Taiping Houkui, Spring 2012 ⋅ 太平猴魁
Taiping Houkui is one of the most unusual green teas we’ve seen. Its large, finger-length leaves come from the Shi-da cultivar, which produces leaves that can reach nearly three inches in length.
Considered one of China’s ten famous teas, Taiping Houkui’s fairly recent origins can be traced back to the late 19th century. Though its name translates to mean “Monkey King” and legends have arisen around the name, the more believable account centers around a farmer named Huang Kui-Cheng from Hou Keng village. He is attributed with being to first to produce and successfully selling a tea with just the bud and secondary leaves.
Our Taiping Houkui comes from the Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain) range. It was grown in Hou Keng, one of only three villages in Taiping County that produces this tea, and the historic origin of Taiping Houkui. Hand-harvested occurred in the spring of 2012 in the days after Guyu, an agricultural holiday that falls on the 20th of April. During harvesting, a stem with the leaf bud and three leaves are picked, although the third leaf is ultimately discarded after the leaves are wilted.
Once wilted, the leaves are pan-fired by hand. This step, called “kill green” deactivates the enzyme that would otherwise turn the tea into an oolong or black tea. From the pan, the tea leaves are individually hand-pressed, shaped and arranged on meshed trays. The trays are baked briefly over charcoal then cooled. Two additional firings follow, ultimately producing the flat, blade like appearance of the leaves. One can easily distinguish higher grade Taiping Houkui from lower grade machine made ones by the residual mesh pattern left on the hand-made leaves.
While large, Taiping Houkui’s leaves produce a tea that is clean, sweet and smooth. The character is crisp rather than vegetal and free of astringency or bitterness.