Drink Magazine

The Origins of Taiping Houkui- It’s All in the Name

By Dchew78 @peonyts

If you look at any listing of Chinese teas, you will be staggered by the sheer selection of tea varieties- particularly for green tea which constitutes approximately 70% of all the teas produced in China.

To the untrained eye, it can be rather difficult to identify the variety of tea by sight alone, especially if it’s merely a photo.

The Origins of Taiping Houkui- It’s all in the Name
The Origins of Taiping Houkui- It’s all in the Name
For example from these 2 photos, are you able to tell which is a Biluochun and which is a Mengding Ganlu?

One tea few people have any problem with is Taiping Houkui. It is flat like Longjing but its size sets it apart from other teas. Measuring at least 5-6cm in length, it doesn’t fit into most ‘serious’ teapots.

It also has a unique name- Taiping Houkui (太平猴魁) which spun of a series of somewhat clumsy translations, one of the most common is Peaceful Monkey King.

Translation is never easy- as someone who writes predominantly in English based on material that is mostly sourced from Chinese I can attest to that.

If you go deeper into the origin of Taiping Houkui you will realize why that translation or any other translation for that matter isn’t accurate.

Most people would agree that names are not translated but merely a transliterated rendition in another language.

It makes little sense to call Hong Kong ‘Fragrant Harbor’ (香港 in Cantonese), not least because its harbor is anything but.

Neither is Beijing called ‘Northern Capital’ or Nanjing ‘Southern Capital’ for that matter.

With that philosophy in mind, let’s look at the origins of Taiping Houkui.

Many tales emerged but the one most commonly held to be true is this:

The Origins of Taiping Houkui- It’s all in the Name
It originated in Taiping- all tales concur in this- the name of the county which was so named until the 80’s, after which it became part of Huangshan county.

Taiping- though may be translated as ‘Peaceful’- in this context refers to that county in Anhui.

Within Taiping, there is a village by the name of Hou Keng (猴坑 – literally translated as Monkey’s Ditch) where a man by the name of Wang Kui Cheng (王魁成) lived.

At that time- circa 1900- the popular teas being produced in that region were of the 尖茶 (Tippy Tea) variety. The tea merchants would pay extra for tea produced that had the buds intact as those would be sold individually at a premium.

Wang hit upon the idea of segregating the leaves at the picking stage rather than the finished stage and innovated to develop his own version. It was well received and eventually the tea was named Taiping (after the county) Hou (after the village Hou Keng) Kui (in order or Wang Kui Cheng).

No monkey, no king- though I would think stalwart is a more accurate translation and though one feels peace and tranquility upon drinking this tea that was not the origin of this tea.

Though the name ceases to have any exoticism, the tea continues to wield charm and enchantment. Just don’t monkey around with the name.

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