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A Historic Tea: Liu Bao Hei Cha

Posted by Path of Cha on

Long ago the wise tea master Lao Cha was on a pilgrimage through the mountainous ranges of Guanxi province, China, when he stumbled upon a tired farmer:

— Sensei, do you have something for me that is comforting like a thick rice porridge, yet sweet and robust like coffee that will help me tackle all this work. 
— Of course, young one! Let me share with you a woven basket of Liu Bao. 



Hei Cha In A Nutshell

Literally meaning “black tea” (or even "dark tea"), Hei Cha is different from the "black tea" we know of in the West, which is actually called “red tea” in China.

Hei Cha tea leaves are fully oxidized, so on the spectrum of tea types, Hei Cha is actually the most oxidized tea. The wet fermentation process, which exposes the tea leaves to high amounts of moisture and humidity, is what takes Hei Cha a step further from black tea.

liu bao tea

Liu Bao Hei Cha

The History of Liu Bao

Many of the types of tea we drink nowadays are nothing like the tea that was drunk 1000 or even 200 hundred years ago. The tea sages that we nowadays admire, like Lu Yu, drank tea that was processed and prepared in a completely different style from the tea we know and love today.


Liu Bao, on the other hand, is a tea of history. It is one of the oldest styles of tea preparation that is still preserved and drank to this day. It is an excellent example of the trade routes that existed many years ago when the nomadic people of faraway places used to depend on the tea supply received from the warmer climates of China. The fermentation that the tea undergoes is what helped it survive the long journeys.


The name alone — Liu Bao — is full of history. “Liu Bao” literally translates as “Six Castles,” which refer to the forts that existed in the specific part of Guangxi long ago. The reason the tea took on this name is that it was first produced in the Liu Bao village of Guangxi Province.

Liu Bao dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), and later during the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1912), it was one of the highest prized teas. Nobles would drink it daily for health and beauty, and it was given as gifts to visitors and travelers.

More recently Liu Bao was exported to parts of Malaysia and Hong Kong where it was mostly consumed by mine workers. For this reason, the tea slowly gained a reputation of an everyday tea. Only recently has it started getting more recognition by tea connoisseurs around the world and gaining the appreciation it deserves.

tang dynasty chinese tea ceremony

Chinese Tea Ceremony During The Tang Dynasty

How Is Liu Bao Made?

It is believed that the processing methods of Liu Bao served as the base for modern-day Ripe Pu erh preparation (which wasn’t developed fully developed until quite recently — the 1970s to be exact). In fact, the two teas go through very similar processing partially because they are both part of the Hei Cha tea category.

  • First, the raw tea leaves are piled and exposed to high humidity until the desired fermentation level is achieved.


  • After fermentation, the leaves are steamed and pressed into their iconic large bamboo baskets. After the tea leaves have been packed into the baskets, they are left to air-dry for several months and then aged even further. 

Liu Bao used to only be sold in baskets of 40 - 50 kg. Recently, however, after gaining popularity, Liu Bao is sold in smaller amounts. And not only in baskets but in various compressed shapes much similar to its cousin pu-erh.


The Historical Tea Processing Method:

When Liu Bao was first developed, it was made individually in homes. The residents of Guangxi would cook the leaves in a wok with some water and hang them to dry above their kitchen oven. They used pinewood for their fires, which would give the tea a bit of a smokey flavor.  Although this form of tea preparation is rarely in use anymore, it can still be found from time to time in some homes in Guangxi, who wish to preserve this ancient tea ritual.


guangxi tea

Guangxi Province


Health Benefits of Tea: Liu Bao


According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, Liu Bao has exceptional properties. It simultaneously holds both cooling and warming qualities, which is quite rare. It cools our bodies when we need it and warms our bodies, eliminating excess dampness.


It is an excellent tea to drink before eating, acting as a probiotic of a sort, and clearing our intestines. It is also beneficial to drink after eating, to aid in digestion. We also find that drinking some Liu Bao helps to clear the mind and prepare us for a day of work. Many notice that drinking this sincere tea is both comforting and motivating. In a sense, it is a tea of contrasts, which is precisely what we love about it.

To Prepare Liu Bao:

Similarly to pu-erh, the darker the tea — the better. A quality Liu Bao won’t be phased by a bit of extra tea leaf, using boiling water, or even oversteeping. On the contrary, it might make it even more robust and delicious. Try adding a bit more leaf than you are used to, or steep the tea a bit longer. Aim for a really dark, almost entirely black tea liquor.

A common preparation method is bringing the tea leaves up to a boil in a pot, then letting them steep while cooling. The hot temperature doesn’t harm the tea or extract any bitterness, instead, this method only enhances the tea’s nutritional value. Liu Bao is a very easy tea to brew and can be both cooked and steeped as usual. 


What makes a good Liu Bao unique and different from all other teas is its distinct aroma — one that reminds us of betel nut. The taste of Liu Bao is also like that of betel nut, and it has a prominent lingering sweet finish, one that is sought after in many teas.



To learn more about this exquisite tea we recommend checking out the elaborate tea article by Global Tea Hut.