Keemun

Keemun (or Qimen) tea is grown and produced in Anhui provence, in Eastern China.  Despite it’s relatively short history, it has risen in prominence because of the British love of ‘English Breakfast’ tea: Keemun tea leaves are the primary component of that blended tea.  In China, it’s known as a red tea because it produces a red liquid when steeped.  In the west, we consider it a black tea because of the color of the withered leaves.

Prior to 1880, only green and white teas were produced in Anhui province.  Black teas were the rage in Great Britain,  so an industrious civil servant traveled to nearby Fuijan to learn the production techniques of black tea, thus forever altering the tea production in Anhui.  The result is a flavor so unique that it (known as Qi Men Hong Cha) has risen to the status of being one of the ten great Chinese teas.

What makes it so special?  It’s arguable that the economic interest from the British propelled it in this direction, but the tea producers in Anhui are very skilled.  Their technique combined with the terroir of the tea leaves in that region have created a tea that is uniquely flavorful.

The first thing I notice with a cup of Keemun is the depth of color and the thickness of the brew.  It has a deep and complex, slightly wine-like armoa that is so distinctive it’s become a descriptor itself: ‘keemnun aroma’ is tossed around when describing other teas.  The flavor can range from smokey to piney, sometimes with notes of plum but it’s rarely in the realm of ‘fruitiness’ that you get from a Darjeeling.  The Chinese prize it for it’s orchid like notes and subtle sweetness.

This morning I’m cupping a Keemun Mao Feng.  The ‘Mao Feng‘ distinction comes from how it’s processed- during harvesting, a bud and two leaves of equal length are plucked and they are left whole throughout the manufacturing.  It’s a style emulated from another tea on the list of the most famous, Huang Shang Mao Feng, a green tea that is also produced in Anhui.  This Keemun Mao Feng has a thick richness, and is surprisingly smooth and balanced.  There is less smokiness than I’ve had in other keemuns, and I can’t help but think of wines from Burgundy when I taste it.  As it’s cooling, the sweetness is becoming more prominent, balancing the tannins nicely.  It’s an absoultely lovely cup.

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