After a recent trip to Liubao town in Guangxi province, I gathered some information about Liubao Heicha [Literally translated as Black Tea, heicha actually refers to a post fermenting process that is more akin to ripe puer processing than "black tea" as it is known by most English speakers]. A lot of the information I have seen on other websites runs counter to what I experienced, so the following post is a quick and dirty clarification about Liubao tea and its modern state, which will hopefully shed some light on the situation.
A seven hour bus ride from Liuzhou took a turn for the worse after large scale road side lumber cutting on a two lane highway brought traffic to a halt. When passengers started to leave their vehicles for cigarettes, I knew it was going to be a lengthy trip. About nine and half hours later, I wearily arrived in Wuzhou, Guangxi. Wuzhou is the largest city in close proximity to Liubao, the small river-mountain town which is the namesakes of Liubao Heicha. From Wuzhou city, I took a motorbike another 2 hours up into the mountains, winding along highways and then eventually along pine and bamboo forest roads to arrive in the township. Liubao town is a little more than a stretch of clustered houses along a river with a bridge. The outlying communities and farmers process tea themselves, as well as work for major factories in the area, such as the factory pictured below.The processing of Liubao tea is varied. The actual Liubao township's tea growing area is very small. Most tea labeled as Liubao is from surrounding areas spread far and wide across the province of Guangxi. Traditionally Liubao teas were pile post fermented, similar to ripe puer tea, where tea is piled in large stacks and kept in high humidity and specific temperature conditions. These teas are sometimes heated in a hongfang [literally red room, a hot dry room used to dry tea] in order to dry them out. Other villages and factories with use fire, heat, and/or smoke. Traditionally these teas were wood fired, but many major factories have started to use methods without the introduction of smoke. The vast majority of the tea in the area is small leaf varietal, although I did encounter some people planting large leaf varietals, which were planted within the last 5-10 years. The traditional Liubao heicha teas are nearly all the small leaf tea below, which is narrow and comes to a sharp point. Fresh leaves have only a mild bitterness. When processed, the leaf becomes even tinier and is often broken and fragmented due to jostling during the pile phase. In one particular tea garden I also encountered some interesting cross planting. People had placed young pine trees in amongst their tea, as well as cinnamon and some other small plants. The tea was planted up to the natural forest edge. This is all very beneficial. The diversity of fragrances and plant and animal life are a boon for tea. Pine forests surround some of the tea gardens, and it impacts the smells in the air and the tea itself. In addition, the presence of varied insect life and animals shows a healthy ecosystem. Seeing large grasshoppers like the one below is an indication that the natural order of the local wildlife is in tact. One other more recent development is the production of "raw" Liubao teas, which are produced in a manner similar to raw puer, but they are by far the minority in the modern market place. A search for any major Liubao tea factory will produce results of hundreds of ripe heicha, with only a few “raw” teas. Raw is in quotes because even most of the factory raw teas are lightly fermented (qing fajiao) before processing. However, I did purchase a small amount of handmade raw Liubao for the site, and have also reserved several kilograms from their 2014 production. The taste is sharp and spicy, with a golden soup. After aging, it will slowly turn red and become smooth similar to the traditional liubao teas. Check out our current Liubao selection and try for yourself.