A Comprehensive Guide to Taiping Houkui Tea

Taiping houkui tea (太平猴魁), which translates to “peaceful monkey leader” tea in English, is grown in the Taiping Prefecture at the foot of Huangshan in Anhui, China. This tea has been cultivated since the Ming Dynasty and was harvested for emperors during the Qing Dynasty. Commercial production of the tea started in the early 20th century and it is now produced in the small village of Hou Keng.

The tea won the “King of Tea” award at the 2004 China Tea Exhibition and is considered by some to be a famous tea of China. The best Tai Ping Hou Kui is grown in the villages of Houkeng, Hougang, and Yanjiachun. However, teas produced in the surrounding areas may also be labeled as Tai Ping Hou Kui, but they are priced lower than the authentic variety.

The tea is famous for its unique appearance known as “two knives and one pole”, which refers to two straight leaves holding an enormous bud with white hairs. The oven-made leaves are deep green in color with red veins underneath, and the tea shoots can be up to 15 centimeters (5.9 inches) in length. The tea is made from the Shi Da Cha variety, which is a large-leaf type only found in Anhui Province.

It should be noted that counterfeit production of this tea is common, and some factories may produce fake Tai Ping Hou Kui tea that looks identical or even better than the authentic handmade variety.

The History and Legends of Taiping Houkui Tea

Taiping Houkui is a historical tea that originated in Anhui Province, China during the Qing Dynasty. It belongs to a rare group of teas known as sharp-shaped green tea or Jian-cha. The name Taiping Houkui means “Monkey King,” which is derived from a legend that the tea tree was transformed from a monkey king that fell sick and died in the mountain area after losing his son. A farmer buried the monkey king’s body, and the next year tea trees grew in that place. The tea tree was transformed from the monkey king, and the farmer harvested its leaves, making it into sharp-shaped tea.

During the Qing Dynasty, Taiping County was one of the most productive areas in Anhui, where tea production bloomed. A tea center was established in Taiping County where people sent their tea products for commercial trade. In the past, people produced Jian-cha, which contained various numbers of leaves and a lot of matured leaves. Later, some people started to select the dry leaf, which contained only one bud with 1-2 leaves from the finished product, and sold it. This selected tea was highly appreciated and could be sold at a much higher price. A farmer named Wong Kui-Cheng started to produce this tea using fresh leaves containing one bud with 1-2 leaves, and his tea became highly praised and sought after. As his tea was the best quality among the sharp-shaped green tea produced, and his name is Kui-Cheng, and it was produced at Hou-keng, the name Taiping Houkui was begotten.

The tea has won many awards, including the gold prize in the 1915 Panama World Expo, another gold prize during the commercial expo at Jiangsu Province in 1916, and the highest honor prize at the 2004 China International Tea Expo. Taiping Houkui is known for its unique pointed shape, deep green color, and red veins underneath. The tea shoots can be as long as 15 centimeters, and the best quality tea is grown in the villages of Houkeng, Hougang, and Yanjiachun. The tea is highly sought after and has been presented as a gift to foreign dignitaries visiting China.

The Production and Characteristics of Taiping Houkui Tea

The production of authentic Taiping Houkui green tea is limited to only three villages: Hou-keng (猴坑 Monkey Pit), Hou-cun (猴村 Monkey Village), and Yan-jia (颜家 Yan Family). These villages are located in the Xin-ming Courtyard (新明乡 Xin-ming Xiang) in Huang-shan City (黄山市), Anhui Province (安徽省), where the tea gardens are scattered throughout the mountainous area. The rich, decomposed soil of the primitive forest provides minerals that help the tea plants grow naturally.

A crucial factor in producing good green tea is the mellow taste, which comes from an amino acid called theanine. The young buds have high levels of theanine, but sunlight converts it to polyphenol, such as catechins. Less sunlight means less conversion, resulting in a higher level of theanine in the leaves. The original Taiping Houkui is rich in amino acid due to the high-elevation and foggy conditions that prevent direct sunlight from reaching the leaves. Hou-keng is the best production area among the three because it faces north and is slightly slanted to the east, which creates a shady location protected from strong sunlight.

The high elevation creates a significant temperature difference between daytime and nighttime, allowing the tea leaves to produce plentiful substances such as amino acid and carbohydrates during the day while remaining less active at night due to lower atmospheric temperature. This results in the substances remaining in the leaves and contributes significantly to the quality of tea.

