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Aged and Sweet Anhui Liu an Basket, Text by: He Jing Cheng

In the past, the Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong only provided two kinds of dark tea for their customers, i.e., Anhui (安徽)Liu-an (六安) tea or Yunnan loose-leaf Puerh tea. In this issue, I would like to share my views with readers about the so-called "relative" of Puerh tea, the Anhui (安徽) Liu-an (六安) tea. Those Chinese people living in coastal Guangdong areas and in countries of South-east Asia loved to drink both Yunnan Puerh tea and Anhui (安徽) Liu-an (六安)tea. However, the former group of people love Yunnan Puerh tea more while the latter group of people drink a lot of Anhui (安 徽) Liu-an (六安) tea.

Traditionally speaking, Liu-an (六安) tea was produced from Anhui (安徽) province. This is a compressed tea wrapped by bamboo leaves in an oval bamboo basket. The function of bamboo leaves is to prevent any leakage of dry tea leaves. Therefore, its proper name should be the "Anhui 徽) Liu-an (六安) basket tea (藍茶)" because it usually comes with a basket with its weight around 600g per basket.

This tea had been very popular among Hong Kong and overseas Chinese people. Unfortunately, the production of Liu-an (六安) tea was suspended for a long period of time. According to my research, the last batch of Anhui (安徽) Liu-an (六安) tea was produced in 1943. The last batch was sold to Singapore tea vendors at an extremely high price of US$240 per 60kg in 1946 (p.s

US$240 was a huge sum at that particular moment). In theory, this was the end of Anhui (安徽) Liu-an (六安) tea. However, the overseas Chinese had been demanding for this tea because they would like to use Anhui (安徽) Liu-an (六安) tea as home medicines or “medicine trigger” as prescribed in Chinese medicine prescription (medicine trigger” refers to those substances to be added into the herbal medicine and brewing them at the same time in order to trigger or enhance the effect of the herbal medicine).

In 1983, the Overseas Chinese Tea Development Foundation Fund sent a genuine sample of aged Anhui (安徽) Liu-an (六安) basket tea to the Anhui (安徽) Tea Leaves Import and Export Department asking for re-production of such tea. As reque-sted, the stateowned tea company sent people to Anhui (安徽)conducting relevant research for re-pro-ducing this historical tea. They tried their best to re-produce Liu-an (六安) (basket tea at its origin, Luxi (盧溪) Nanxiang (南鄉) Qimen (祈門).Trial products were manufactured. Finally, the re-produced Anhui (安徽)Liu-an (六安)tea was awarded in 1988 provincial excellent tea competition. After that, this suspended tea re-entered the market. These batches of re-produced products were embedded with Eight-zhong Trademark Tickets. Apart from the traditional little basket packages, some products were contained in cardboard boxes or square bamboo baskets (around 10kg per basket) or large cylindrical bamboo baskets (around 25 kg to 30kg per basket).

Many years ago, in the traditional market, Sun Yishun (義順) was the most popular and famous brand. It was one of the supreme Liu-an (六安) basket tea products. Since Sun Yishun (孫義順) was so popular, it had been the target of counterfeit products.

Meanwhile, there were some other supreme Liu-an (六安) basket tea products available in the market including "Boji Mingya Liu-an (伯記明芽六安)", "Hu Guangzhen Tea Shop Yunwu Liu-an (胡廣珍茶莊雲霧安)" "Guang Yichun Liu-an (廣益春六安)","Kang Yangchun Original Yishun Hao (康秧春正義順號)" and "Lian Yuchun Liu-an (廖雨春六安茶)". Unfortunately, these precious Liu-an (六安) tea baskets could not be locate any more and became extinct in the middle of 1990's.

The descendants of one of the time-honored Liu-an (六安) tea shops, "Butan An-tea Hao (埠灘安茶號)", provided the traditional methods of making Liu-an (六安) as follows:

The manufacturing processes of Liu-an (六安) basket tea are divided into 3 stages: plucking, primary making and fine production. The plucking must be done within 10 days inclusive around the Guyu (穀雨). Fine tea buds and young tea leaves are plucked. These fine tea materials will be stir-fried in wok (preparatory fixation). After stir-frying, the tea leaves will undergo the process of twisting and rolling for making a better appearance. Then, they have to be dried. This procedure must be performed quickly before rotting. When the raw tea leaves have been dried thoroughly, the tea farmers will sell the raw materials to tea firms for fine production.

The tea firms will first classify the raw materials according to their qualities. Secondly, they will remove the unwanted tea leaves. Next, they will pick out the very fine grade 1 to grade 4 tea leaves for roasting. Liu-an (六安) basket tea involves a very unique process which is to roast the raw materials and then put them outdoor overnight. The tea leaves will be steamed and compressed in the next early morning. They axe compressed into a small basket with bamboo leaves. After wrapping up the bamboo leaves, they will be tired up every 2 baskets (weight: 1.25kg) as a group. Every 3 groups will be tried up again by long strips to form a stack of baskets and to be placed on the wooden shelf. The baskets have to be covered and to be roasted by the charcoal fire under the shelf. The final step is to tired up every 10 stacks into an ultimate large group for storage and transportation. These arc the finely made Liu-an (六安)basket tea. Each ultimate large group weights 37.5kg. The aged Liu-an (六安) basket tea is the same as the Yuiman compressed tea chat they are expensive for tKeir age, the valuable aging time. It is because Liu-an (六安) basket tea also has the nature of being mellower along time and it will be tasty after many years of aging. Therefore, even chough the tea is made, they are not ready for sale until after several years of storage.

