In terms of the tea types, black tea could be considered a relatively new thing as it’s a few hundreds of years old, rather than a few thousands of years old like green tea. It was first produced in the Wuyi mountains of Fujian province, and methods for making black tea spread across China as an innovation that eventually became our go to drink in the UK. When most people ask for tea, they mean black tea.
Qimen County in Anhui province is one of the few places in China known for defining this tea type. Much like the buildings in the mountains of Qimen County, the process for making their tea hasn’t changed much for a hundred years. Their combination of people, place and practice come together in an elegant tea, one that’s rich, fruity, malty and thick with everything you think of when you think of black tea.
Read on to find out how we sourced this current batch from Mr Wang’s garden, how centuries of tradition lead him to create this staple of Chinese tea, and how best you can enjoy it for yourself at home.
Origin: Baita Garden, Qimen County, Anhui province, China.
Cultivar: Camellia sinensis var. sinensis ‘Qimen Zu Ye Zhong’
Name: Keemun is a romanization of the Chinese ‘Qimen’, while ‘Mao Feng’ literally translates as ‘downy peaks’ and refers to the fact that two leaves and a young, downy bud are picked to create this tea.
Style: A classic Chinese black tea
Terroir: Bordered by the majestic Yellow Mountains to the south and famous Yangzi River to the north, Qimen county boasts some of China's most iconic scenery.
Picking Season: Spring 2019
Leaf: Fine, black whole leaves with gold tip highlights.
Infusion: Red-ochre hued infusion with hints of gold.
What kind of tea does Qimen county produce?
With its majestic mountain scenery, classic architecture, and long history of making tea, Qimen county really is a tea lovers paradise. Although many teas have been made here over the centuries, this picturesque area of Eastern China is now one of the most well-known terroirs for creating rich and complex black tea. Some of the first black tea productions here date back to 1875, with the region continuing to grow in popularity, partly due to its inclusion in the early “English Breakfast” blends of the late 1800s, adding body and depth where other ingredients couldn’t. Zooming out of Qimen county, you also find the broader picture of tea in the wider province, with the Huang Shan mountain range just to the south and Lu’an city in the north, both of which are famed for producing various styles of spring green tea.
The elevation for tea in the region can reach up over 1000m, with many of the gardens fed by small, clear streams nestled in between verdant pine or bamboo forests that cover the mountains and valleys. The seasonal weather also offers perfect conditions for growing tea, with cooler mornings during the busy spring period lending the tea its fresh and balanced profile. Much of the tea is handpicked in early spring before the heavy summer rains of June and July come through to revitalise the plants with plenty of hydration.
How did we source this batch of tea and who made it?
Our Keemun Mao Feng was produced in Baita (White Tower) garden by local tea master Mr Wang. As a long-standing resident of the area he’s become locally celebrated for his skill at crafting excellent teas that capture the floral complexity and rich body that Keemun is known for. So much so that the government of Qimen exclusively invited Tom, our Head of Tea, to taste the spring harvest in 2019 as part of an exchange initiative. While visiting, Tom was delighted to discover some outstanding and authentic expressions of Keemun tea produced by Mr Wang.
To produce this tea Wang begins by selecting the finest buds and two young leaves that come with the first flush of the tea plants in spring. This picking style is known as ‘mao feng’ or ‘downy peak’, which refers to the fine downy hairs of the buds; also being the tips or peaks of the tea plant.
Once picked, the tea is then slow withered, rolled and allowed to fully oxidise for a fairly light and precise processing that helps to retain the complex floral and mineral aromas of the infusion, with some ripe, fruity undertones. The flavour is also helped by Wang’s use of the authentic ‘Qimen Zhu Ye Zhong’ cultivar tea plants which he grows in his garden. This is the original cultivar used to craft this style of black tea and one which has been nurtured in its native soil for hundreds of years for an authentic taste of Keemun.
What is this batch like to drink?
The aroma off the wet leaves is slightly malty with a mellow herb-like note and some hints of pine which recalls the dense forests of the Qimen mountains. It’s a very inviting aroma which comes through in the infusion as well and has a beautifully deep amber-red hue to it. The taste is perfectly balanced, it’s not too tart or strong, but more fragrant and complex with some floral notes and the sweetness of ripe tomato, dried dates and some ginger spice. I find that there’s some similarity to high notes you might fine in a lighter roasted coffee, just without that bitterness. It also has plenty of body too, as the character is rounded out by a thick texture and smooth finish, adding to the authentic experience of Keemun black tea. It really is a classic and like I think almost nostalgic, like a quintessential black tea flavour; one that has been refined over centuries.
Where and when is this tea for?
The simple elegance of this tea with its thick body, balanced flavour and engaging notes of malt and fruit makes it the perfect cup of tea to enjoy at any time of the day. Being slightly more complex in taste, but still a fairly straightforward infusion, this would be a great stepping stone from a typical breakfast blend into the world of single garden tea and beyond, whether that’s something you enjoy in the morning, or as an afternoon break.
What is it like to make and how easy is it to get a good taste?
Single Serve, One Cup Method using 250ml teapot and cup:
Getting these leaves tasting good is easy and there’s only a couple of key tips to make sure you get plenty of body, sweetness and fragrance from your infusion. So, to ensure a thick texture and characterful notes be sure to use freshly boiled water. The heat is going to extract all the flavour you need in 3 minutes and deepen the infusion, giving you the perfect cup of tea. The other thing to remember is to pour out the entire infusion when it’s ready, separating all the liquid from the leaves down to the last drop. That way you can enjoy your tea and let the leaves cool down, ready to be re-infused, which I highly recommend with this tea. Its thick body and sweeter notes also make it taste great without the need to add milk or sugar.
This is our go-to method: 4g per 250ml; 100˚C; 3 minutes per infusion (can be re-infused twice)
Who is this tea for?
I think this tea would be a great one to replace your everyday breakfast tea with when you want something a bit more refined or special. It’s very approachable flavour could be the perfect way to understand why single garden tea made by a master producer will offer so much more than your standard tea bag. I promise you won’t look back.