Unlike the Teamaster, a Confusingly Named Tea Doesn't Improve Much With Age

I arrived in Guangxi's capital city, Nanning, a couple of days ago, leaving behind Fuzhou's heat and humidity only to encounter MORE heat, humidity, and thunderstorms! Since I've now admitted several times that I'm not as young as I'd like to be, I set out to reverse the aging process by doing 45 minutes of treadmill and 10 minutes or so of weight training every morning when I'm in a hotel with a training room. I got a bit enthusiastic in Fuzhou's Shangrila Hotel and when I arrived in Nanning, I was sore from lifting weights. That gave me an excuse to take a couple of days off from tea hunting and exercising. However, this relaxing stuff isn't so great for someone like me. I need to know that I'm busy and have no time in the day or I start to feel like I'm not needed. I know it's totally irrational, but that's me!

Guangxi Province is adjacent to Guangdong (Canton) and offers pretty good Cantonese food at half the price of Guangdong. Folks here speak Cantonese as well as Mandarin and I feel right at home. In addition, both my leaders (wife and daughter) seem to like the place. I've been running around China for at least 20 years now and I can tell you, I've never been to any city here that has so many smiling faces and good attitudes, especially from officials and government workers. These folks generally think they've moved a few steps closer to heaven as soon as they became "workers for the people." I was shocked to see the big smile and thank you from the lady who collected parking fees. Each and every one of the toll collectors we passed smiled to greet us and thank us by saying please drive carefully. Certainly that made the pain of paying the toll considerably less.

After a couple of days I couldn't stand the good life anymore, so I went back to hunting for tea. Guangxi is famous for its own style of puerh-like black tea, called liu bao cha. Cantonese call it liu an cha and there is a common mistake where some tea merchants think Cantones
e liu an cha is aged liu an gua pian from Anhui. I never took the time to confirm it, but I'm pretty sure that luk on (Cantonese pronunciation of the mandarin liu an) is the same as the liu bao cha offered in Guangxi. You can take my word for it, I drank this tea when I was a child in Hong Kong many years ago, but I don't often forget a taste.

I've always considered luk on the poor man's puerh (all tea merchants and some who hold collections of luk on will disagree and I apologize if I hurt your feelings). Rightly or wrongly, liu bao never became as popular as puerh. During the recent rush to collect puerh, liu bao also enjoyed some benefits. People who wanted another option began to collect and enjoy liu bao in loose and various compressed forms. Prices have also skyrocketed; not to the level of puerh, by any means, but it's still expensive.

I arrived at Nanning's "tea street," which features a kilometer or so of tea stores, one after another. Walking and checking out all the stores in that kilometer is hard work. I didn't know I was capable of perspiring several gallons at a time! Out of 50-60 stores, only two exclusively feature traditional liu bao cha. All the rest are transplants from Fujian, offering tie guan yin or other oolongs.

I checked out both of these stores and had a sit-down with the owner of one. Mr. Yang boasted, "I have the BEST liu bao cha in Nanning. You're wasting your time elsewhere!" I liked his spunkiness so I sat down with him. He chased off the salesgirls and took over the tea table, beginning with gong fu service of 1998 liu bao cha. I smiled and said, "That all you've got?" He said, "Of course not, I'm just testing you!"

We went on to sample teas from the 1980s to finally his "store treasure," 1976 Golden Flower Liu Bao. I really appreciated Mr. Yang's hospitality, but liu bao is just not my cup of tea. Once you've had a great puerh, liu bao, unfortunately, is an afterthought. We clearly tasted some rather old tea and it featured some of the distinctions only found in aged black tea, such as bright, clear, red liquor; soft mouth-feel; and a sweet aftertaste that gets sweeter after several steepings. However, for me, the problem with liu bao is that it's a wanna-be. It has some of these great characteristics, but it's thin, not rich and luscious like a good puerh. The mouth-feel is soft but doesn't offer that creamy softness that only comes from good puerh. I finally thanked Mr. Yang, offered my business card, and promised to drop by again next time.

As usual, I took pictures, but I forgot to insert the memory card into my camera! The images were saved but I don't have the USB cable to upload them to my computer and then to the blog, so you'll have to take my word for it and I'll share these photos when I get home!

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