Horse Killing Tea

by Chieu Nguyen

When I was a university student, one of my grandfather’s friends brought him a gift box on the occasion of his birthday. This was a very nice red box, labeled by a picture of an old-fashioned Chinese man, one hand of his was tightly holding a horse bridle and the other highly brandishing a big scimitar while the horse raised its hooves hopelessly, trying to escape from the very close death. At the up-right corner of the picture, there were three nice handwritings styled Chinese characters lining vertically.

“Oh! Zhan ma cha! (Horse Killing Tea!) – My grandfather said – “want to try?”

“Yes, of course!” – I answered.

We had some tea together. To me, the tea tasted quite typical and different from the regular green one that I had every day. Its colour was brownish and somehow darker than normal. I was so curious that I could not but ask my grandfather about the origin of that tea.

“This is a very precious and special tea from China.” – He said – “In the past, it was only for the king. There are a lot of mysterious stories around this. Some said that it comes from a particular kind of tea growing on a high mountain in Zhejiang province in China. The tea leaves were collected by horses which were carefully trained by the farmers. In the early morning, the horses were driven up to the mountain to pick up the tea leaves. Because they were trained how to select tea, they swallowed all the best leaves they had. When the horses were totally full, the farmers killed them to take the tea leaves out of their stomach. In some way, it can be said that the tea was pre-processed by the horse’s gastric juice and obtained some unique characteristics.

Some, however, said that the tea was not from the mountain but from the tea king’s garden itself. One day, a king’s jockey accidentally overslept and let a horse eat some best tea in the king’s garden. Being so scared, he killed the horse to take out the tea leaves. Amazingly, when the king drank the tea that made from those leaves, he could feel a very distinctive taste and aroma that he had never had before. He asked where that tea came from. The jockey (and probably the cook, too) had no way to run but confess to the king about what he had done. It was so surprise to everyone there that instead of punishing the jockey, the king did give him a big reward. ”

I could never know that this was the only time I had a chance to taste that special tea. Many years later, I have not been able to find any horse killing tea in any tea shop. I had even asked some of my Chinese friends about it and they said they know a lot of Chinese famous tea such as “Maiden Tea”, “White Monkey Tea” and “Oolong Tea” but they had no idea about this kind of strange horse killing tea.

So does horse killing tea exist?

I don’t know.

Perhaps I would never know.

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