The LA Tea Affair met up for a Sunday afternoon tasting of Liu Bao. My notes on the various teas are below. Photos courtesy of Will Yardley.
Liu Bao is a hei cha (post-fermented tea) from Guangxi province. It's post-fermented, pressed into baskets, and aged. I was told when I bought the 1970s sample in China that Liu Bao was prescribed as a cure for constipation in infants and the elderly, because other TCM remedies would be too harsh or were ineffective, and was most popular in Guangzhou, Malaysia, and Japan.
2003 3 Cranes brand Liu Bao bing
The resulting thinness of this tea, despite its prevalence of buds and my filling the pot 1/2 full with leaves, reinforces my approach to brewing liu bao: steep long, use lots of leaf. Even then, I could not make this tea sing. With more age, it will become more even sweet. But for now, it has a smooth, pleasant, simple character. I don’t know that the tea will gain complexity with time. I gave everyone some to take home because I think it could have been brewed better. Usually, this tastes a lot stronger of hay.
1992 Liu Bao
The 1992 liu bao offered more harshness (aka complexity?) than the 2003 version, and a longer aftertaste. Like the 2003, though, it died quick (another feature I attribute to liu bao). Not pleasant to drink–yet–I think it will do better with some aging
1994 Liu Bao
This emerged as the best of the “young” liu bao teas we tried. Thicker, complex, but not harsh. Really nice in later infusions, it could have continued on past six infusions had we the time to brew it. Liu bao is considered an earthy tea, but I think this hinted that liu bao can be more than just dirt: roasted hay (?), hops, and the like. Dry leaf pic is below.
1970s Liu Bao
The 1970s liu bao brewed similar to the 1994, but with larger leaves, which made it a bit sweeter. It also could last beyond 6 infusions, but probably not much farther than 8. It tasted of dried mandarin orange peel and had an oily texture the others did not. I bought this tea in Shanghai, but I don’t know where it was stored.
50-60 year old Liu Bao, http://community.livejournal.com/puerh_tea/217430.html has more info
This was only the third 1950s-1960s liu bao I tasted. The dry leaves displayed a fine dusting of wetter storage, and this lent a mei wei not shared by the other teas we tasted. Someone said “old bamboo” and immediately I recognized in the tea’s taste the slightly rancid, slightly bitter/acrid, woody flavor of aged bamboo shoots I had I was traveling. Some compared it to coffee, and I guess I can agree with a comparison to espresso. This tea’s texture was significantly more oily than the 1970s tea, and it finished even longer. As the tea mellowed it improved, and although the flavor weakened at the 6th-7th infusion, the mellower brews almost exceeded the pleasantry of the initial stronger infusions.
It’s difficult to gauge the qi of this tea. By the time we hit this tea, we all felt the cumulative effects of the previous teas. The previous teas had greatly relaxed me, but this tea seemed to enliven me. Indeed, I noticed conversation picked up once we started drinking this liu bao.