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A Historic Tea: Liu Bao Hei Cha

Posted by Angelina Kurganska 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 belong to the post-fermented category. It means the tea leaves of the finished product continue to transform under the combined action of various bacteria, yeasts, and molds. The wet fermentation process exposes the tea leaves to high amounts of moisture under higher temperatures, taking 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 helps it survive the long journeys.

 

The name alone — Liu Bao — is full of history. "Liu Bao" literally translates as "Six Castles," which refers to the forts in the specific part of Guangxi long ago. The tea took on this name because its production first started in the Liu Bao village of Guangxi Province.


Liu Bao dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907). Of course, its production and drinking ways had very little in common with the Liu Bao we know today. Later during the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1912), it was one of the most highly prized teas. Nobles would drink it daily for health and beauty or gift it to visitors and travelers.

In recent history, Liu Bao was exported to Macao, Hong Kong, and Malaysia, where it was consumed mostly by mineworkers. For this reason, the tea slowly gained a reputation as an everyday tea. Only recently has it started getting more recognition by tea connoisseurs worldwide and earning the appreciation it deserves.

 

tang dynasty chinese tea ceremony

Chinese Tea Ceremony During The Tang Dynasty



How Is Liu Bao Made?

The processing methods of Liu Bao served as the base for modern-day Ripe Pu-erh preparation (which developed fully only quite recently — the 1970s, to be exact). 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 undergo gradual pan-frying, rolling, and drying stages, becoming the loose-leaf Mao Cha. 

  • Next, tea leaves are piled and exposed to high humidity until reaching the desired fermentation level.

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

 

Liu Bao used only to be sold in 40 - 50 kg baskets. However, after gaining popularity, Liu Bao recently started to sell in smaller packings. 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, one can still find it from time to time in some homes in Guangxi that 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 can hold both cooling and warming qualities depending on its fermentation level. Liu Bao has the effect of removing excess heat and clearing blood. At the same time, it warms the body by eliminating excess dampness.

 

It is an excellent tea, acting as a probiotic of a sort and clearing our intestines. When drunk after eating, it helps break down heavier foods and aids digestion. We also find that drinking some Liu Bao has a calming effect that clears the mind and prepares 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 indeed what we love about it.

 

To Prepare Liu Bao:

Similar 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 tea liquor with dark, intensive color.

 

A typical 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".