In relation to appreciation, although Liu-an (六安) basket tea and Yunnan seven-son tea cake arc both the compressed tea changing from green tea to dark tea after special manufacturing process, their fragrances and tastes are totally different because of different production areas and raw tea leaves materials. The characteristics of Liu-an (六安) basket tea are its shiny and black dry tea leaves with its soft and reddish brewed tea leaves. The fragrance of Liu-an (六安) basket tea is mellow and similar to the "skin fragrance of watermelon". Besides, the taste of Liu-an (六安) basket tea is rich and long-lasting. In particular, the vivid tea broth with "skin fragrance of watermelon" is the major characteristic for proving whether it is the Liu-an (六安) basket tea made from genuine raw tea materials from Anhui (安徽) or not.

How to brew Anhui (安徽) Liu-an (六安) basket tea

First of all, tea lovers need to open up the bamboo leaves and take out the entire tea leaves contents. After that, the tea leaves should be placed in a clear and odor free container, which should not be a completely sealed container (pottery, purple clay or china are perfect), for future use, Most importantly, the bamboo leaves should not be disposed of and are advised to be placed together with the dry Liu-an (六安) tea leaves inside the containers. When readers would like to have a nice cup of Liu-an (六安) basket tea, the brewing method is more or less the same as brewing the Yunnan Puerh tea.

However, putting a little piece of bamboo leaf into the teapot for brewing with the Liu-an (六安) tea leaves together is highly recommended in order to brew the special and unique Liu-an (六安) tea flavor with bamboo taste. It is heard that this method of brewing is good for appreciation and health.

Last but not least, I would like to share with readers some of the confusing tea names (in Chinese language) which look similar to Liu-an (六安) basket tea:

Liu-an Green Tea (六安瓜片)

It was heard that this tea was invented in 1905. The best quality came from the Jinzhai (金寨) County and Qitou (齊頭) Mountain which was 804 meters above the sea level. Qitou (齊頭) Mountain had great forests, rocks and waterfalls with its granite geographical structure. The cultivation areas were at average 15 degree Celsius with around 1,250mm annual rainfall. Because of its best, deep and loosen soil texture, it was the perfect environment for the growth of Liu-an Green Tea (六安瓜片).

The Liu-an Green Tea (六安瓜 片) is one of the top 10 teas in China. It is a unique tea with its special method of plucking, stir-frying and roasting. The 5 manufacture procedures are "raw-making (生鍋)", "ripe-making (熟鍋)", raw roasting fire (毛火), small roasting fire (小火) and final roasting fire (老火). The Liu-an Green Tea (六安瓜片) has a seed-like appearance with its flat surface and green outlook. The size of every tea leaf is almost the same without any tea bud and tea stem. It has a high fragrance with great and rich aftertaste.

Nice Liu-an (香六安)

It is a blended tea by Hong Kong old tea shops on their own. They will use Yunnan loose-leaf Puerh tea and the flowery buds of Aglaia odorata (米籽蘭), which is a little plant with yellowish flowery buds and slight sweet fragrance. Sometimes, these tea vendors will also blend the Nice Liu-an (香六安) with chopped black or green tea leaves. This is the way to handle those low price tea leaves in order to enhance their flavors. Because of its fairly good taste, Nice Liu-an (香六安) has been welcomed by Hong Kong people for several decades. In particular, those people with low income love to drink this tea.

Liu-an Stems (六安骨)

This is a mysterious tea because it is the only tea which has stems but not leaf. Strictly speaking, it is a "tea of stems”. It releases some roasting smell from the dry tea stems because the tea has been undergone roasting procedure before sale. The tea is smooth and comfortable. Hong Kong old people loved this tea. However, this tea faded out from the market gradually in the 1990's. After research, I figured out the reasons.

The raw materials manufacturing Liu-an Stems (六安骨) were the stems of oolong tea. In the past under the planned economy of China, the exported oolong usually contained many stems so that tea vendors in Hong Kong had to remove these stems from oolong tea first before sale.

In order not to waste these stems, tea vendors would roast these stems until they released attractive aroma. They gave an attractive name to this tea, Liu-an Stems (六安骨). However, there was nothing to do with the genuine Liu-an (六安) basket tea.

There was an interesting story in relation to Liu-an Stems (六安骨). Hong Kong tea vendors requested for removing these stems before export. Although the request was accepted, the stems were still export to them and still charged the same price as the normal oolong tea. Subsequently, in the late 1980's, when oolong tea leaves could be exported by tea farmers on their own, private tea wholesalers removed these stems without any additional charges so as to attract more sales. Therefore, without these oolong stems, the Liu-an Stems (六安骨) gradually disappeared from the market.