Liu An 六安 Tea
Liu An 六安 is from An Hui province 安徽省. This tea is produced in an area also called Liu An 六安 that is located south west of Shanghai. Though in appearance they may look the same, the leaves of this tea are much smaller than Liu Bao tea because it is from a small leaf varietal of camellia sinensis. The most famous brand of Liu An is Shun Yi Sun 孫義順. Many people think Liu An area exclusively produces green teas, but Liu An is a special green tea that is fermented.
The leaves are picked in the spring and processed like green tea. First the tea is picked and withered. The kill-green process follows with the “wok” method for further heat processing. The tea processing master would smell the tea as he/she is wok frying the tea to make sure the tea is cooked but not burnt. If the tea gets too hot, he/she would take a break so the tea can cool. Wok processing is done for a while until the tea is almost dry. The tea is steamed and stuffed into a small basket lined with bamboo leaves to protect the tea and to keep it from falling out. Six baskets are stacked and tied together. In the past, 6 stacks of 6 baskets would be place into a big basket for storage. 6 x 6 = 36 baskets. This a fortuitous number for the Chinese people because if you say 6 twice it means unstoppable/infinite and it also means a lot of money. One small basket weighs about 500g and the big basket would weight about 18 kilograms (almost 40 lbs). A practical explanation for 36 small baskets in one big basket is that people in the past did not have machines to help them move the large baskets around the warehouse. The farmer/tea processing master would have to be able to pick the basket up and move it around. Today they stuff 10 stacks of 6 small baskets into a big basket because they want to optimize space. If he needs to move the basket he can use machines to help him; thus movability is no longer a consideration. This tea has to be stored long term because of the varietals differences to get to the same complexity of a fermented tea. The green tea as just green tea is not as tasty. This tea is stored for a minimum of ten years, then tasted.
You want to pick a strong tea from a good harvest. These teas can brew many times. If it's a strong "tea base", it takes longer to age. I've tasted a 110 year old Liu An basket tea and it tasted great!
Recently I heard from a vendor who specializes in black tea that Liu An comes in bricks shape too. I asked him how that came about. He said that someone in Malaysia bought some Liu An and pressed the tea into bricks. The tea is now ten years old, but it tastes older.