Thai 1995 Liu Bao is an unusual dark tea produced in norther Thailand. We have limited information on the origin of this tea but in all likelihood this comes from wild growing assamica trees found in the forests of Thailand close to the border with Myanmar. It was produced around 1995 and made in the Liu Bao style of Chinese dark tea. The tea was then aged locally in Thailand, before being purchased by a small European wholesaler in 2020, who then stored it in France. We acquired this tea in early 2021 and it’s been in our storage in London since then.
Areas in the north of Thailand were settled by Chinese nationalist troops in 1950’s who discovered plenty of ancient tea trees growing wild in the region. These trees historically have been harvested by the local ethnic minorities and hill tribes, the tea leaves mostly being used as food, to make miang, a fermented tea leaf dish. Upon establishment in the area, the first focus of Chinese settlers however was on growing opium, a highly profitable crop. This area of Thailand formed part of the Golden Triangle, which became one of the biggest producers of opium. Since the 1980’s local Thai efforts to stop opium production have resulted in farmers switching to more sustainable crops – for the ethnic Chinese settlers tea was an obvious choice.
The settlers brought along with them not only Yunnanese and Chinese cultures which can be seen in villages like Santikhiri (Mae Salong) but also tea making techniques and style. This was further helped by establishment of new tea plantations, often with cultivars and technology imported from Taiwan. But locally, many still utilise the wild growing tea plants found in the jungles and forests. Some tea plantations are specifically planted with large leaf assamica plants rather than imported Taiwanese cultivars since they are more suited for dark tea production.
Plenty of tea production in Thailand and neighbouring Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam is destined for the Chinese tea market. Often it is just the raw material that is sold, which is then processed in China and sold as Chinese dark tea. So it is a little more unusual to find local manufacturers of dark tea in these countries that focus on finishing the whole production cycle. This dark tea was made in the ‘Liu Bao’ style, something done in order for it to be sold to the Chinese market. The similarities in processing with Liu Bao certainly deserve this tea to be called such. The dark leaves are quite large and indicate both good (most likely) wild material used as well as good production technique.
This Thai 1995 Liu Bao produces a dark liquor that has a coating mouthfeel that is soft and soothing. The flavours are quite light overall and there are no marine aspects present. The taste starts on a note of autumnal wet wood, fresh earthiness while also providing some sweetness. It then progresses to a clean, lasting and smooth aftertaste that has a hint of grape skin fruitiness and medicinal notes. Overall this is a very clean, smooth tea that leaves a very appealing and relaxed feeling.
We suggest brewing at 98°C for 3-4 minutes according to your taste, brewing multiple times. Just like with Chinese dark tea, it is best suited for gongfu brewing.