It would seem a highly subjective contest to compare Liu Bao to Tian Jian especially as these teas not only involve different processing techniques but also because regionally they have different variables that contribute towards their final outcomes in the cup.
They both do however fit into a very broad category of tea called Hei Cha 黑茶, the category of tea which also includes Puerh and is generally suggestive of a process that involves post-production fermentation.
Tian Jian heralds from Anhua County in Hunan province, its production process generally follows kill green, rolling, pilling, re-rolling, drying and then storage. Pilling tends to be short for about 12 -24 hours and drying tends to be done traditionally over stoves, sometimes imparting a slight smokey pine flavour. The tea is traditionally stored up to a year and more than often involves large bamboo baskets not that dissimilar to Liu Bao. It is partly the short pilling and long storage that contributes to Tian Jian’s post-production fermentation character.
Liu Bao is from Guangxi Province much further south than Hunan, but like Tian Jian fermented and dried in a long delicate process in preparation for further aging in large bamboo baskets.
Apart from similarities around storage there are similarities around benefits and energetics in regard to traditional Chinese medical (TCM) practice. Teas that are stored in bamboo do energetically develop qualities related to the bamboo material itself, something that is not entirely exclusive to Liu bao and Tian Jian alone. Bamboo is known in traditional Chinese herbal medicine as being effective in clearing heat.
Both Liu Bao and Tian Jian are teas I would primarily utilise in tea medicine to balance and remove the effects of Summer Heat. But this is not just due to the qualities gained from bamboo storage, but it fairs well if you can brew some for the basket with the teas!!
Summer Heat in TCM is an external Yang pathogen that is due to excess exposure to heat or sun. It tends to lead to heat in the blood and symptoms that include diarrhea, shortness of breath and rapid pulse. The treatment for which involves cooling the body for which Liu Bao is well known in achieving.
Both Liu Bao and Tian Jian have a tonic effect on the stomach calming any imbalances from heat. Stomach is considered as a Yang organ which easily generates Heat, and pathogenic Heat easily accumulates here. Also as a Yang organ excess heat in the Stomach can easily result in a Yin deficiency from Summer Heat, leading to overheating the blood, Lungs and Heart. This leads in part to the symptoms mentioned above (rapid pulse, shortness of breath) along with red cracked tongue (a symptom of Heart fire).
The fermentation and piling of both teas adds additional qualities that do not over-cool the stomach but gently bring it back into harmony. Pungent, sweet and cold substances which can disperse the intensive Heat and direct it downwards are often chosen from the TCM cabinet of herbs, but specifically in Liu Bao and Tian Jian the pungent quality from fermentation and storage adds to their benefits, but equally their retained sweetness.
It has long been a practice among the Chinese Malay community that when children suffered from diarrhea from Summer Heat, they would place Liu Bao in cold water and an earthenware pot, slowly bringing it to boil over heat . After cooling an
moderate amount of winter honey is added. This is interesting in regard to TCM as this folk cure reflects the need in tea medicine to consume sweet, pungent and cooling substances. Additionally the earthenware pot adds to the qualities around supporting the stomach as an Earth organ.
Both teas herald a different but similar process in their production, both teas are useful in tea medicine to address excess heat in regard TCM concepts around pathogenic causes. Tea medicine embraces these principles but if you really want to compare these teas as a consumer and drinker of Hei Cha then I suggest trying them both side by side. Tian Jian’s short piling perhaps makes it slightly more towards the bitter quality more able to direct heat downwards than Liu Bao, making it preferential for heat syndromes where the signs of ascending heat is more stated in the tongue and skin, whereas Liu Bao is slightly more preferential where the symptoms suggest Stomach yin deficiency.
Aside from their tea medicine qualities, the regional variables in production and leaf material, soil and location provide for a subjective and yet delightful difference in taste and experience.
Personally, I tend not to favour either tea, Tian Jian having more of a “Hunan” quality in taste and aroma that is similar to Fu Brick, whilst Liu Bao tending to lean towards an aged ripe Puerh.
Both are good to drink in the Summer, where often lighter and greener teas are chosen especially in those humid hot evenings.