Keemun Black Tea – History
Keemun black tea (Keemun Hong Cha = Keemun ‘Red’ Tea) comes from the county with the same name, Qimen County, in the south of the Chinese province of Anhui. It has such a young history that the “legend” ranking around its origin is actually historical. In the second half of the 19th century, Yu Quian, a public servant from Qimen once fell into disgrace because of some irregularities. He then traveled to Fujian province, southeast of Anhui, to learn about the secrets of producing black tea there. His intention was to use these skills to pursue an honest trade back home thereafter.
After his return to Qimen in 1875, Yu Quian went to produce Anhui’s first black tea on the basis of processes he had learnt in Fujian. At the same time, he adjusted these processes to the local cultivar and conditions in Qimen. Until that time, only green tea had been produced in Anhui.
Keemun Black Tea – same cultivar than Mao Feng Green Tea
Yu Quian’s work should soon meet success. He himself became the prosperous and respected operator of three production sites in Qimen. At the smae time, his black tea quickly conquered the hearts of tea lovers both domestically and abroad. Also, it soon rose to a permanent presence on the list of the “10 Great Teas of China”. In parallel, Keemun black became a standard ingredient of most English Breakfast Tea blends.
The name “Keemun” is derived from an old, colonial times western transcription of the tea’s place of origin, “Qimen”. The corresponding tea cultivation region sits right between the Yangtze river and the Huangshan mountains (“Yellow Mountains). Typical for this tea is a malty and cocoa-like taste with pronounced stone fruit, light floral and a hint of pine and orchid notes. Today, we destinguish a variety of different types of Keemun teas, depending on picking standard and individual processing variations. Characteristic for all of them, however, is a particularly long, special withering and oxidation process and a relatively mild roast.
Types of Keemun Tea
The main types of Keemun Tea are the following:
- Gongfu Keemun – specifically rolled for use in the Chinese ‘Gong Fu Cha’ tea ceremony
- Keemun Maofeng – slightly twisted, hairy tips
- Xinya Keemun – Early season picking, lighter and sweeter than other Keemun teas
- Keemun Hao Ya – Selection of particularly fine buds with high silver tip ratio, especially with the ‘A’ grade
- Hubei Keemun – “fake” Keemun tea: black teas quite similar to Keemun tea, coming from neighboring Hubei province
Our Spring Keemun Hao Ya ‘A’ – Origin and Picking Standard
Our Spring Keemun Hao Ya ‘A’ Black Tea is – as the name already states – an ‘A’ grade representative of the Hao Ya type. Accordingly, proper picking time is spring, with a picking standard of 1+2 (one bud with two adjacent young leaves each). It comes from the town of Qihong, located in Qimen county. The region has a reputation for high quality Keemun teas, due to its nutrient-rich soils, favorable high mountain altitudes and natural biodiversity. There, a tea farmer cooperative with many years of experience in the cultivation and processing Keemun tea is in charge of production.
well-visible ‘pekoes’ in the dry tea leaves
Well visible in the dry, short needle-shaped and otherwise dark-colored leaf material is the high ratio of golden ‘pekoes’ (tips). Then, the resulting golden-red tea liquor is crystal clear, vividly reflecting the fruity-sweet, complex orchid scent of the dry tea leaves. And this scent already provides an anticipation of the tea’s taste… Smooth and fruity-sweet, full-bodied, without any bitterness or astringency, with a hint of floral, pine and orchid notes.
The processing of Keemun tea in principle resembles that of other Chinese black teas. At first, the freshly picked tea leaves are spread in the half-shadow of the tea factory hall. There, they rest to cool down and release an initial part of their moisture. Then, the already much softer and sleeker tea leaves proceed into so-called “withering troughs” for another 3-4 hours withering. During this process, wood fire ensures a constant temperature of 28°C. After that, breaking up the leaf surfaces through mechanical rolling for 1-1.5 hours initiates and accelerates the oxidation process.
Another particularity of Keemun tea processing is the oxidation process itself, taking place in special square-shaped wood panel casings. In these, the tea leaves are heaped and covered by wet cloths for a period of 2-3 hours. At this, the oxidation level needs permanent monitoring through constant visual, haptic and olfactory testing. Once the desired degree of oxidation is reached, the leaves undergo 2 subsequent roasting runs, reducing the remaining moisture to less than 5%. Then, as a last step, the tea leaves undergo a thorough quality sorting procedure.
When preparing according to western tea preparation standards, we recommend pouring 200ml water of a temperature of 90+°C (boiling hot) over 5g of tea leaves. Then, leave for 2-3 minutes for a first infusion. Subsequently, a second infusion with slightly longer infusion period shows virtually no loss compared to the first. Finally, a third infusion, with a steeping period of 5 minutes, might still be enjoyable.