Criteria for Hand-Plucking Taiping Houkui Tea Leaves

Taiping Houkui is made using a rare cultivar called Shi-da Cultivar, which is carefully selected in Anhui Province and bred specifically for this tea. The tea leaves of this cultivar are large, oval-shaped, thick but soft, and covered in white down. Young leaves are pale green, while more mature leaves are dark green and shiny with an uneven surface and wavy edge. The bud grows up to 2-2.5cm in length.

To ensure the highest quality tea, hand-plucking of tea leaves is carried out under strict regulations. The four principles for selecting tea leaves are as follows:

  1. Select a high-altitude mountain with shade, fertile soil, and tea trees that face north to ensure excellent growing conditions that produce tea leaves with high levels of amino acids and other substances that contribute to the taste and flavor of the tea.
  2. Select the Shi-da Cultivar, which is growing exuberantly.
  3. Select a thick and strong branch that is robust and not infected by plant disease.
  4. Select one bud and three leaves in the early morning, and hand-pluck them to be sent to the factory by 10 am.

Additionally, any tea leaves that do not meet the following 11 criteria should not be plucked:

  1. Tea leaves without a bud on top
  2. Buds and leaves that are too small or too big
  3. Buds that are not straight
  4. Leaves that have grown and stretched excessively
  5. Buds and leaves that are not well-grown
  6. Leaves that are purple in color
  7. Leaves that are very pale in color
  8. Skinny buds
  9. Buds damaged by plant disease
  10. The burl between leaves is too wide
  11. The tiny leaf attached to the bud, which indicates malnutrition due to over-plucking or the first bud in spring.

The best time to harvest the highest quality tea leaves for Taiping Houkui is said to be only 14 days a year, from Grain Rain to the beginning of summer. During summer, lower-grade tea called Jian-cha is produced.

The Process of Making Taiping Houkui Green Tea

The process of making Taiping Houkui green tea is intricate and requires precision at each stage of production. The process includes three stages: picking, pan-frying (inactivation of enzyme), and heating.

Taiping Houkui is a high-quality green tea that originated from China. It is known for its distinctive flat, slender, and sharp appearance, along with its refreshing taste and aroma. The production process of Taiping Houkui involves several steps that are carried out meticulously to ensure the tea leaves’ high quality and unique characteristics.

Step 1: Picking

The first step in making Taiping Houkui is picking the tea leaves. Only the robust and well-grown twigs are selected, and from each twig, only one bud and two leaves remain. The third tea leaf is plucked and removed, and the first and second tea leaves must be almost the same height as the bud on top. One kilogram of product consists of 20,000 buds. The picked leaves with even length and appearance resemble the finest tea of its group.

Step 2: Pan Frying (Sha Qing)

The purpose of pan frying is to inactivate oxidative enzymes such as polyphenol oxidase (PPO) with heat. The tea leaves are fried in a deep, flat-bottomed pan with a temperature of 120 – 130˚C. The tea leaves are stirred up from the bottom to the edge of the pan, then quivered for 2 – 3 times, and let the tea leaves evenly spread out and drop back into the pan. After 3 – 4 minutes of frying, the leaf turns soft while the edge of the leaf is slightly crispy, leaf changes to dark green in color, loses its lustrous appearance, and begins to emit its own pleasant fragrance. This indicates the frying is sufficient. The tea leaves will then be removed from the pan, transferred to the bamboo plate, shivered for several times to cool down (散热 San-re) which will strengthen the tea leaves and allows vaporization, and then immediately proceed for heating.

Step 3: 1st Heating (Chu Hong)

This is the most critical stage in forming the acuminate-sharp shape of Taiping Houkui. Each pan of fried tea leaves will be served with four bamboo baskets heated at different temperatures. The first bamboo basket is heated up to 110˚C, and subsequently, the following basket is heated to lower temperatures progressively, i.e., 100˚C, 85˚C, and 60˚C, respectively. The blanched tea leaves on the bamboo plate are placed on top of the first bamboo basket, and then lightly knocked at the edge of the bamboo plate to disperse the leaves over the plate and heated for 2-3 minutes. Then the leaves are transferred to the second bamboo basket and heated for 2-3 minutes. While the tea leaves are still warm and soft, they are lightly pressed using both palms to shape the leaves. Following that, they are again transferred to the third bamboo basket, and the same steps are repeated. When the leaves are transferred to the last bamboo basket and heated for 2-3 minutes, the moisture content of leaves is reduced to about 15%, and at this stage, the partially dried leaves harden, and no pressing is applied as not to cause damage to the leaf. Overall, the first heating takes about 12 minutes.

