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Keemun Black Tea
 (the quintessential Chinese black tea China Black)

China produces a staggering variety of fermented tea, otherwise known as, Black Tea. Many of which are neglected by the majority of consuming countries. With the present popularity of "big-flavoured teas", in the form of tea based spicy cocktail drinks, Boba teas & Chai, the original & unblended China Blacks are being rediscovered. Black tea is a Chinese invention & a western preoccupation. Yet mainstream tea drinkers in the West are surprisingly ignorant of the black teas still made in China. Originally all black teas drunk in Europe were bought entirely through the China Trade.

From the seventeen century until the establishment of the Indian mass-labour plantation (Estate) system in the 19th century, the Chinese monopolized supply & East India companies did likewise for tea distribution. From the 1870s, Chinese black teas faded into obscurity, although importers in England & elsewhere continued to trade in small volumes of China Tea. The teas survived somehow through foreign trade & local consumption, which continued throughout China's turbulent post-Qing era. The western name given to fermented tea comes from the appearance of the processed leaf & it's dark, whence black tea. These teas became collectively referred to as China Black by foreign merchants to distinguish them from other commodity teas. In China fermented tea isn't black at all, but red. So named Hong Cha or red tea, deriving from the colour of the black tea's infusion. Hong Cha is made all over central & southern China. Harvesting occurs in most regions from March to July & graded by the leaf & infusion characteristics. Although cultivation and processing "secrets" exist, the China Blacks have in common a robust fermentation (enzyme oxidation, etc), firing & rolling cycle that gives rise to teas which are distinctively Chinese. The finest grades of Chinese black tea receive the prestigious description, 'Gongfu'. This, when applied in tea processing means, 'a tea made with care'. The term usually refers to sorted leaf-buds grades & whole leaf teas taken from the earliest spring harvests. These are often handmade or produced in very limited amounts.

China Black
Chinese black teas are indeed various shades of red. A spectrum of colour ranging from sparkling coppery tints to the more intense burgundies. The teas are normally accompanied by floral & fruity flavours. Almost always mellow with moderate astringency & "full" on the palate, (a flavour profile very much unlike the Indian black teas). The provinces of China noted for their gongfu style tea are located in central & southern regions. Anhui, Sichuan and Yunnan making the most outstanding teas. While other regions grow and process black teas few rarely make it to the international scene. A noteworthy list would include; Hubei in central China making the 'burnt' Hubei Black. Yixing to the east with their rarely seen Yixing Black: a tea noted for its rich flavour & sour-dry aftertaste. Hunan, which manufactures what might be described as the definitive Chinese black tea export: soft & fruity palate with a dazzling depth of redness. Guangdong province in the south has a relatively well-known kind of black tea called, Ying-de. A tea previously exported to continental Europe. Close by there's Fujian with its many specialty gongfu blacks. Lapsang Souchong from Wuyi Shan perhaps being the most famous (although this pine-smoked leaf is often made from oolong). Scarcely seen kinds of tea are made on the island of Hainan. The Hainan Blacks are big leaf teas possessing mildly astringent flavours. But, as good as these Chinese black teas are, in terms of flavour and original character, towering above all are the highland grown teas of Anhui and Yunnan. Receiving most attention from international commentators are those teas grown at Qimen (Anhui), producing Qi Hong, or Keemun, & Menghai (Yunnan) with the Dian Hong Cha. The latter distinguished by its big-golden leaves. The first harvests of the low volume Hao Ya teas, and the whole leaf & bud Keemuns such as Mao Feng are undoubtedly the finest examples of Chinese black tea still in production.

Introducing ... Qi Hong
Keemun is the quintessential China Black. The tea is said to have originated in 1875; created possibly in response to China's worsening exports as the British Indian teas began to dominate world markets. Since then Keemun has steadily gained a reputation internationally for its excellent quality and quite unique character. The finest grades of Keemun are now justly recognized as among the greatest black teas in the world. Within China Qimen Hong Cha or simply just Qi Hong (Keemun Red) is considered a treasure among traditional fine black teas (nb far more is produced than ever consumed in China!). The most sought-after classes of Keemun tea are the early spring harvested gongfu teas. Principally the Hao Ya (fine bud) grades; ordinarily labelled A & B. Keemun Hao Ya A at its best, being the finest grade. Other noteworthy teas are Keemun Xin Ya (early bud) and Keemun Mao Feng, which are rare handmade leaf-bud teas. Pure Qi Hong is exclusively produced in the Qimen district of Anhui, located to the southern part of the province near the town of Huangshan. The Qimen tea district itself is made up of four main growing areas; Shitai, Dongzhi, Yixian & Guichi. Here modern Qi Hong tea making has adapted several traditional fermentation & rolling techniques with hand harvesting surviving for some of the highest quality teas. The gongfu grades are uniquely processed into a tight & slender rolled leaf. Intensely dark with a polished texture that is highlighted by bright amber buds. The best gongfu leaf is also highly aromatic! Infusions derived from this kind of leaf are a bright & deep copper, holding a complexity of flavour seldom experienced with any other black tea.

