In a truck full of tea pickers, Shunan can feel every bump in the rough road. The truck pulls up to the foot of the mountain and the workers file, passing each other their baskets as they begin the long climb. While not the steepest trek, the climb to Hou Kui looks almost vertacle from the bottom. Shunan begins the rough ascension, only stopping to dig out a juicy bamboo shoot along the way. The tea field sits on the side of the mountain, accompanied by stone ridges workers in previous years put in to keep them from slipping.
Hou Kui tea has abnormally big leaves for a green tea. The pick for Hou Kui is a little later than some teas. You don’t want a bud that’s too tender or else you wont have enough flavor. Shunan is there relatively early in the season so a lot of the buds are still too young.
By 9:30 am the truck pulls back into the processing facility and baskets are once again unloaded from the back, but this time they are full of fresh tea leaves. After a careful sifting process, the teas are taken to be stir fried.
Stir frying is the mimportant step in green tea making.
When the tea leaf is plucked, enzymes inside of the leaf start to ferment. Greens teas are exposed to high heat right away to kill these enzymes, which in turn keep the leaf in its freshest state. In this village Shunan gets another lesson in stir frying tea. She has tried this in every region she goes to, but it is still a technique she has yet to master. Each Time you can hear the cool sizzling of the tea leaf burning. The trick, she is told, is to keep the tea moving and to always have your hand on tea so you don’t burn yourself.
The next step is what really makes Hou Kui processing unique, the hand pressing. Every single leaf is individually hand pressed to give it its long shape. To further press the tea they lay a cloth across the hand pressed tea and pull a roller over it. This is what gives Hou Kui those squared markings on the leaf. Though while sometimes faked, a checkered pattern on the leaf is a sign of hand made tea.
You can purchase Tai Ping Hou Kui here