Tuesday, February 17, 2015

1950s Liu An Sun Yishun

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 bold, yet smooth and rounded, sliding silkily along the cavities of the mouth. There is a presence of sweetness that spreads throughout the mouth into the lower jaw and to the back of the throat. Letting the brew gently trickle alongside the tongue fills the senses with a range of complexities and nuances. Rich dark layers open to a symphony of vintage notes, captivating and mesmerizing the senses in a world of antiquity. This is a highly unique, dense, complex, and compelling tea that demands your attention and it will reward you for it. Amidst the dark swirling richness of age flavors and Chinese medicinal notes the classic fragrance of watermelon skin really shines through. This distinctive characteristic becomes the centerpiece of the orchestration of notes that really makes old Liu An stands out in the category of age tea. By the 4th to 5th steeps there is a pleasant feeling of being lightheaded like walking in the clouds. It is a tea that transports 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 stories of old Liu An tea varies considerably from my encounters with senior tea collectors and references within tea articles. From understanding the great upheavals and turmoil that took place in China during this time period 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 old Liu An teas. Furthermore as with many antiques and old collectables the timelines and story is often blurred through retelling. A story is shaped by an individual’s interpretation and the more times a story is shared, retold, passed on the personal influence and inaccuracies mount. For this reason an astute tea drinker learns to enjoy the romance in a story but assess a tea based on the quality of the tea leaves in front of him.

An important reminder for old tea collectors is that storage is a key factor in shaping the quality of age tea. Tea taken from the same production batch and kept under 2 different conditions after multiple decades can easily become 2 very different teas. For those interested in procuring old teas, make sure the aging and storage for those teas have been beneficial towards their maturity and not detrimental and damaging in their effects. It is the reason why the same batch of teacakes (with the same raw materials and production date) after a time can be valued at very different price points.

See also
Educational Series – The 3 Eras of Liu An Tea
Opening of the 1970s Liu An Sun Yishun Basket
A Comparative Pictorial of 3 Liu An Teas (from 1950s, 1970s, 2005)
Fake Liu An Tea Basket
Combining Age Liu An Tea and TCM – A Personal Experience

See more teas from the Tea List

9 comments:

  1. As the MarshalN article points out, once the tea is opened, it starts to deteriorate fairly quickly. This probably explains why my experiences with aged Liu An haven't been so great, the tea was highly crumbled and tasted like dirt. I rarely throw away a tea, but one I got from someone was just undrinkable. I'm glad yours is better^^

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    2. Hello Cwyn,

      I’m glad you brought this up. From my experience a genuine and well stored Liu An does not taste like dirt at all. You are right in that the storage for very old teas will need careful attention. Teas that have reached full maturity and are at their peak will only go downhill from here. However with careful storage I don’t find this to be a big concern. My previous 1950s Liu An basket lasted for over 4 years and the tea was very fine throughout that time all the way to the last bit of leaves for my final tea session.

      I should mention that there are a lot of fake Liu An teas being sold in the market made with ripe puerh tea. My encounters with this type of tea would match your description of the taste of dirt. It is also possible that the storage was compromised over the years and the quality of the tea inside deteriorated instead of getting better.

      Best, VP

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  2. One day I hope to be as fortunate to try some thing of this age. It sounds wonderful!
    M

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    1. Hello Mr Mopar,

      Send me an email. I'm sure I can sort something out :)

      varatphong(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  3. could you say something about your method for brewing liu an?

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    1. Hello Scott,

      I find Gongfu brewing to be the best method. I use a thick wall yixing teapot of good clay and boiling hot water. Preheat utensils, one rinse and the tea is ready to be steeped for enjoyment multiple times. My tea sessions are conducted from experience that combines hand and eye judgment. Thus because I don’t weigh and measure my portions I can only provide estimates >> 7-8g tea, 100+ml hot water, steeping intervals of 20-30s for early steeps, extending to minutes.

      Best, Varat

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  4. Halo,where did u buy those aged tea?i 'vet never try 1950-70s aged tea. Can you share some tea shop or contact?
    Thanks a lot!

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    1. The market for old and antique tea is not straightforward and has become progressively more difficult to navigate as the years pass. Many of the old tea shops have come and gone especially in Hong Kong. You can check those remaining (ex. Sunsing, Best Tea House, Wisteria Tea House) but keep in mind their old stock of age tea is not like before.

      I've been collecting tea for close to 20 years now. Most of my old tea collection, I got many years ago when there was more choice and you could shop around and select individually teacakes/baskets with the best storage and in the best condition you could find. For example not many people would know that it took me 3 years to obtain this batch of Liu An baskets which is exceptional. I was traveling and drinking age teas and comparing the variation of storage from HK, Malaysia, Taiwan. New tea enthusiasts will sometimes not understand why the same production of “let’s say” a 1950s tea could be valued at the cost of V, or V x 2, or more. It is all about storage quality and the condition the tea is in. Buying old tea is not difficult buy getting the good stuff you need to build relationships with sellers and a bit of luck. The reality is a lot of age teas were not stored very well (as they were not valued in the past like today) and out of every 10 age teacakes there might be 1 good teacake. How do you think that 1 teacake will be handled?

      Ahhh, a much longer reply than intended. Good luck!

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