Defining aroma!
Frequent Keemun drinkers are quite familiar with the tea's richness & characteristic taste: an assortment flavours almost impossible to describe. Tasters use terms like flowery-honey, bitter-chocolate, smoky-toast, flowery-sweet, aromatic and so on, to pin-down its essence. The aromatic nature of Keemun is indeed all of these things, and a lot more besides. As with most teas of origin, seasonal (& annual) variations typify Keemun. Pre-harvesting & post-processing conditions leave their tell-tale marks on the gongfu teas. Flavour chemists using gas (& liquid) chromatography techniques have come a long way in determining the molecular basis of Keemun's very special tea aroma. Vapour extracts from the tea's infusion have revealed a number of flavours originating from the tea's essential oils; several are yet unidentified. Keemun's aroma is especially rich in the ingredients, 2-phenylethanol & benzyl alcohol; much higher than non-Chinese and in fact other Chinese black teas. Accompanying these sweet flavours are hexanoic acid, N-ethylsucinnimide, dihydroactinidolide, as well as the flowery aromatic linalool oxides & geraniol. These ingredients impart & embellish the sweet-flowery (dark chocolate) fragrance which defines all good Keemun tea.

Making Keemun
Keemun is slow to infuse. Possibly the slowest of any kind of tea. Without too many exceptions, the higher the gongfu grade, the longer it takes for the big flavours of Keemun to evolve. This is a consequence of the kinds of flavours held by the tea & the leaf being one of the most tightly rolled of all teas. Although Keemun has a reputation as a heavy or strong tea, it is also a versatile one. Keemun can be prepared as a light or heavy black tea. It goes exceptionally well with milk or lemon. It's an attractive iced tea. For connoisseur drinkers of Keemun who are fond of the lighter & aromatic infusions, then steeping can be accomplished in two minutes. This is true of the Hao Ya gongfus, and the leaf-bud teas like Mao Feng as well. With the gongfu grades generally, infusions well beyond 3 minutes are routine. For most Keemuns water temperature should be around 90 deg. C, certainly a little cooler for the whole leaf & leaf-bud teas. Another important point about high-grade Keemun is that it doesn't perform well with high salt mineral waters. The calcium & magnesium tending to kill a great deal of the palate & aroma. So be warned if you're making Keemun from a hard water supply. Most drinkers of fine Keemun would say that this tea is best drunk black. This does not require further comment, but Keemun blends excellently with milk, and on occasions is the right way to enjoy this fine Chinese tea!

A Chinese pin yin term very often misspelt, misused & totally misunderstood. Congou, congo & other renderings have been given in the past. The confusion preserved by the contemporary tea trade. The term is applied routinely to a way of making the tea beverage, such as the Gongfu Method in oolong tea making. It is also used to describe a grade of black tea. In this way implying 'a tea made with care' & relating to a tea-man's tea-making skill & the manufacturing process in general. Chinese black teas bearing the Gongfu title are normally the highest grades made: the Indian pekoe grading system for black tea not traditionally having relevance in China (re modern production of some Yunnan & Sichuan black teas are marketed internationally with FOP, etc labelling).

Keemun tea comes from "Qimen" in Anhui Province, being first produced in 1875.  The finest grades of Keemun are internationally recognised as being among the great black teas of the world.  Authentic Keemun tea comes exclusively from Qimen County, Anhui Province, near the city of HuangShan.  The region in which the tea is grown is known for its temperate climate and abundant rainfall, which produces high air humidity and frequent mists which are critical in the production of premium grade tea. Keemun is a small leaf tea producing a rich burgundy liquor with noticeable "chocolatey" flavours and hints of smokiness.  Keemun has a distinctive floral aroma, and is used to provide the character in various commercial blends such as Prince of Wales and China Black.  Gray & Seddon offer 4 grades of this tea, all of them unblended and in limited suppl. It was once awarded the gold medal at Panama World Expo and gold medal in China.

It has slim shapes, embellishing black color and fragrant favor. When soaked into hot water, the color of the tea becomes flush and transparently vivid. The aroma of Keemun is fruity, with hints of pine, dried plum and floweriness (but not at all as floral as Darjeeling tea) which creates the very distinctive and balanced taste. It also displays a hint of orchid fragrance and the so-called 'China tea sweetness'. The tea can have a more bitter taste and the smokiness can be more defined depending on the variety and how it was processed.

Keemun is typically drunk without milk or sugar; outside China it may also be taken with milk--the fragrance will be stronger.

Planting and Processing:
In spring or summer, better in August, one bud with two or three tender leaves are picked, after withering, twisting, ferment, drying, the raw leaves become finished black teas.

The appearance of the leaves are slender, tightly curled. The bright reddish brown liquor tastes heavy and brisk. A harmonious combination of fruity taste, rose aroma and smoky smell gives this tea a very unique and intriguing flavor.

Health Benefits
Keemun black tea liquor significantly reduced food intake, body weight and blood triglyceride of diet-induced obesity SD rats via oral administration.

* Keemun Gongfu or Congou: Made with careful skill ("gongfu") to produce thin, tight strips without breaking the leaves.
* Keemun Mao Feng: A variety, where Mao Feng means Fur Peak, which is made of only slightly twisted leaf buds and is sometimes noted for a smoother and different flavor. Many people prefer to brew a smaller quantity of this tea for a longer time than usual, up to 7 minutes, to bring out more interesting tones in the tea.
* Keemun Xin Ya: The early bud variety, said to have less bitterness.
* Keemun Hao Ya: A variety known for its fine buds, sometimes showing prominent amounts of silver tips, and generally the highest grade. Hao Ya is sometimes graded into A and B, where A is the better grade.
* Hubei Keemun: Not a true Keemun, a variety that comes from the Hubei Province west of Anhui, said to have similar qualities to the Anhui Keemun.

We recommend using purple clay or porcelain tea ware. Use about 2 grams of tea leaves (1-2 teaspoons) for every 150ml of water. Steep tea leaves in hot water at 100°c (212°F) for about 1 minute for the first and second brewing. Gradually increase steeping time and water temperature for subsequent brewing.


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