23 August 2010

Sue's 1950s Liu Bao

A love of fine tea connects people across the globe. I recently met a friend online--Sue, from Malaysia--who sent me a munificent collection of tea samples. Primary amongst them was an aged liu bao purportedly from the 1950s or earlier.

I say munificent, because here in the USA, there are no vendors reliably selling liu bao tea, much less very old liu bao. Even in China, it suffers the rarity of teas popular only amongst a few. A ragtag "true black tea" (hei cha) from Guangxi province, few Chinese tea vendors I met had any experience with the tea. Many commented dismissively: "it's medicine for constipation" "it's difficult to drink" "shu pu'er is better".

50s liu bao tasting-3

Like most hei cha, liu bao yields earthy, old hay and mushroom flavors, but the best aged green liu bao stands apart from its brethren: earthier than qian liang cha, more delicate than aged sheng pu'er, sweeter than liu an, and cleaner than shu pu'er. It becomes more earthy over time but, if stored well, maintains a fresh, light flavor without becoming sharp.

50s liu bao tasting

My apologies to poor Sue, who has been waiting for months for me to drink this tea. When receiving such aged tea, I believe that drinking it with others is the best way to "pay it forward". So, after much delay, six of us gathered to share some good tea, and Sue's sample was enjoyed along with a 1980s traditional characters cake, a 2003 Xiaguan "blue mark" remake, a 1997/8 bulang, and a competition tasting of the 2010 offerings from Essence of Tea.

50s liu bao tasting-5

Sue's tea set a good example for liu bao. Earth and hay in the flavor, mushroom in the nose after two rinses. The tea made all of us gathered extroverted and gregarious, and the best infusion, as Sue predicted, was the 4th after the rinses. Like most liu bao, the flavors dropped after the 6th infusion. We compensated with longer steeps and were rewarded with sweeter, if weaker, flavors.

Our gratitude to Sue for the experience!

50s liu bao tasting-7