L is for Liu Bao Tea

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. 

Liu Bao is a traditional aged dark tea from Guangxi Province in China. It is similar to pu-erh teas and falls within the dark tea category known as Hei Cha. Liu Bao tea is fermented, comparable to how a shou (cooked) ripe pu-erh tea is processed.

Liu Bao tea comes with a rich history. “Liu Bao” literally translates as “Six Castles,” which refer to the forts that existed in that specific part of Guangxi Province in China long ago. In the Qing Dynasty the area was divided up with different forts and Liu Bao was made around the fort number six, hence the name Liu Bao (number six fort).

The tea’s long story stretches back to the Tang Dynasty, as a unique traditional tea from Guangxi. 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.

Guangxi province…

 is in the Southern part of China, bordering Vietnam. The climate there is mild, with an average temperature of 21 degrees Celsius, with about 1500 mm annual rainfall. Those features combined with its short, mild winters, and long, extremely hot, and humid summers, make the area optimal for growing tea – just as we know.

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A Little History – Tin Mining and Liu Bao…

At the beginning of the last century, rich tin ore was found in Malaysia. At this time the British controlled Malaysia, and they developed plantations and the tin mines. Some of these mines were amongst the richest ever found on earth. The British brought workers from their other territories to work here: mostly Indians to work the plantations and Chinese to work the mines. The Chinese workers who were recruited as miners, were not accustomed to the of steamy tropical weather of Malaysia, and the Chinese workers often became ill, suffering with various discomforting symptoms, including long bouts of diarrhea. In traditional ancient Chinese Medicine, they felt that humid climates could adversely affect human health, leading to joint pain, weakness, and dizziness. They called this disease dampness – heat. The Chinese workers found that by drinking Liu Bao tea as a daily drink, could alleviate the symptoms caused by dampness-heat. In addition, the familiar taste of the tea immensely pacified their homesickness. Consequently, massive quantities of Liu Bao were exported to Malaysia along a path called the Ancient Tea- Boat Road. Both the Chinese miners and the local Malaysians, all took Liu Bao tea drinking as a daily habit and soon it became popular in Southeast Asian countries. There are even reports of miners who would refuse to work for a mining company that did not provide Liu Bao tea to its workers.

Closing of the Tin Mines

In the 1970s and 1980s, the price of tin fell and the mines in Malaysia started to close up, which, of course, had an effect on the Liu Bao industry as well. By that time, Liu Bao had made its way into the heart of Chinese culture in Malaysia – it was everywhere: in restaurants, shops and the homes of all Malaysian Chinese who had realized that Liu Bao wasn’t just medicinal for miners working deep underground, but was also pleasant to drink in the humid heat of Malaysia, especially before air-conditioning. Huge stockpiles of Liu Bao were left in storage for decades or sold cheaply for consumption by the local Chinese population.

Next… Liu Bao in my Cup

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