This is a very lightly fermented "farmer style" liu bao tea produced in 2010 near Liu Bao township using Grade 2 material from trees 70-100 years of age. It underwent the an older style "double steaming" process to compress the tea into its large basket for storage and aging. The tea was then further mellowed during its resting period.
This tea looks and smells a bit like the traditionally stored sheng pu'er of Hong Kong, with some visible golden flowers. The flavor is complex, deep and layered: biscuit/malt, nutty, betelnut, mushroom, petrichor/mineral, peat moss. It's much more like a raw/sheng liu bao than a shu liu bao, retaining some bitterness and even some floral qualities that are more apparent in later infusions.
It has a lasting aftertaste, good hui gan, and a lively feeling.
Brewing tips (gongfu)
The usual advice applies here, more leaf and slightly longer steeps than usual gongfu. 8g/100ml works well, and you can do 7 or 7.5 if you don't plan to pay it much attention: this will help it not get too thickly bitter if you oversteep it, though you'll lose some of its charming boldness. It does well with light or heavy TDS water, and performs well in vessels of any material. A great choice for brewing grandpa style or simmering with a pinch of salt.
This tea was stored in Wuzhou from 2010 to 2021, at which point it joined us in Seattle, Washington. Wuzhou has a humid subtropical climate with an average relative humidity of 60-80%.
More about this tea
The double steam process, once common, is now less so. Liu bao leaves are often stored and aged in baskets, and to fit more tea into each basket, the tea is steamed and pressed into the basket. The double steaming process does this twice, resulting in a higher compression, as evidenced in the photo: this tea has many such compressed layers. The process is believed to help seal in the aromas and flavors and to help it age into a more mellow and rich tea.
What is "farmer style" liu bao?
Farmer style liu bao comes from a more traditional or old school process compared to how liu bao teas are typically created and graded today.
To understand farmer style liu bao, you need to know a little about how liu bao is produced and graded.
Liu bao tea is graded using a standard system, where "top grade" (特级) and "grade 1" (一级) include only bud tips. As grade numbers increase, leaves from farther down the bud stem are included. Grade 2 includes very little stem. Grade 3 includes larger leaves and tender stems. Grade 4 can include stems that aren't tender, i.e., small woody sticks. I have seen some labeled grade 5 and 7, where 7 was mostly mature leaves (called 黄片, huangpian, "yellow pieces", based on the color these leaves turn when dry, compared to the rich green of more tender bud leaves) and sticks.
Farmer style liu bao is produced with the entire bud stem and doesn't fall easily into the grading system, but averages about grade 3, with tender stems and large bud leaves, but few to no sticks or fully matured leaves. This is the household tea of small farmstead owners, often stored and aged in the family's own wood board sheds.
In addition, farmer style tea typically does not undergo wet piling, and is instead kept "raw" (生). Wet piling is the controlled fermentation process used to produce most factory liu bao teas nowadays, and is similar to the process for how "cooked" pu'er (aka shu pu'er, 熟普洱) is made.