This basket was procured from one of my favorite vendors in Hong Kong; the vendor that is responsible for the 2004 Xiaguan 8653 I carry here, as well as the dry storage 2004 CNNP 7542. These baskets have been in the family's possession since the 90s! The exact year that this basket was produced is not known, but the age of the tea is very apparent when drinking it!
Before pu erh, liu an was the most prized of all teas by the Cantonese, who make up the majority of Hong Kong's people. Liu an was once gifted at weddings and served to the bride and groom's parents. Today, liu an consumption is nowhere near as prevalent as pu erh consumption, but for the older Hong Kong Chinese in the know, this is a tea they learned to drink from their parents and grandparents and it is still popular among the older folk today.
Liu an was considered to be a very healthy tea for the system and to have excellent cha qi down here in Hong Kong, as Zhou Yu (the owner of Wistaria in Taipei) noted after a trip here over twenty years ago. While the 90s may not seem like that long ago, I was still in secondary school here in Hong Kong at the time, and up until 1997, Hong Kong was still a British colony!
This tea has coalesced into a mass over the years. It looks like bugs ate some of the paper at some point, but they are long gone. Surprisingly, there is not a hint of humid storage to the dry leaves; this tea has been aged very well indeed. The distinctive aroma of liu an is still present in the dry leaves, and this carries over into the cup, where a surprising amount of complexity comes forth. While this tea isn't cheap, it is excellent, and very different from any other liu an I've had to date!
The first rinse brought out the distinctive aroma of Hong Kong-stored liu an, a smell I've grown accustomed to over the last several years. This is an extremely clean tea, as you can see from the liquor. While I rinsed twice when trying this tea, I suggest only rinsing once as the small leaves infuse quite quickly.
Liu an is commonly brewed with some of the bamboo leaf from the basket. When purchasing liu an loose, as is common in Hong Kong, the bamboo leaf is often not included by the oldest vendors. Buying a whole basket gets you both the tea and the leaf. The leaf has a distinctive flavor of its own and is also believed to have health-giving properties by some Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners.
In the cup, the liquor was smooth and clean. Along with the aged nut-like liu an flavor that I find so comforting, there was a surprising fresh butter note that I have never experienced in any tea, let alone liu an! I found this note very enticing. A little storage flavor was also apparent in the cup, but this might not be noticeable in clay (I brewed this tea in a small blue and white porcelain pot). There was also an aged date flavor that reminded me of aged pu erh, which is something I always welcome in humid stored raw and ripe pu erh! The tea is sweet, smooth and pleasant. There is also an aromatic note that reminds me of something I've detected in sweet and aromatic pipe tobacco that I found very enticing.
In the second infusion, I found the butter and date flavors persisted. Since I used a little leaf, I went for a longer infusion the second time, and I was rewarded with darker liquor. Surprisingly, I noticed the tea was making me sweat, even with the air conditioning on! There is definitely something special to this tea. The mild sweetness on the palate was coupled with huigan, and the sweetness lingered on my palate long after the cup was gone!
This basket, when packed, was around 500g. The gross weight of the basket after aging is approximately 400g due to water loss. While I can get more of these baskets, the dealer only has a handful left, so if you want one, I wouldn't hesitate! As I've discovered through my tea journey here in Hong Kong, each dealer's storage provides tea that is unique, so while there are other baskets of 1990s liu an around, the end result from another dealer's warehouse will certainly be different!
A corresponding share of the aged bamboo leaf from the basket will be included with any purchase of this tea!