Monday, August 18, 2008

Keemun Tea: China's Most Famous Black Tea

Keemun Hao Ya A Tea

Although Keemun tea is famous in Europe, especially in England where it's been a favorite of the monarchy for the past 160 years, most people in China have never tasted this wonderful tea.

Chinese people have traditionally been inclined to drink oolong and green teas, and have only recently begun to pay attention to black tea.

Keemun (Qimen in modern spelling) is the name of the county in Anhui Province where the tea was first grown. It's best known as the "burgundy" of teas, for it has a rich liquor with an orchid fragrance. This is known in Chinese as a "gong fu" or "kung fu" tea, which refers to the "disciplined skill" required to produce the dark wiry leaves. A higher grade of Keemun is called "Mao Feng" or "hair point." No other black tea is similar to Keemun in taste or fragrance.

There are two stories regarding the origins of Keemun. The most common story is of the government official She Ganchen, who after leaving office in Fujian Province and returning to his home county of Keemun in 1875, decided to manufacture black tea which he had learned about while living in Fujian. The tea was embraced by western importers and She was able to persuade local farmers to produce this black tea. A second story attributes the tea's beginnings to Hu Yuanlung, who faced with a weak green tea market decided to produce for the stronger black tea export market and opened the Rishun Factory in 1876.

Today, Keemun is produced in the Anhui Province counties of Qimen, Shitai, Dongzhi, Guichi, Yi, and Guangshan, as well as the Jiangxi Province region around Jingdezhen City, best known for its porcelain.

Although Keemun is described as having a faint orchid or rose scent, we've often thought it also suggests dark chocolate. Try steeping for 4 minutes, but experiment with longer or shorter steeping times.

Keemun Morning (a good all around Keemun)

Keemun Hao Ya (high grade Keemun)

Organic Keemun Hairpoint (fine quality, intense flavor, organic)

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