Step 4: Second Heating (Er Hong)

About 4-5 plates of tea leaves from the first heating are gathered together and placed in the bamboo basket. The temperature of the bamboo basket is about 80˚C.

Once the tea leaves are placed on the plate, the plate is lightly patted several times until all the leaves evenly settle on the plate. Then, the leaves are thoroughly pressed with palms to strengthen them. The leaves have to be turned every 2-3 minutes during this process to ensure that they are evenly heated.

The second heating process is important as it helps to further remove excess moisture from the tea leaves and allows them to develop their desired aroma and flavor. This step is crucial in the production of high-quality Chinese tea, especially for green tea, which requires a delicate balance of heating and rolling to achieve the desired flavor and aroma.

Step 5: Third Heating (San Hong)

After the second heating, the tea leaves are transferred to a clean bamboo basket and are heated for a third time. The temperature of the basket is increased to about 90-95˚C, and the tea leaves are again shaken and lightly pressed. This heating process further removes any remaining moisture and enhances the flavor of the tea. After the third heating, the tea leaves are finally ready for rolling and shaping.

Quality Inspection Criteria for Taiping Houkui Tea

Taiping Houkui is a high-quality green tea that originates from the Huangshan Mountains in Anhui Province, China. Its unique appearance and flavor make it a popular choice among tea connoisseurs worldwide. However, with its popularity comes the risk of counterfeits or poor quality tea being sold as the real deal. To ensure that you are getting authentic Taiping Houkui tea, it is important to be familiar with the following quality inspection criteria.

Leaf Shape

The shape of the tea leaves is a significant factor in determining the quality of Taiping Houkui tea. The leaves should be fleshy, thick, robust, and straight with tips. They should not be in a loose manner, curled or curved. Genuine Taiping Houkui tea consists of twigs, where each twig is made up of one bud embraced by two leaves and naturally stretched. Poor quality tea is often made up of single leaves where the bud is missing, resulting in a different tea known as Hou-jian (猴尖). Such tea is made from the 3rd and/or 4th leaf left-over after the picking of the bud and the first 1-2 leaves for making a Houkui. Poor quality tea may also be mixed with broad strips of leaves, and some leaves may be chopped or without tips. The leaf of lower quality is usually over-pressed and twisted out of its normal leafy shape and appearance.

Leaf Color

The color of the tea leaves is another essential factor in determining the quality of Taiping Houkui tea. The real Taiping Houkui should be in pale green color, even, bright, and lustrous. The leaf should be covered with very fine white down, closely set to the leaf and hidden. It is not easily seen and will unfurl when brewed. In contrast, poor quality tea is in either very light shiny green or dark green color, with lots of outstretched down that is clearly seen.


The consistency of the dry tea leaf is also an essential criterion for evaluating Taiping Houkui tea quality. Good quality tea should consist of dry leaves in regular shape, while poor quality tea contains a lot of broken pieces, a mixture of various sizes and shapes. The leaf is not in the whole twig form, where bud and leaf are well-attached, but contains crushed and individual leaves. The color of poor quality tea is a mixture of yellowish green or dark green color.


Well-made Taiping Houkui tea should be free from extraneous matter such as fiber, bamboo or wooden flakes, sand, or stone, and dust.

Aroma and Flavor

The aroma and flavor of Taiping Houkui tea are what make it so unique. When brewed, the liquor should give a long-lasting flavor with an orchid scent, especially on the first brewing.

Color of Liquor

The liquor of Taiping Houkui tea should be bright, clear, and transparent, with a very light yellowish-green color.


The taste of Taiping Houkui tea should be fresh with a refreshing green note, smooth, mellow, and sweet after taste.

