A velvety black tea evocative of autumn's beauty. A wonderful black tea with a long heritage.
Keemun tea (Qimen in Chinese) comes from the Chinese leaf Camellia sinensis sinensis. The name Keemun, however, originates from the town of Keemun in the province of Anhui, the very well respected tea-producing region of China.
The Story Behind Keemun
The stories behind our teas are often as alluring as the taste of the tea itself. Keemun's story is no exception. It's said that Keemun tea was first discovered in 1875 by a government official visiting the area on a mission to learn more about how to make black tea. The story of Keemun’s tea’s birth goes like this; a man named Yu Ganchen travelled to the Fujian province of China to learn the secrets of quality black tea, as the Anhui province up to that point only produced green tea. What he learned on his travels enabled him to grow and produce the first Keemun tea, which quickly became popular throughout the world.
Coming from Qimen County, the tea is sometimes referred to as Qimen tea. ‘Keemun’ has been the English translated spelling for Qimen since the days of the colonial era. Keemun actually has a pretty short history compared to other black teas, as it was first produced in 1875.
China's biggest export at the time, green tea was rivalled by India's expensive black teas and the Chinese were keen to find an alternative. Yu Ganchen's mission was successful and he discovered that Chinese leaf could make a black as well as a green tea. If only he knew what we know now - that this special leaf can actually transform into six tea varieties (black tea, green tea, white tea, oolong tea, Pu'erh or fermented tea Keemun tea, or China Black as it is sometimes called, quickly created quite a legacy for itself as one of the first black teas to be exported out of China. It is also a key ingredient in the breakfast blend English Breakfast.
Our Finest Keemun is gentle and light, with layers of flavour - both smoky and malty with a hint of nuttiness. This deceptively simple tea comes alive with tonnes of unsweetened cocoa and a light floral aroma.
Black tea production varies depending on the country and landscape in which it's produced. Like wine, the 'terroir' or terrain where the tea grows shapes how the leaf is handled and ultimately how the tea tastes. In general however, the process of making a black tea requires the leaves to be plucked and allowed to wither. Excess moisture is lost through drying. This makes the tea more malleable for it to be handled, and in this case, rolled. This rolling process is intrinsic as it brings out the flavour deep in the leaf, held in the enzymes and juices.
The leaves are then left to oxidise over a period of time allowing the enzymes to eventually turn it black. Finally, it's then baked or fired to remove any remaining moisture and create that black crispness. Keemun leaves are particularly decorative, shaped in beautifully twisted coils, which makes Keemun in Mark Nicholls eyes, 'a really attractive and engaging tea to use'. It's now time to see for yourself…
Brewing, Serving and Tasting Your Tea
Mark demonstrates how to use the Gongfu method of brewing tea, with a lovely glass tea set. This allows you to see the leaves uncurling, watch the colours developing and smell the fruity, woody and 'slightly plumy' aromas all at once. But you can just as easily brew your tea in a conventional tea pot.
The term Gongfu is taken to mean 'brewing using great skill'. This method of brewing Keemun allows you to repeatedly brew the tea so you can skilfully extract every last nuance of the leaves flavour. But don't be worried about burning the tea. Keemun leaves are made up of more delicate tannins than most allowing it to respond well to a longer brew - releasing deeper flavours as time progresses.
If you're making your tea Gongfu style, place one heaped teaspoon in your glass and cover with freshly boiled water. For the first brew, Mark recommends only a minute, but subsequent brews can be left for longer (two minutes for the second, three for the third and so on) maximising the potential of the leaves and extracting the fullness of their flavour.
You'll see the colour develop at every brewing stage. The first brew displays Keemun's typically deep tan coppery colour, with a somewhat smoky and plummy aroma that gets deeper as you go on. A good quality Keemun tea will always have this beautiful ruby redness. Give your tea a little twirl and you'll notice the light catching the oils present in Keemun tea's amber liquor.
If you're making it in a pot, pre-warm the pot (and the cups if you can) and use a good six heaped teaspoons of tea. Always avoid water that's been boiled over and over again as this removes the oxygen from the water, making it taste bitter.
When tasting tea, remember to slurp it off the side of a spoon to get as much air into your mouth as possible and really unlock the flavours. As you taste the Keemun the smoky fullness will linger alongside plumy, velvety notes. It's a tea that works well with milk, but this can suppress some of the flavours, so a good tasting exercise is to give it a taste, with and without milk.
As one of the world's most famous teas, Keemun is worth every sip. And before you head off to explore our Twinings Keemun tea and our tea sets, including our Gongfu set, here's a final word from our tea expert and blender, Mark: '
Personally I always describe flavour as a journey of taste through time and through your body. Keemun is one of those teas that ticks all those boxes - you get a sensation straight away, a good follow-through and after-taste. This is a beautiful tea'
This month our fabulous master blender Mark Nicholls talks us through the wonder of Keemun. Watch now >