The origin of this black tea is the town of Liubao in the Cangwu county of Guangxi province, China. Intuitively, the tea is known as Guangxi Liubao, or simply Liubao, much like Darjeeling tea is from Darjeeling.
Liubao is basically an almost fully-oxidized tea (more oxidized than oolong, but less than true black) that has been exposed to a high degree of humidity for a certain period of time – could be days to a month or more – until the desired level of “ripeness” is achieved. Such humid condition accelerates the fermentation exponentially and increases the overall temperature of the leaves. During this “wet storage” period — called wo-dui in Chinese mandarin — the leaves are sorted into piles and covered with damp cloths. Water is sprayed on occasionally to keep the environment constantly humid. Different producers have their own standardized method and preferences, such as the size of the pile, level of humidity and the length of the process in order to produce signature results among their respective products.
After the wo-dui process is complete, the leaves are steamed and then stuffed in wicker baskets weighing 50 jins (25 kg / 55 lbs) per. I have also seen it in 100-gram compressed tuo (bird’s nest) form. It is usually a relatively inexpensive tea, although decades old specimen can fetch pretty pennies. As with other types of post-fermented teas, Liubao can withstand a long aging period that tends to mellow out its flavors and texture. It is also thought to be a home remedy for aiding digestions and for curing various mild illnesses.
The wo-dui method employed by Liubao tea makers is not unlike that used by the Yunnanese tea makers to produce shu (cooked / ripe) Pu’er tea. It is said that in the early 1970’s, Menghai Tea Factory and Kunming Tea Factory researched and developed the process of making shu Pu’er. What is mentioned less, however, is that they had to learn this technique from the Liubao tea makers.
A tradition during the Lunar New Year celebration in China, worshipers visiting the Buddhist temples would receive packets of tea with red paper in it. These packets are commonly known as Pin-an cha (roughly means tea for “blessing” or “peace of mind”) and are filled with Liubao tea.1
The signature taste of Liubao is that of betelnuts, and it is earthy and smooth. Some exhibits a woody personality and leaves behind a whisper of sweet aftertaste that lingers in the back of the throat. It is comparable to the taste of shu Pu’er tea in general, or vice versa to be fair. The color of the liquor is deep brown-red and would easily turn opaque brown in a concentrated brew.
2000 Three Cranes Brand, Guangxi Liubao (tuocha)
Parameter: in a 120ml gaiwan, filled half-full with dry leaves. Just-boiled water. 10 seconds rinse, and then infused for about 10s, 10s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 20s, 30s, 45s, stop.
Compressed into a bird’s nest form (tuocha). The leaves are small, broken, and dark brown in color. The liquor has good clarity. It appears rather viscous and easily opaque when brewed with the stated parameter. The nose is woody and slightly grassy/vegetal. The body is full and silky. Finishes short, clean with a tinge of green (due to its young age?). It’s a tea that comes across as rather simple, yet there is absolutely nothing unpleasant about it.
“How is the tea?” I asked my wife. “It’s alright,” she said sheepishly, “it tastes like, um, dirt, but not bad.”
Early 1990’s Guangxi Liubao (loose leaves from a 50-jin basket)
Parameter: (about the same as applied to the 3 Cranes brand tea mentioned above)
Larger and more whole leaves with some twigs. The color is deep brown and it smells like fresh wood / bark with a tinge of chocolate. The liquor is almost opaque-brown and high in clarity. Medium to full body with a silky smooth texture. A simple tasting tea, yet this woody and earthy tea has a charming sweet aftertaste and a hint of metallic taste. Enjoyed for 8 infusions, though the tea could go for a few more steepings.
1 Pu-erh Teapot Magazine