imagine that both might be true.  For usually there are many 'true' histories of a thing.  We come to blend and bend certain stories and events to reflect various people's emotional memory of the time as much as the 'facts' of a time.

I did two steepings.  Both in about 5 ozs of 75C to 80C water for two minutes but the first one had 6 or 7 leaves, which is what I thought I remembered Tao suggesting, and the second had the standard 2.5 grams of leaves.

Tai Ping Hou Kui wet leaves from the 2nd steep  -- large,
 mid-green leaves, showing, particularly on the left sample,
a pluck of a tiny bud, a new young  leaf and two other leaves.

The dry leaves have a surprisingly strong sweet and fresh aroma.  Almost floral.

On the first brew the wet leaves give light aroma of beans and a sweet vegetal scent, along with a light toasty scent of buttery popcorn.  The latter is the smell of the firing and identifies it as a fired not steamed green tea.  I don't see a red leaf vein though.

The liquor is a very pale, elegant blue-green with a light round buttery mouth feel. 

Overall I find this too watery and delicate for my taste-buds -- basically under-brewed, so decide to do a second one with the standard 2.5 grams of tea leaves to 5 oz of water.

This brings forward the toasty buttery aromas of the leaves and flavour to the tongue, along with the usual green-tea vegetal notes and a rich hint of toasted pecans.  This heavier, standard brew also brings a nice light briskness and a bit of sharp bitterness which is actually a nice balance to the quite full round, satiny (oily) mouth feel.  I could perhaps do with one notch lower on the bitterness but it brings a refreshing quality too, and the rest of the cup goes down with no problem.

This tea is so nice I'm trying it again the next morning -- 2.5 grams in 5 oz water at 80C.  This time I don't let it slip over the two-minute steep at all, which takes the slight bitterness down a note.  (It's amazing how little it takes to tip a tea over to bitterness.) The cup is wonderfully round and buttery with light toasty notes followed by the vegetal and the nutty pecan.  A second brew (at two minutes) is less round on the mouth, with abit less of the pecan and almost a mint-tea feel on the tongue as the last sip goes down.  A third brew (in cooler water since the water in my thermos has cooled to 65C) done at 3 minutes gives me another lovely cup of tea -- it doesn't seem to have diminished on the mouth feel by much, a little lighter on the flavour profiles and, surprisingly, the sweet floral note is more dominant. 

As I sit here sewing cosies this afternoon this tea just keeps on giving.  It deserves its moniker as one of the Ten Famous Teas -- rich-tasting and distinctive.

* Before the fall of the Imperial Court in China the Famous Teas were called Imperial Tribute Teas and were apparently for the exclusive pleasure of the emperor.

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