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About Keemun Tea

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Keemun is from Qimen county, Anhui province, China, and was first made in 1875. Before that only green tea was made by the tea masters there. A young man who had lost his civil service job decided to follow his father’s advice to get a skill as a better guarantee to a steady job. He traveled to Fujian province and learned how to manufacture black tea. He returned to Qimen and set up three factories dedicated to producing black tea. He found great success there since the tea leaves that were grown in the area with its warm moist climate and well-drained sandy soil were well suited to making that style of tea. It quickly became a favorite around the world and supposedly even at the court of the Queen of England.

Despite a relatively short history where Chinese teas are concerned, Keemun tea was a big hit and by 1915 was world renowned in taste tests conducted by leading tea companies. That same year, Keemun black tea won the Gold Prize at the International Exposition in Panama. Despite the increased popularity of teas from India, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere, Keemun is still enjoying popularity.

Such a reputation for Keemun tea in the market has inspired a bit of fakery, just as with other premium teas. The difference can be essential to the connoisseur, since teas are very much a result of their location grown. The tea gardens in Qimen county are in a forest-covered and mountainous area. It can make the source of the tea leaves a bit tricky to determine. But that determination is important due to the growing environment there. Being mountainous, the area is often blanketed with fog, blocking sunlight and affecting the chemistry of the leaves. They tend to be very rich in theanine. Also the tea plant cultivar is Zhu-ye-zhong (槠叶) which is unique in that the leaves have an essential oil called myrcenal as well as geraniol. Both of these give the tea a sweetness and aroma like dried rose petals (or hot toast). Of course, the tea master’s knowledge is also essential here to assure those qualities are brought out to their fullest.

Grading Keemuns

The method for grading Keemun teas can be rather complicated and can be misrepresented by unscrupulous vendors. Unlike the Orange Pekoe grading system of OP, FOP, BOP, etc., Keemuns are divided into about ten grades. Top grade is Hao Ya A, then Hao Ya B, Special Grade, and grades 1 through 7.

Grading Keemun tea is a refined art encompassing many variables. Tea tasters having sharp senses of sight, smell, touch, and taste for judging the tea’s quality. The chart below gives you a general guide to get you started.

How to Assess Keemun Tea Grades

Special Grade:

  • Leaf Shape - thin, slender, tightly rolled, mostly sharp points and buds
  • Integrity - whole leaves, fairly even size
  • Consistency - all leaves
  • Leaf Color - jet-black, bright, smooth, glossy with luster
  • Aroma - toasty, flowery, nutty, fruity, wine-like, sometime pine and orchid, fragrant
  • Taste - full-bodied, complex, mellow, sweet
  • Liquid Color - liquid with luster, bright reddish brown color
  • Infused Leaf - bright brownish red leaves all appear to be buds

Grade 1:

  • Leaf Shape - thin and tightly rolled leaves basically seen having sharp points and buds
  • Integrity - basically even sized whole leaves
  • Consistency - with negligible amount of tender stalks
  • Leaf Color - jet-black, bright, smooth
  • Aroma - toasty,flowery,nutty, fruity, winy
  • Taste - mellow, sweet
  • Liquid Color - bright reddish brown color
  • Infused Leaf - bright brownish red leaves most appear to be buds

Grade 5:

  • Leaf Shape - a little coarse and loose leaves
  • Integrity - mixed with bold loose and large leaves or broken ones
  • Consistency - with small amount of old stalks and other matters such as wood flakes and sand
  • Leaf Color - black and a little greyish
  • Aroma - not so lively
  • Taste - a little harsh,flat
  • Liquid Color - reddish brown color,a liitle bright
  • Infused Leaf - red leaves, not having buds