Review: Grand Tea Liu An Basket Tea

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Geoff’s Teaview Snapshot
Thumbs up!" As for taste, I felt it had a slightly astringent forefront, a mildly vegetal and buttery middle, and an oddly fruity finish. Fair to good start."
Geoff’s Teaview: 8.5/10
Other Teaviews: Dan gave it 8.6/10, Katie gave it 8.5/10, Bryan gave it 7.9/10
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This is a tea with arguably the oddest history I've yet come across. Liu An (or Lu'an) is a county in Anhui Province, China. Liu An Leaf tea is considered a post-fermented tea processed and aged in a fashion similar to pu-erh. The "Gua Pian" often added to the Liu An title literally translates to "melon seed", which some say the shape of the leaf resembles. There are two types - just like pu-erh - green and black. Green Lui An is rare, given the ease and affordability of the black (cooked) version. Traditionally, green (or raw) Lui An leaves are shaped and compressed in the form of a basket prior to aging.

Liu An - unlike with typical green tea - uses the second layer of leaves on the tea plant. Not the usual first top two leaves and one bud. Before drying and post-fermentation, the central vein of the leaves are removed. While the tea is considered a product of Lui An, some sources claim it originated in the Wanxi mountain area in Jinzhai county. The best quality Liu An are stored in a place dubbed "the Bat Cave" . That is one way to get a geek's attention...tell him his tea comes from the Bat Cave.

I doubted these were the supposed Bat Cave leaves, but they certainly had an unusual character. Unlike the description and photo on the Grand site, the leaves were black and curled rather than green. To me, they looked like ordinary, cooked loose pu-erh. The aroma was something else. I detected shades of roasted oolong, Clouds & Mist green, and aged sheng bingcha; it was rather pleasant. It smelled the part of a five-years-aged tea.

Brewing instructions were quite to-the-point. Basically, they said to go with a typical pu-erh approach with 90C (194F) water. Too bad they didn't specify what a typical approach was. Western mug instructions usually called for a four-minute-thirty steep, but there were also gaiwan directions that called for four consecutive steeps ranging from thirty-to-forty seconds. I had good luck with the latter so far, so I went with that approach - 1 tsp. worth.

First thirty-second steep: The liquor brewed to a light amber (or deep yellow, like a bold white tea). The aroma was dry, leafy and oolong-like. As for taste, I felt it had a slightly astringent forefront, a mildly vegetal and buttery middle, and an oddly fruity finish. Fair to good start.

Second thirty: The liquor color was the same if slightly lighter. There was a bolder berry aroma than before, and the flavor had shades of mint and maple. The wet leaves in the gaiwan had "greened" a bit as well.

Forty seconds: No change in the color, but the scent had a hint of vanilla (which was weird). It still had a buttered veggies impression on taste - like the first steep - but the finish resembled a dry white wine. Quite pleasant.

Forty seconds, final steep: This time, the infusion was a faint-to-light yellow with a negligible aroma. Most of the character had already left the cup. This showed a bit in the flavor as well. It didn't pack a wallop on introduction anymore, but there was a nuttiness and floral texture to the body. Aftertaste trailed with a subtle berry sweetness as I drained it.

Truthfully, this was a very pleasing cup. The aged basket gimmick alone was worth the ticket, but it doesn't quite live up to aged raw pu-erhs in the flavor department. Some of the "old tea" feeling is there, but the usual full-bodied, winy characteristics aren't as present. It was an experience, though, and worth a sip or several if one gets the chance.

— To purchase Grand Tea Liu An Basket Tea, or for more specific information on ingredients or the story behind this particular tea, click here to go directly to the manufacturer's web site.

Teaviews Member: Geoff Geoff
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