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Laochapo, the Old Tea Granny

Liubao Tea and the Old Granny

Every region in China has its own nomenclature for the big, thick 4th and 5th leaves on the tea plant. Puer drinkers most commonly refer to it as Huangpian. I am a champion of huangpian. In tea circles it doesn’t get enough respect. Well aged huangpian can be good in their own rite – sturdy and affordable.

Tea Field Guangxi

A tea plantation bordering a forest outside of Liuzhou, Guangxi

On a recent trip to Liubao, Guangxi I encountered a different tea culture. The people of Liubao are staunch defenders of huangpian, which they call “Lao Cha Po” [ 老茶婆 ] literally translated this means “Old Tea Granny”. Laochapo was held in a spot of reverence. When I asked one Liubao-ite about his favorite tea, he immediately grabbed a handful of brittle orange laochapo and tossed it into a pot.

Laochapo Aged

A 15-20 year old Tea Granny

The tea was about 15 to 20 years old, although he said he could not pinpoint an exact date. The flavor was similar to brown buckwheat honey. Grainy and sweet. No arguments about the merits of this tea.

Laochapo Tea

Younger Laochapo leaf

Lao Cha Po

Young Laochapo soup

We also had a 3 year old Laochapo. It’s scent and flavor was reticent of freshly cut pumpkin meat. If you have ever made a jack-o-lantern and smelled the fresh pulp, this younger Laochapo had a similar flavor. The leaves seemed very lightly cooked and they were not rolled, so the leaves were not bruised as they usually are during the rounian [rolling] process of puer making.

Rotted Aged Tea

The inspection of old leaves, brought in for sale by a farmer

During our session, a tea farmer entered his house to bring in a bag of old Laochapo. She had a bag of Laochapo that she claimed was 20 years old which she wanted to sell him. She said she was remodeling her house and found the bag stashed underneath floor boards. We were all greatly anticipating the tea, but after she opened the bag our hopes were dashed. The tea smelled like decaying fall leaves on a forest floor. The leaves were bug bitten and falling apart, revealing their veined structure. The seller smiled politely, even as he rebuked her offer saying something in Cantonese I couldn’t understand. He then looked at me and said, “This tea is filthy – nobody would drink this. Let’s brew it.” Lovely idea! Like when an older sibling takes a bite of the blue plate special liver and onions and snorts, “This is terrible…try a bite!”

Dank tea

The rotted Laochapo

Despite my better judgment, we brewed it up. Sure enough the tea yielded a disgusting pitch black tar. The smell was repugnant. PSA kids, store your tea well, or it will turn into the rotted leaves below. Protip: Do not put it underneath the floorboards for two decades, unattended.

Tea gone bad

Black tar that quickly found the drain

Should you want to try some (none rotten!) Laochapo, you can buy online here.

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5 Responses to “Laochapo, the Old Tea Granny”

  1. shah8 February 11, 2014 at 5:03 am #

    Nice to see articles like this, and teas like this sold. There’s an awful lot of relatively bad heicha out there, and really it’s just puerh, liu an, and liu bao which can contribute something uniquely good.

    • TwoDog2 February 11, 2014 at 8:31 am #

      Hopefully it will give people a chance to try something other than the standard heicha on the online market. One barrier to teas like this (that 15 year old Laochapo) is that there is not enough to face any serious amount of people. It’s more of a “let me see what I have in my cellar” kind of situation.

      I do seriously like the Liubao Number 5, compared to other fresher Liubao teas I have had. And at the price vs. similar ripe puer. It’s an interesting change

      • shah8 February 11, 2014 at 1:57 pm #

        Was inspired to try some of my 2004 Dancong cha tou as a result…got reminded why I don’t really want to drink this tea. The flavors are nice(and sweet), but thin, but there’s a kind of off taste I don’t like, and the intense caffeine/qi is offputting. This sort of reminded me why I probably wouldn’t like huangpian too much–nice flavor, but very thin taste. For a Westerner, compared to all the beverage options one has, it might not be so great. Definitely would try though, but yeah, the new liu bao is far more attractive to me. Already know I like liu bao.

  2. ian August 8, 2014 at 1:57 pm #

    I’m drinking some Laochapo right now actually. I’ll admit I wasn’t sold on it the first few sessions, but right now I’m all about it. It’s ten at night and I ate too much food earlier and drank too much the night before. In other words, some huangpian is hitting the spot! Glad I found (thanks to this blog) a real tea I can drink at night. Tastes like squash, wood, and hot rocks with a touch of almost licorice-y, subtle huigan in the back of the throat. Thanks for making it available!

    • TwoDog2 August 8, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

      Excellent! I am trying to get some more with age like the one you are drinking. It definitely has a distinct squash character. I like your description a lot

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