To the inexperienced palate, tea is a complicated business. Or not, depending on your preferences. Up until a few years ago, I was perfectly content with heapfuls of Mariage Freres’ Earl Grey Imperial for an afternoon brew. Sure, I’d drink any tea if you put it in front of me, but if I had to brew it myself? That stout black tin would be the one I’d reach for. I’m a simple girl with simple tastes, after all.
Things changed after I did a piece for Etsy about a two-generation, family-owned artisan tea shop in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Over a leisurely tasting of oolong, white and green teas, I discovered the delicate beauty that is Taiping Houkui, from China’s An Hui province, ranked as one of the top ten teas in China and a common choice for diplomatic gifts. Whereas my beloved Mariage Freres earl grey derives most of its character and aroma from bergamot oils, the fragrant nose of a cup of Taiping Houkui is entirely reflective of the quality of the leaf. Good leaf, good flavor. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.