On Houqua the Tea Guy and Hu-Kwa the Tea

Earl Grey (ETS image)
Earl Grey (ETS image)

As I’ve said many times before, there are a few types of tea I’ve tried really hard to like. But in several of these cases I finally realized that all of my efforts were in vain. There’s Earl Grey, of course, which still tastes like liquid perfume to me, and there are a few others. Including Lapsang Souchong, a flavored black tea that’s traditionally made by curing the tea leaves over the smoke of a pine wood fire. While I’ve made a little bit of peace with smoky teas over the years, a straight up cup of Lapsang Souchong is an acquired taste I have yet to acquire.

Even so, I was interested when I recently ran across a reference to a tea I’ve never heard of before. It’s called Hu-Kwa, though you might encounter some alternate spellings. Further investigation revealed that this is actually a variety of Lapsang Souchong that apparently hails from Taiwan and is said to be one of the better examples of the breed.

As it turns out, Hu-Kwa tea takes its name from a Chinese merchant whose fame for us Westerners might not rival that of such tea sellers as Thomas Twining or Thomas Lipton but he was rather well-known in his day (1769-1843). He was also quite wealthy, having amassed such a sizable fortune that some have suggested that he was the wealthiest man in the world at the time.

Perhaps one of the reasons why we in the West still know of Howqua and have lent his name to a type of tea is the fact that he had something of a reputation for fairness and honesty among those Westerners he traded with. In Howqua’s day relations between tea traders and Chinese producers could be uneasy, to say the least, to the point that crews from Western merchant’s ships were strongly discouraged from leaving the port areas of Chinese trading cities. Chinese tea production was a closely guarded secret, one that was subject to occasional bouts of espionage on the part of Westerners.

Which is a fine and interesting snippet from the long and varied history of tea, but how about some ice cream? Pardon my abrupt change of direction but while I was researching this article I ran across a food site that recreated an 1844 recipe for Howqua’s-Tea Ice Cream, which uses Lapsang Souchong, of course, and which end product is said to have the distinct taste of bacon. Read all about it here.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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