Famous Tea: 1950s 4GC Liubao

Thank you to Su for allowing me to purchase a small quantity of this tea from her stash. If not for the generosity of others I would not have access to rare and special teas such as this one.

1950s Four Gold Coins Liubao
1950s Four Gold Coins Liubao.

About the 1950s 4GC Liubao

Liubao is a type of heicha made in Guangxi province. It uses a variety that is purportedly not as large as the Yunnanese leaf used for pu’erh and I’ve found conflicting accounts on if its either a small leaf or something in between.. Like many other teas, the processing of Liubao has changed considerably over time. More contemporary versions of Liubao are usually made with a more intense wet piling process similar to ripe pu’erh. Older versions, such as this tea were not subjected to that same processing.

This particular tea was made by Four Gold Coins factory in the 1950s. Denny and I previously drank a 1940s version on our five year anniversary episode. Liubao is usually pressed into large kilogram(s) baskets. These baskets were made for export and were not considered anything fancy at the time. One of the export destinations was Malaysia, home to a sizable ethnic Chinese population. This tea has a similar story and has been dry-stored in Su’s storage in Malaysia.

Most of the leaves that made it to me were loose. A feel were lightly pressed together indicating that there was some level of compression.

  • A useful reference on Liubao and its changing production/history with produced by Global Tea Hut.
4GC Liubao Setup
4GC Liubao Setup.

Brewing Parameters

I brewed 8 grams in a 95-100ml yixing pot that I normally use for older pu’erh. This leaf to water is higher than I would use for the pu’erh equivalent. This is a mellow, old, fermented tea and it’s my belief that it’s better to go hard enough on these teas and lean on the heavier side. I’d also been advised by Su to use a bit higher parameters than pu’erh. I used low TDS water as I try to for older, premium teas.

Steeps were carried out about every fifteen minutes poured and trended towards the long-end directly into my cup.


The Tea

Steep 1.

Brewed for about 20 seconds after the initial rinse. The initial aroma is strong and gives off a lot of low, earthy, tomato vine notes. The brew is rich, creamy, chocolate witha dark, fermented base. Silky texture. Indicative of the clean and not overly wet storage, there is quite a bit of activity in the mouth including a mild bitterness and an initial bit of a mint/mouthcool.

Some overly wet stored aged teas become very single note. That is not the case here. The initial aftertaste, is not strong and booming like pu’erh, but creeps in and begins to lightly coat the mouth.

Steep 2.

The aroma brightens up a bit with some of the early storage (earthy, tomato vine) falling into the background but still present. The mouthfeel is elegant, a bit silky that reminds me of oxidized teas, like Oriental Beauty or Yunnan blacks. The tea is moderately thick and still carries a bit of that light, coco bitterness in the early steeps.

Initial Steeps Liubao
Initial Steeps.

Steep 3.

Brewed for 30-40 seconds. Despite the decent push and 8 grams of leaf, this is absent of any of that initial earthiness/tomato vine. No tannins or bitterness in this brew. Despite this, the tea continues to be quite lively. It is creamy, smooth, coco, and coats the throat. A deep concentrated aroma and base. Very enjoyable brew.

For the sake of comparison I brewed up a  steep of some ~10-15 year old loose traditionally stored ripe pu’erh I’d been drinking earlier. The difference between the teas is striking. Despite brewing a little less dark, the brew is not nearly as active in mouth activity. It also lacks the depth and thickness of the 1950s Liubao. The ripe is a tea I drink regularly and enjoy, enhancing my appreciation of this tea. Despite its considerable age, the 4GC Liubao has not totally muted the higher notes of the tea. It’s a mature tea, but a complex, elegant one.

Steep 4.

On this steep, this tea hits maximum enjoyment for me. The culmination of the building aftertaste and the chaqi flow through the body. The notes occupy a good range of darker, earthier notes while maintaining a bit of brighter notes. It is becoming a bit woodier, sort of a natural wet bark. Really well focused aroma and I’m starting to feel more of a body effect. Flow deeper in my chest/body.

Comparing Liubao vs. Traditionally Stored Ripe
Comparing Liubao vs. Traditionally Stored Ripe.

Steep 5.

I brewed this for about 1.5 minutes, but it is starting to lose a bit of steam. The mouthfeel is not as lively and as active. The aroma is simpler. The thickness is the one thing that builds with this brews. The profile is similar to previous brews, a deep, smooth, richly coco/wood profile. A bit of camphor. While the tea is not as complex as it was, it is smooth and even easier to drink.

Steep 6 & 7.

A continuation of steep 5. The steeps are thick and quite tasty. Steep 7 despite being brewed for around 3 minutes, is starting to move into the dark red. I decide to give the tea a break after these.

Steeps 8-10. +Long Brews.

Thick, natural earthy/woody taste. The silky texture and solid thickness of the tea remain.

I continued to brew the tea with very long infusions that were more of the same.

Late Steeps. Wet Leaf.
Late Steeps. Wet Leaf.

How this Old Liubao Compares to Pu’erh & Other Heicha

Heicha is overly generalized and deserves to be subcategorized far more specifically than it often is.. Liubao is its own category of tea and it deserves its own corner. This tea falls firmly into the more mature tea category as others like ripe and traditionally stored pu’erh do, rather than raw or dry-stored raw pu’erh I’ve covered in other posts on specific teas. It has a smooth, mellow, dark, and rich nature that is far more in line with those other fermented teas.

This mellowness allowed me to really push it hard as it does not become too strong. The material is not nearly as strong or intense as the material made by raw pu’erh. There’s a lot to enjoy about this tea, but it is not punchy, thick nor as long-lasting as dry-stored pu’erh featured in previous posts. Excluding long brews, those teas easy give 10+ brews and five or so active ones.

Overall Thoughts on 1950s Gold Coin Liubao

While the previous teas I’ve featured in these articles have been dry or natural stored raw pu’erhs. This is a different beast.. It’s importantly a very different type of tea. While those teas are for the most part obvious and in your face, this tea is not. Under more rushed conditions, I could see some of the qualities of this being lost. The tea is mellow and easy to drink.

In the slowed down mid-day setting on a cloudy Seattle day that I consumed this, it was an extremely fine and high-quality experience. The tea has a wonderful, concentrated aroma from the get-go. While it changes brew to brew, it is not an ultra-dynamic tea. There is also a warming, relaxing feeling that settles the body. Extraordinarily comfortable and easy to drink.. It is similar to the 1940s GC Liubao and perhaps just a small touch lower quality but damn.. It’s pretty fucking good stuff..

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