The story of Liu An tea is not well known. For this reason the amazing quality of older Liu An vintages have largely gone unnoticed until recently. The pre1950s era remains the pinnacle for Liu An appreciation when this little basket of tea leaves weighing approx. 600g was enjoyed by the Chinese upper class and considered amongst the top teas in China.
This early 1950s Liu An Sun Yishun represents the last batches of Liu An tea from an old era that was almost permanently erased from history under the reforms of Communism. This tea is symbolic of the wealth, refinery and pursuit for excellence that the upper class in China enjoyed under the Nationalist Government and capitalism. The production of Liu An tea during this time period was catered mainly to the wealthy and as a result the quality of the tea was made to a very high standard. This resulted in a highly meticulous and labor intensive production that is evident today in the quality and elegance of the brew and the astonishing uniformity of the leaves in shape and size that are compressed in these baskets.
“Certainly, rich people living in Guangdong in the old days drank only Liu-an but not Puerh … scenes of brewing aged Liu-an basket tea was recorded in some Guangdong films in the 1930s. In those days the rich disliked the roughness of Puerh but they were very keen on the elegant and silky tea broth of Liu-an.”, excerpt from the article An Interactive Dialogue with Zhou Yu, Aged Liu-an Appreciation from The Art of Tea No.5. Zhou Yu is a well respected Teamaster and owner of Wisteria Tea House in Taiwan
To have an opportunity to enjoy such old teas is a great blessing. Such moments must be savored and be given due justice by allocating the time and ensuring peace and focus becomes a part of the tea session. It is about enjoying the moment and taking as much away from the experience as possible. Old and unique teas like this 1950s Liu An are unlikely to ever be reproduced in the same manner again such is the investment and time involved.
The brewing of old Liu An tea is done together with a small piece of bamboo leaf which adds a nice bamboo fragrance and is believed to be good for health.
The 1950s Liu An Sun Yishun is a shining example of elegance in a cup. The experience of drinking this tea wraps you in an ambiance of warmth, comfort and relaxation. The brew is magnificently smooth and textured, sliding silkily along the cavities of the mouth. There is a presence of sweetness that comes not so much in taste but as a feeling in the lower jaw and in the back of the throat. Holding the brew and gently swishing it slowly within the cavities of the mouth opens the senses to a range of complexities and little nuances. Notes of Chinese herbs, dried medicinal roots, age bamboo entwined within a background of other dark and age characteristics forms this distinctive and highly enjoyable age brew. By the 4th to 5th steeps there is a pleasant feeling of being lightheaded like walking in the clouds. It is a tea that draws you away from the worries of the world and provides you with a sense of well being.
List of articles from The Art of Tea No.5 1) Aged and Sweet Anhui Liu-an Basket by He Jing Cheng, 2) Discovery and Guesswork of Liu-an Tea by Yang Kai, 3) Appreciating Another Masterpiece Vintage, The Aged Liu-am Sun Yishun by Chan Kam Pong, 4) An Interactive Dialogue with Zhou Yu, Aged Liu-an Appreciation by Luo Ying Yin. For an online article please see Opening a Full Jian of Liu An, A Historical Day of Tea by Marshaln
Additional Note: The recount for the last production of the old era of Liu An tea varies considerably from my encounters with old tea collectors and references within tea articles ranging from the 1940s all the way to the early 1950s. From understanding the great upheavals and turmoil that took place in China during this period of time you will come to understand why so much knowledge and information had been lost. As a result there is a degree of vagueness and mystique to these older Liu An teas.
It is my impression that the appearance and performance of the 1940s and 1950s Liu An Sun Yishun tea baskets are very much alike as they were both produced by the same company and in the same era. The noticeable differences that do show up are more from the resulting storage and climate that these teas have been aged under. It is an important lesson for those interested in procuring old teas, to know and have assurances that the aging and storage for such teas have been beneficial rather than damaging in their effects.
A Comparative Pictorial of 3 Liu An Teas (from 1950s, 1970s, 2005)
See more teas from the Tea List