Strange Days, Strange Teas

Newsletter Archive May 27, 2022

Brewing two green teas in a tall glass bottle filled with very long green leaves and a round squat pitcher with rounded small single leaves dancing in it, set on a wooden tray next to a classical white and blue Chinese vase.
We like to enjoy the unmistakable leaves of Tai Ping Houkui (right) and Lu’an Gua Pian (left) in clear glass.

We are proud to present a fresh crop of Tai Ping Houkui and Lu’an Gua Pian, two more green teas from Spring 2022. Both teas were made using unique, traditional and meticulous methods; their styles are so singular and bizarre that they aren’t replicated anywhere else in the tea world.

To be fair, these two strange teas were born from strange days. When they entered the historical record in the early 20th century, China’s dynastic rule had just collapsed, its 1,200 year tradition of civil service exams had been abolished, and regional warlords were sharpening their knives. Outside of China, the war in Europe ground on, soon to pull the rest of the rest of the world into its terrible gravity.

Amidst this upheaval, two very different-looking green teas emerged from rural Anhui. For a tiny warm moment, they became national and international symbols of hope for cosmopolitanism and modernity in spite of it all.

Two large flat squares of fine steel mesh in a wooden frame, being pressed together to sandwich the long leaves of Tai Ping Houkui green tea between.
The unique step of rolling Tai Ping Houkui’s massive leaves flat between steel mesh screens.

In 1915, Tai Ping Houkui’s massive, delicate leaves made it all the way across the Pacific to win a special prize at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. This was a world’s fair, held in San Francisco, celebrating the completion of the Panama Canal and its promise for global trade and exchange. Of all the cultures exhibiting at the fair, the largest pavilion belonged to China, an astonishing monument to optimism in Sino-American relations. The tea inside was remarkable, too. Brothy and full, revealing fresh bamboo and floral aromas, Tai Ping Houkui of today is ready to pop monocles and flip top-hats just as it did in 1915.

Two glass mugs sit on a wooden table. The mugs are filled with large green tea leaves steeping in hot water.
Handmade traditional (right) and modern-style (left) Tai Ping Houkui green tea brewed with its massive leaves floating free.

A year later, Lu’an Gua Pian found its own spotlight when it was presented as a presidential gift during the short reign of the Republic of China’s second president, Yuan Shikai. In step with the end of China’s dynastic system, the techniques used to make this tea look like a deliberate break from history. We’ve variously called its processing “punk rock” and “a magic spell.” The result is rich, thick, and smooth, with an aroma like toasted sesame and a taste like sweet root vegetables. More than 100 years on, no other green tea makers do it quite the same way as those in Lu’an.

We hope you’ll enjoy this chance to taste both of these modern classics when they are fresh from the spring. We will also hope that they will still be used in toasts to peace and optimism, wherever you may find them.

Two people holding the edges of a hip-high bamboo drum with a cloth-lined tray attached to the top and filled with a mound of tea leaves.
It takes two people to lift this huge bamboo drum of Lu’an Gua Pian leaves over an open charcoal brazier to roast for a few seconds, then remove. Rinse and repeat 60-80 times!

Spring Tea Tasting Event –

Join us next Saturday, June 4th at Seven Cups teahouse in Tucson, Arizona for a comprehensive tasting of all spring 2022 teas.

You’ll not only taste Tai Ping Houkui and Lu’an Gua Pian, but also every other 2022 green, white, and yellow tea that’s arrived so far. Attendees also get an in-store discount if they decide to take a bag or two home.

Tickets are available on Eventbrite. This event is limited in number of participants, so reserve your seat soon.