I’d been thinking about exploring deeper into the world of Hei Cha for quite a while.
For many people their experience of this class of teas is defined by their relationship with arguably the best known example of the type, pu-erh.
Now, as regular readers will no doubt be aware, I loves me Pu, me, but I still felt as though I had an itch to scratch with other members of the Hei Cha family, and after watching some YouTube videos in which Master Lin Ping Xiang extols the virtues of that speciality of Guangxi, Liu Bao tea, I knew I was going to have to try some.
I guessed that Yunnan Sourcing might just be able to help me out, and sure enough, of the 34 teas in their Hei Cha section 9 were Liu Bao.
The phrase “This is a good entry point for those wanting to enjoy Liu Bao” in the description of this particular cake sold me, as did the price, a very reasonable US$6.50. In the shopping basket it went.
To quote Yunnan Sourcing, this tea is a…
“Traditional Style Liu Bao from the oldest producer of Liu Bao in Guangxi (Three Cranes / Wuzhou Tea Factory). Grade 1 and Grade 3 wet piled material was expertly processed and then pressed into these ‘phat’ 100 gram tea cakes.”
The 100 grams of leaf is fairly compact, and resembles an ice hockey puck somewhat. It took a bit of careful work with the pu-erh pick to free off the 5 grams I needed for the session, a process made slightly more tricky due to the small size of the cake.
Steeping was done in a 150 ml gaiwan, with water right off a rolling boil. I gave the tea a quick rinse, and then allowed the leaves to sit under the warmed up gaiwan’s lid for a few minutes, to assist in breaking down the lumps of still compressed tea.
Then, it was time to get on with the business of steeping. I started off with a 5 second infusion, adding a further 5 seconds for each subsequent round.
Right from the first steeping it was crystal clear that something interesting was taking place in my teacup.
It was obvious that the tea was closely related to shou pu-erh, but it was also equally apparent that it was very different to it, as well as frustratingly hard to pin down and detail those similarities and differences.
There was a lot going on flavour wise – clean, fresh button mushrooms mixed with wood shavings, and hanging elusively above the earthiness a sweetness that reminded me of some long forgotten candy from a Lucky Bag bought in a back-street newsagents early one 1970s Sunday morning.
The smell of hot baking parchment lingered in the cup, and the wet leaves in the gaiwan smelled of heather moorland after a summer rain shower, rather than the forest floor aroma given off by a shou.
The tea soup was wonderfully full bodied, creamy, and left beautiful, oily marks down the front of my tea pitcher.
After the 10th infusion I noticed a slight tailing off of the intensity of both the flavour and the colour of the tea, so I bumped the steeping times somewhat, to 1½ and 3 minutes. After a final infusion at 5 minutes I felt I’d had the best from the leaves, so ended my session at that point.
In summary, then, this was a very interesting and encouraging first expedition into the wider world of hei cha that lays beyond pu-erh in general and Liu Bao specifically. If you want to try out Liu Bao then this tea represents a good, cost effective way to do so.