Puerh gets most of the spotlight when it comes to dark tea but there is so much more out there to explore. Liu An is a type of heicha that is produced in China’s Anhui Province. I recently purchased a basket through a group buy so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to highlight this tea. There is astoundingly little information about it available online but I’ve done my best to collect as many factoids as I can. The names are similar but this tea should not be confused with Liu An Gua Pian, which is a green tea from the same region.
How It's Made
The leaves are withered after harvesting in order to remove some of the moisture. The leaves are then pan fired in order to halt oxidation and then dried. At this point in the process the tea is considered mao cha, also known as rough tea. They are then stored until the beginning of autumn.
The leaves are baked when processing resumes and then sorted. Huang Pian (yellow leaves) and stems are removed. The different grades of tea are separated through sifting. They then undergo high temperature firing using a bamboo frame. The leaves are then spread in a thin layer outdoors and left overnight so that they can absorb the “white dew”. It is thought that this process was the inspiration behind the wo dui step that is now used to ferment puerh.
Following this step the leaves are steamed and packed in baskets that are lined with bamboo leaves. These baskets are then tied together and fired for one last drying step. It can take up to 2 days for enough of the moisture to be removed. The tea is then stored away. Traditionally Liu An is not sold for three years after it processed
Where It's From
Liu An hails from Qimen County in the Anhui Province of China, particularly around Luxi and Rongkou village. This area is geographically important because it is situated at a meeting point of several rivers. Production of this tea was practically nonexistent after the 1940’s but was revived by tea lovers in the 1980’s. Sun Yi Shun is one of the oldest brands for this type of tea so it is a name that you will see often.
What It Tastes Like
Since Liu An is fermented, the taste will be somewhat similar to shou puerh. Don’t let that scare you away, though! It is earthy but I find that the taste of this tea comes across as a bit cleaner and more mellow. Liu An is known for having an aroma of betel nuts. I’ve never tasted one but I can tell you that this tea has a distinct sweetness with notes of bamboo. There is also something vaguely medicinal about it, like the aroma of stepping into a herbal shop in Chinatown. It’s not quite ginseng but it is definitely along those lines.
How to Brew It
Li An is a relatively easy going tea. It does not have a lot of natural bitterness so it can stand up to higher leaf to water ratios. For that reason, gongfu brewing is generally the best way to go. Boiling water and longer infusions of at least 30 seconds are my personal preference. I would also recommend at least one rinse, particularly for teas that have been wet stored. It is traditional to add a piece of the bamboo wrapping to the leaves while brewing.
Have you ever tried Liu An? Let me know about it in the comments below