Brewed Leaf

The quality of Taiping Houkui tea can also be determined by the appearance of the brewed leaves. The brewed leaves should be fresh, bright, and even green in color. When touched with a finger, the leaves should be thick but soft and elastic. The thin red line seen at the main leaf vein indicates that the tea is made from the genuine Taiping Houkui cultivar. In contrast, poor quality tea leaves are either yellowish green or dark green in color, with a dull appearance. When touched with a finger, the leaves of low-quality Taiping Houkui tea are thin and stiff. Therefore, the quality inspection of Taiping Houkui tea involves a detailed examination of the leaf shape, color, consistency, cleanliness, aroma and flavor, color of liquor, taste, and brewed leaf.

Tea Brewing Method and Water Quality for Taiping Houkui Tea

When brewing tea, it is important to use filtered water to remove chlorine and other harmful substances that can affect the taste and harm the body. Activated carbon filters are the most effective in removing these substances, and they can be found in most hardware stores. If you can’t find one, placing a charcoal inside the water and leaving it overnight can also work, although it won’t be as effective as a filter.

It’s also advisable not to use fresh tap water, as the intensity of the aftertaste becomes stronger if the water is kept overnight. Keeping water with stones or inside a clay jar can increase the content of minerals, but it’s important to confirm whether or not the water kept inside a particular jar or with stone is suitable for your tea or tea equipment, as certain minerals like copper or zinc can spoil the taste and flavor of tea.

When boiling water, it’s best to avoid using aluminum or copper kettles, as they can also spoil the taste of the water. Iron, stainless steel, tin, or glass kettles are better options. It’s important not to remove the thick layer of scale that can accumulate inside the kettle over time, as it consists of minerals that exist in the water, and removing it can destroy the mineral ion balance between the scale and water, which affects the flavor and taste of the tea.

Before brewing, it’s important to warm the glass by rinsing it out with boiled water just before adding the tea leaves. This should be done so that the leaves benefit from a gentle humid heat. It’s also important to maintain the water temperature when brewing for efficacious extraction of substances from the leaf.

The Taiping Houkui tea brewing method is called “Down-Tossing Infiltration Brewing”, and it’s best suited for loose and unfold tea like Taiping Houkui. The leaf is brewed twice: first, the leaf is moistened with a small quantity of water and let it unfold, followed by the addition of more water to make up a cup of tea.

To prepare Taiping Houkui using the Down-Tossing Infiltration Brewing method, follow these steps:

  1. Prepare 3g of tea leaves for 150ml of water.
  2. Place the tea leaves into a warmed glass and smell the orchid fragrance of the leaf liberated by the heat from the warmed glass.
  3. Let the boiled water cool down to 85-90˚C, then gently pour the water onto the leaves until they are completely immersed.
  4. After 1 minute, pour in another 100ml of water and brew for 2 minutes before serving.
  5. If the taste is too strong, add boiled water to the glass.
  6. This tea can be brewed up to 4 times. Enjoy the orchid fragrance when first brewed, the mellow taste on the second brewing, and look for the delicate fragrance that remains on the third and fourth brewing.

Another way to enjoy Taiping Houkui is to pour in another 100ml of boiled water (at 85-90˚C) when the liquor of the previous brewing is left to about 1/3 in the glass. Brew for 5 minutes and it’s ready. If tea is not served at once, tea leaves must be filtered well and kept without water. Place a tea strainer on top of the cup before pouring the tea into the cup. This is to avoid the liquor becoming bitter and stewed and prevent tea leaves from being overcooked.

Proper Storage of Taiping Houkui Tea

To ensure the freshness and quality of your Taiping Houkui tea, it is important to store it correctly. Once opened, it is recommended to consume the tea within three months for optimal freshness. However, it is safe to consume even if it has been stored for a longer period of time, but the flavor and aroma will diminish over time.

To store your tea, make sure it is tightly sealed and kept in a dry environment away from moisture. Avoid areas with high humidity, such as the kitchen or enclosed spaces like cupboards or drawers, as this can cause the tea leaves to absorb moisture and spoil within days. When opening the bag, it is best to do so on a sunny day or in an air-conditioned room to prevent exposure to humidity.

Although refrigeration can extend the shelf life of tea, it is not recommended to store Taiping Houkui tea in the fridge. Removing tea from the fridge can cause condensation, which can lead to increased moisture content in the leaves and trigger oxidation, resulting in a loss of quality and flavor.

In summary, store your Taiping Houkui tea in a cool, dry place away from moisture, and consume within three months for the best taste and aroma. Avoid refrigeration to prevent moisture and oxidation, which can spoil the tea.

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