Friday, February 23, 2007

Guangxi Liubao Teas, A Comparison

A number of posts ago, I mentioned briefly about the Three Cranes brand Guangxi Liubao tea ("3 Cranes") that I brewed with some fresh ginger to help alleviate my nasty cold symptoms. Since I recovered, I have had this tea a few more times. Last night, I brewed it alongside an older loose Liubao tea from the early 1990’s (“1990 Loose”) for a side-by-side comparison.

The differences in their overall quality are quite apparent. The 3 Cranes is consistently made up of small, diced leaves, compressed into the shape of a bird nest (tuocha). The 1990 Loose, which originally came loose in a large bamboo basket weighing 50 jins (25kg/55lb), is made up of larger cuttings, twigs and a small amount of almost-whole leaves.

Three Cranes 2000 Guangxi Liubao (tuocha)
Jing Tea Shop
$5 /100gr tuo

Parameter: in a 120ml gaiwan, filled half-full with dry leaves. Boiling 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 high clarity. It appears rather viscous and easily opaque when infused with the stated parameter. The nose is woody and grassy/vegetal. Full bodied with a silky texture. Finishes short, clean and rather green. It’s a tea that comes across rather simple, yet there is absolutely nothing unpleasant about it.

2.5 stars (mg – g)

VL of the Tea Logic blog had posted a well-written tasting note on the 3 Cranes (
click here).

While the liquor of both teas are dark and deep-colored, I observed that the 3 Cranes is more opaque and more viscous than the 1990 Loose. Relative to each other, the 3 Cranes is fuller bodied than its older peer. Soy milk thickness comes to mind about 3 Cranes’ full bodiedness. They are both silky smooth.

Taste wise, both teas are easygoing (read: simple), pleasant and soothing. They are woody, earthy, clean-tasting and without any unsettling pond-y or moldy smell. The 3 Cranes has a green/grassy/vegetal edge on the nose. The 1990 Loose, on the other hand, gives a sweet, woody smell with a tinge of mocha.

Early 1990 Guangxi Liubao (loose leaves)
Houde Fine Tea
$9.50 / 2oz (57gr)

Parameter: about the same as applied to the 3 Cranes tea

Mostly larger cuttings, twigs and some whole dry leaves, 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 silky smooth texture. A simple tasting tea, yet this woody-earthy tea has a charming sweet aftertaste with a hint of metallic note. The first sip of each subsequent infusion celebrates and amplifies the sweet lingering aftertaste from the previous cup. Enjoyed for 8 infusions, but the tea could go for a few more.

3.5 stars (g – vg)

The most obvious difference in their taste is, actually, in their aftertaste. The 3 Cranes finishes short, clean, green, but not much else. The 1990 Loose finishes a touch metallic yet sweetish throughout. I really like the sweet aftertaste of the 1990 Loose that lingers for a long time. The most delicious part of this tea comes at the first sip of the next cup after resting for a couple of minutes in between infusions. That first sip somehow amplifies the lingering sweetness from the cup prior. Very nice. For this, I think the 1990 Loose is hands down the more interesting tea of the two.

A Little About Guangxi Liubao
The name of the tea itself is actually the name of the place where the tea is produced. This tea hails from a town named Liubao in the Cangwu County of Guangxi province.

At its heart, it is a black tea that underwent a wet fermentation process to mellow out the tea’s taste. The wet fermentation technique (“wo dui” in Chinese) is the same process used to make Yunnanese cooked/ripe/shou pu’er. Basically, fully oxidized leaves are exposed to a high degree of humidity in order to accelerate the fermentation for a certain period of time until the desired level is achieved. Unfortunately, I am not privy to any information on which cultivar Liubao tea is made from.

Teamakers in Guangxi had employed the wet fermentation technique for at least a couple of decades (around 1950's or earlier) before their Yunnanese counterparts adopted a similar technique in the 1970's. Guang of Houde Fine Tea said:

“I was told when Kumming tea technicians learned the cooked skill of Liu Bao from Guangzhou, the cooked process still took ~ 8 months to complete. A slow "cooked" process, with less fermentation degree. So 70's and 80's cooked puerhs are mostly kind of like "semi-cooked" in our current standard.

Since early 90's, they kept "improving" the cooked process and now it only takes about 1 month to complete.

Liu Bao was not only used in restaurant in HK/Macao, it was also often used in Temples to pack as "Pin An Cha" (you know Pin An - meaning safe) in a little plastic bag with a square red tag in the bag. Especially during Chinese New Year, people like to go to the Temples and receive the "Pin An Cha" for the safety in the following year.”

Mr. Chan Kam Pong in his new book “First Step to Chinese Puerh Tea” wrote:

"Guangxi Liubao (广西六堡) is the special production of Cangwu (苍梧) County, Guangxi province. Liubao was mainly exported to Southeast Asia through Hong Kong. Overseas Chinese always brew this tea because the taste of Liubao is smooth and rich in addition to its aging capacity. It was said that overseas Chinese stored Liubao at home as simple medicine for treatment of dysentery in the old days and for relieving mild illness(es)."

(First Step to Chinese Puerh Tea, pp 52-53, by Chan Kam Pong, Wushing Books Publication Co. Ltd., 2006)

Short Conclusion
At this tasting, the 1990 Loose is certainly the better of the two. After tasting the 1990 Loose, I think a good quality aged Liubao tea can give a similarly aged cooked pu’er a run for the money.

Will the 3 Cranes' grassiness evolve into something else as it ages? I will report back in a few years. I'm keeping several tuos for long term storage, and one tuo has been broken up and kept inside a porcelain jar for frequent visitations.


Vladimir Lukiyanov said...

Very nicely written, thank you for posting this.

The lack of mustiness is really interesting in the tuo, even the half fermented MH shuo isn't quite as pleasant...


Salsero said...

Thanks to both Phyll and VL for posting about these mysterious "black" teas about which so little information is available.

Steven Dodd said...

Hmm, Liu Bao is a ripe red tea? You wrote that it is fully oxidized. I wouldn't think that a red tea would need to be fermented in order to improve it. Sounds almost risky since there is the chance of pond taste to be added. This particular sample turned out well, I see.

Bearsbearsbears said...

Liu Bao also comes in a green variety, but I'm unsure if it's aged. It also can be packed into bamboo in addition to the large baskets.

Given a choice between good shou and so-so Liu Bao, I'd take the latter. All the earthiness without the pond...

I just bought a 1kg basket of 1992 Liu Bao and got a sample of some 30 year old Liu Bao...we should compare them when I get back to LA!

~ Phyll said...

Steven, according to several sources, Liubao is categorized as a black tea (heicha)...not red tea (hongcha). But Jason F above says it also comes in green...I assume it means that it's still a "heicha" but one that didn't go through the wet fermentation.

Jason F, can't wait to drink tea with you again!

Salsero said...

A tisket a tasket 2 Liu Bao baskets. Here's hoping Jason F and Phyll S do a joint post about tasting these two fascinating teas, the new one in the basket and the 30-yr-old.