The seeds of the Camellia varietals and cultivars keep moving from place to place, carried by spirit, by the wind, by animals or by man, leaving Yunnan, the birthplace of tea, and have spread their seeds and adapted, transformed to new environments alternating the characteristics of body, flavour and profile. However, there is one tea, the crown jewel of all teas, and a master in its own right, that I believe was already entrenched in the land by how it is owned, the very majestic Liu Bao.
Liu Bao ‘Ye Sheng’ Hei Cha is a traditional aged dark tea produced exclusively in Cangwu Country, Guangxi Province, China. Liu Bao translates as six castles or six forts and most likely refers to ancient fortifications in this tea-producing area.
Liu Bao also has a particularly important place in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as having a rare dual quality: both cooling and warming. It is said to eliminate excess dampness while having a warming quality when necessary. Like most dark teas, it is an excellent digestive aid, suitable for consumption before, after and during meals.
It is a unique tea, with a wabi spirit and a much more refined body. The word “wabi” was originally used to describe the lonely lifestyle of a Monk, who had given up all worldly possessions in favour of an austere, simple, and disciplined life. Today it implies a rustic simplicity, quietness, attention to detail, and understated beauty. It was chosen as the the tea for Liberate, because as time passes, new things come into being and old things depart. In the Zen tradition, true beauty is experienced when we allow ourselves to be curious and open to change and when we approach life without judgment.
This tea undergoes a fermentation process that is similar to that of ripe (shu) puer from Yunnan. After being fermented, it is aged in large bamboo caskets. The resulting tea has a distinctive woody profile and an easy, drinkable character with a nice medicinal edge. It is a medium leaf varietal (Camellia s. Pubilimba), with distinctive betel notes due to its plant characteristics, fermentation and microclimate in the area. These are the unique characteristics of Liu Bao. A prime example of good ‘gut’ health.
To produce Liu Bao, the buds and first leaves from the April mountain harvest are used, the best ones come from wild trees of course. The plant that grows in this area of China is often called medium leaf to differentiate it from the big leaf Assamica of Yunnan and from the small leaf Sinensis of other Chinese regions. The Guangxi Camellia is a variant of Assamica but different in the bearing of the tree, and in the size of the leaf compared to those of Yunnan. It also has sweeter and less balsamic or tannic aromatic scents.
Liu Bao and Shu have influenced each other for many decades, but superficially it can be said that Liu Bao was the production and fermentation model that was used for the creation of the pu’er Shu technique. The starting materials of the two teas are different, the terroir and the microclimate of the maturing and processing environment are different, the microorganisms that attack the leaves are different and the stacking and fermentation methods are different. We can say that there are different types and styles of Liu Bao that have been more or less successful over time, this is an example of tea that changes, while maintaining its uniqueness of character.
The scents of traditional Liu Bao are primarily betel nut. The body is rich, soft, velvety but with a refreshing aftertaste. Qi is very very powerful, it seems to anchor us to the ground and create a link between the mind and the rest of the body, the presence of jin hua (blossoming flower) increases and strengthens the feeling of hui gan (magical sweet aftertaste). It is a warm tea with a winter nature and perfect for any time of day.
A bit of trivia; Grandma’s tea or Lao Cha Po…..Once upon a time it was customary to sauté freshly picked tea leaves with the addition of a little water, the water evaporated and the leaves were crushed in a canvas sack that hung over the hearth (with pine woods). When the drying was complete, this tea was prepared by boiling. It is now very rare to find this type of preparation in homes, it represents one of the most ancient and archaic forms of use of forest tea.
The modern Liu Bao has changed over the years, and changed again in the 1980s, also due to the popularity of the pu’er. The stacking phase takes longer, and some companies are starting to create raw Liu Bao similar to sheng, but for now I can’t say I have tasted particularly good years of “Liu Bao raw”, I don’t know what kind of aging potential may have. Traditionally, since the fermentation of Liu Bao is not very humid, in the past there was no trace of Jin Hua or Eurotium cristatum, but later the presence of these spores has become a synonym of quality.
This Cinderella of the Heicha variety has always suffered the popularity of its neighbouring pu’er but in my opinion it is a crown jewel in its own right.