Old Tea Granny

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.

Zhongcha Heicha

2008 Zhongcha Anhua Heicha

Zhongcha Heicha – The Sharpest Bricks in Town

Christmas bells in the air and a trip to the good ol’ US of A. Some people abroad like to trash American food, but there are plenty of delicious highlights; particularly biscuits and gravy, which is not only delicious, but also the cheapest form of winter insulation known to man. After already indulging twice in three days, if I can keep pace, it is likely I will need a second seat on the return flight to China.

The other thing I love about home is cheese. I ate an aged blue (not bleu, this is ‘Merica. Freedom fries) goat cheese the other day which was both fantastic, and reminiscent of this tea which i had a couple of months ago. I don’t get the opportunity compare cheese and tea often, so I figured I would finally do a post about this Zhongcha production.

The tea is a Anhua Heicha, which is black tea, but not in the sense most people in the West are used to. It is a fermented brick tea from Hunnan, in this case, intentionally filled with jinhua [golden mold – i don’t know the scientific name]. Tea, twigs, and whatever unfortunate small animals get tossed into the thresher are all present in the brick – well, maybe not the last one, but I’d bet it has happened. The brick is exposed to this mold and kept in an environment which encourages further mold growth. This is where the comparison to blue cheese comes in.

jinhua mold on tea
Dry leaves, the larger version of the picture will clearly show the golden dots of mold

This particular brick is from 2008. It is meant to be aged like puer, although letting this brick into your puer closet is like admitting an angry drunk into an elementary school. I’d be worried about having the mold and aggressive scent near my own storage.

Brick of the heicha
A whole brick of the heicha
Brewing Heicha
Brewing Heicha

Now, onto the cheesy sharpness. This black tea was easily the sharpest tea I have ever encountered, surpassing the previous record holder (a 2004 wet stored raw puer) by a country mile. Sometimes wet stored puer teas carry some sharpness after being released from the tomb, but this tea was sharp in a way that dwarfed even an aged blue goat cheese.

Heicha Soup

These teas allegedly get smoother with age, but given its current sharpness, I don’t think I have enough years left in my life in order to test that claim. The tea was nearly undrinkable. I brewed it upwards of 6 or 7 times before giving up and tossing the twiggy mix into the trash can. For those of you who have not had other heicha, this is definitely NOT a good example, nor is it representative of what is possible. There are good heicha bricks out there, but the intentionally molded variety can be pretty ugly. The mold is also supposed to have some medicinal properties – but, I am can barely get the soup down. I think I will stick with biscuits and gravy + puer for the near future.

Spent Zhongcha Heicha
Spent Zhongcha Heicha