I was surprised to receive an unopened 10 g sample of this from a Steepsterite. Even more surprising is that Camellia Sinensis reviewed and boosted the rating for this tea, most likely to justify the price they are charging at $58.25 for 1.76 oz. The 10 g sample I got is thus a $10 sample! Much thanks for the opportunity to try this.
Tai Ping Hou Kui is one of China’s 10 Famous Teas, and the real stuff is grown from a larger leaf tea cultivar known as Shi Da Cha. To be the genuine stuff, it must be from one of three villages in the Anhui Province at the foot of Hwang Shan (mountains). The pluck is 1 bud/ 3 leaf and then a repluck is done at the local small factory by hand to remove 2 of the four leaves. This is part of the expense of this tea, as no branch without the bud should be picked, and the leaf with the bud must be perfectly straight. Next it is partially dried in bamboo, and then heated three times in the bamboo over charcoal. After this the leaves are laid flat by hand onto mesh screens and a roller is used on the screens to press the straight leaf/bud combo flat and straight. Then the tea is dried in the screens.
After all this, yet another quality inspection is done and the final product is sorted and graded. The top quality earning the title of Tai Ping Hou Kai must have 1 bud/1 leaf exclusively. Any leaf missing a bud, chopped bud, any 3rd or 4th leaves, any loose leaves, any chopped leaves must be labeled Hou Jian and sold under that name.
A tea is not a Famous Tea worthy of the title unless it is what it is supposed to be. The criteria for this tea is one of the strictest and extensive, not to mention all the processing involved. It must be judged by this criteria, especially with the high prices associated with this tea. This tea is also made and sold from villages outside of the Three, and may be just as good, but it is sold as a fake and few would ever be able to tell.
This tea is not fake, but my sample is Hou Jian. Being a sample, and undergoing all the shipping and handling would no doubt break buds off. But in 5 grams brewed I found 1 intact bud/leaf, a few broken off buds, lots of extra leaves and a lot of chopped leaves. Looking at the rest of the bag, it is all leaves and chop. The mix is dark green with some yellow ones, the color should be more of a uniform medium green, not dark green.
As a Hou Jian, this tastes pretty good. Because the leaf is already heated over charcoal 3x, you get the taste of a stronger Dragonwell flavor without needing to fuss over the water temperature. The tea is already scorched so it can take hot water. I got a good 5 quick steeps of 5 grams in 115 ml water before the flavor gave out. Very warm, a little spice from the char, yellow soup. For me the flavor is like a Dragonwell/Longjing but more intensely so.
Would I recommend this? Sure, but not at this price. You can get basically this same tea at 1/5 the cost on a lot of other sites. They will call it Tai Ping Hou Kui too, but only charge you $13/oz. Still pricey, but even Hou Jian has a lot of processing behind it. I am doubtful that the real Tai Ping would be sold outside of China and especially not to a western buyer. It is an imperial product. So, buy yourself some “Tai Ping” and know that Camellia Sinensis isn’t really doing anything different from other western vendors, but their price is high and it is going to be Hou Jian no matter where you buy it, so might as well just get the best price you can someplace else.
My rating is for taste, I quite liked the tea.