Tibetan Tea Xiao Bing Zang Cha (雅安小饼藏茶) is a traditional dark tea from Ya’an in Sichuan Province of China. This region has a long history of producing compressed tea that has for generations been a traditional health tonic, drunk as butter tea. It has also been traded and used as currency, hence the sometimes used ‘coin tea’ name. Often Tibetan tea comes pressed into bricks (we sell a 250g brick version as well) but these come in convenient small cakes that are around 7-10g in weight. Our 10g sample packs have one cake per pouch, while full-sized 50g packs on average of 5-8 cakes. This tea has a smooth and warming flavour with a satisfying and warming character. The current batch is from 2017.
Tibetan Tea is known as Zang Cha or Cang Cha in Chinese (藏茶) and it is a type of dark tea. In Chinese, dark tea is called hei cha (黑茶), which literally translates as black tea; this refers to the various post-fermented teas that encompass Pu-erh, Liu Bao, Fu Zhuan, etc. Confusingly, what is called in the West as black tea in Chinese is called hong cha (红茶), literally translating as red tea. We follow the usual and most commonly accepted nomenclature in English by referring to hong cha as black tea and to hei cha as dark tea. When we are talking about specific dark teas, we follow the provenance, so dark tea from Yunnan is Pu-erh, from Hunan – Fu Zhuan, from Guangxi – Liu Bao and from Sichuan – Zang Cha.
This ancient form of fermented tea from Tibet has been an essential drink that provided energy and nutrients to people living at high altitude and in harsh conditions. This tea would be traditionally drunk as butter tea that is made by boiling tea leaves with yak butter and salt. It is certainly possible to recreate this drink with cow butter if anyone is feeling particularly adventurous! It is perceived that this tea has particular health attributes for energising and cleansing the body and mind while also having a warming quality. Not only was this tea revered for its nutrients and health benefits, it was also used as currency throughout Asia.
This Tibetan Tea Xiao Bing Zang Cha is produced in the mountainous region next to Ya’an in Sichuan Province. This beautiful region lies just below the Tibetan Plateau and, at various times in history, was part of Tibet or closely associated with it. Many of the local people here still identify themselves as being Tibetan. Ya’an city itself has been a historic gateway to Tibet and a major trading hub; a melting pot of cultures and peoples.
Generally, Zang Cha tends to consist of compressed fermented leaves and stalks. It is easy to see in the brewed leaves that there are plenty of smaller leaves as well as coarse leaves and stalks present. The small cakes are more densely pressed when compared to our 250g brick version, meaning the fermentation process here is slower. This tea is ready to drink straight away or can even be left to age further. Each mini cake is shaped like a small puck or coin and weighs between 7 and 10 grams. These are very convenient for single pot or gaiwan brewing. The brewed liquor is a deep dark amber colour with a light woody aroma. The flavours are smooth and warming with notes of stewed fruits and a woody base note. It features milky, creamy smoothness with lingering spicy, walnut and burnt sugar notes at the back of the palate. On the aftertaste, it leaves an impression of similarity to good barrel aged rum!
We suggest brewing parameters of 95-98°C for 3-5 minutes according to your taste, brewing multiple times. This tea is forgiving when it comes to brewing so can brewed for longer or with boiling water for a fuller taste. First infusions should be longer to allow the leaves to loosen in the pot. When brewed gongfu style we suggest briefly washing the leaves.