Sunday, March 01, 2015

Very Very Old Liu Bao

The best aged teas are time machines letting you taste memories at your throat- memories both joyous and sorrowful. The age of a tea isn't always a direct dial of a time knob but when you get the rare opportunity to partake an old old tea, you happily let the tea carry you to memories which predate your very existence.  Due to Su's incredible generosity, her tea transported me deeper into the past than any tea ever had.

Su procured this liu bao from a man who had held onto this tea from his grandparent's sundry shop which closed during the Japanese occupation. This puts the tea to early 1940s possibly late thirties. Great quantities of liu bao were originally imported to Malaysia for tin miners to drink all day long, brewed grandpa style in giant cauldrons.  Fermented and aged in woven bamboo baskets, not all liu bao turns out to be something amazing pending original source material and the vagaries of storage. However the decades of favorable Malaysian storage have transformed this particular specimen into something wonderful.  


Su has excellent taste in tea and many of her teas share the "jiang xiang" quality prized by collectors. Jiang xiang denotes the incense-like medicinal fragrance which itself can be quite varied. I've smelled and tasted a range of jiang xiang from more woody resiny juniper notes to more vegetal herbal notes through her teas.   Some of her puerh display a more prominent incense scent but present less so in taste but this liu bao had a more elusive jiang xiang fragrance but surprisingly prominent jiang xiang taste.   I brewed Su's liu bao for twenty infusions-  the quiet strength of the brews reminded me overwhelmingly of my dear maternal grandmother- so much so that tears fell away from my eyes. 

Before we deconstruct this tea any further,  I share with you my most treasured grandma story from this very era.  The 1940s was an unspeakably tragic time for my grandparents' generation and the entire nation of Korea.  But there is one happy family tale from these turbulent times which I cherish most because my mother(hence yours truly) would never have existed without the resourcefulness of my grandmother.

During the height of the Second World War,  Japanese soldiers dragged away my grandfather to a holding prison along with other unfortunate men in town as their names were chosen as the first wave to be sent to work the dreaded Sakhalin coal mines.  The working conditions in the mines were such that those men would have held no hope for return as countless simply perished after being brutally worked to exhaustion.  The unmarried able men were drafted into the army and the married family men such as my grandfather were reserved for forced labor but neither group enjoyed favorable odds.   Facing such a dire fate for her husband and the survival of her family, my grandmother sprung to action. 

My grandmother first hired a carpenter to fashion an exquisite cedar box.  She filled the box with emerald green mosses and laid on top the freshest fish of a kind prized by the Japanese.  Apparently it was a fish at the time exceedingly difficult to keep fresh.  She presented this box to the wife of the Japanese head of their prefecture and tearfully pleaded her case.  As a mother of four young children with the youngest still being weaned, my grandmother beseeched her to save them from destitution and undue hardship they would face without their father.  The wife must have been moved as my grandfather was spared from the mines. The Japanese head of the prefecture did not have the power to remove my grandfather's name entirely from the labor list, but he did have the power to assign men to their final destination and so my grandfather was instead allowed to work the stone quarry a few miles outside of town.  He and my grandmother went on to have have four more children, the eighth and final child being my mother.  (Actually seven years after this incident before my mother had yet the chance to be born, the North Koreans would drag away my grandfather again for forced labor but that is another story for another tea. I shudder thinking how many times I came close to non-existence but we are all side effects in an incredibly long chain of consequences. )

I have tried only one other liu bao before this occasion- a blind sample sent to me by Wilson. I had never tasted any other heicha and had mistook it for being a light shu.  So to taste such a venerable old liu bao without having hardly tasted liu baos at all- I have no reference points except for aged sheng.  I really did not know what to expect except a calming qi conveyed with a medicinal sweetness.  Starting the third and fourth brew, the tea presented the elegant long lasting smoothness with herbal incense overtones- the delicacy of the sweet aftertaste is lovely.   However, I was most intrigued by the later brews after the eleventh brew.  These lighter brews held a beguiling complex flavor akin to well water- the sides of my tongue and insides of my cheek swelled up in anticipation.  Hmm- that sounded a bit racier than intended.  The closest description I could find of such aged liu bao is of "rain water taste" on teachat.  When a tea captivates your mind and mouth taking you to the twentieth brew wanting more- well that's a great tea. 

Liu bao is currently undervalued in relation to puerh of the same age but of course good aged liu bao on-line is no means cheap- just relatively affordable compared to an outrageously priced aged puerh.  (Tea Disciple does this topic more justice) I went into a frenzy trying to buy some aged liu bao on the internet after this session but stopped myself at checkout. After tasting this aged liu bao, I'm probably setting myself up for disappointment to buy off the internet.   I've put myself in a curious tea buying limbo not only because of incredible tea gifts such as this one but because the care in which someone sent me tea has taken on greater meaning. When I drink aged puerha that I just bought off the internet (even after intense nights of agonizing and weeks of working hard to reward myself)- even good teas don't entirely satisfy because it's just one more beeng I've gotten for myself.  Perhaps this is a temporary reprieve but I've appeared to have come naturally to the end of my puerh collecting phase.

4 comments:

  1. Enjoyed your post very much. I adore Liu Bao and just ordered some myself (no puerh in the order) simply because I'm running out of what I have. You may be right about the ordering online, however I've had samples shared with me of "old" Liu Bao that tasted like dirt and were incredibly dusty/chopped. My point is, one can end up with bad tea regardless of how it is acquired.

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  2. Dear Cwyn,

    I have been inordinately lucky not to receive any dodgy dirt tasting Liu bao but life is unknowable. I however have plenty of dirt tasting older shus to spare that I could spread around- perhaps for an April's Fool exchange.

    H

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  3. Finepuer.com in Malaysia has a 90s version tbat is superb and affordable

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  4. Finepuer.com in Malaysia has a 90s version tbat is superb and affordable

    ReplyDelete