Keemun, or Qimen tea, is a China Famous Tea. China Famous Tea is the modern name for Imperial Tribute Tea. These teas were claimed as an exclusive provenance of the emperors in the last four dynasties: Tang, Song, Ming and Qing. Each emperor had his favorite teas delivered and recorded as a tax payment owed to the throne. Tribute tea that did not meet the emperor’s standards was given to the lower court.
Keemun black tea was created in 1875 during the Qing Dynasty by Mr. Yu Qian Chen, a government official in Fujian who was later dismissed from his position. A tea lover familiar with the Fujian black tea process, Mr. Yu returned to Anhui province, where he established his first black tea workshop in Dongzhi County. This Keemun, made from small-leaf green tea bushes, became a hit and was soon exported. Keemun gained popularity in England and is found in several English Breakfast blends and Earl Grey blends.
Authentic Keemun can only be harvested from a specific breed of tea bushes. The traditional hand processing, charcoal baking, and drying processes are time intensive, but the resulting tea is milder, smoother, and sweeter in comparison to machine-dried tea. Locals believe the best leaves have red veins. By slowly drying the tea leaves, a caramelized sweetness and smooth pine aroma develop. Tea tasters brand the unique aroma of Keemun “Qimen Xiang” (Keemun Aroma).
The varieties of Keemun include:
- Keemun Hao Ya A and B – A variety known for its fine buds and silver tips and considered the highest grades. Hao Ya is separated into A and B grades, where A is the better grade.
- Keemun Mao Feng – A variety derived from a special picking of two leaves and a bud, which have a full, rich flavor. Mao Feng means Fur Peak.
- Keemun Xin Ya – The early-bud variety, said to have less bitterness.
- Hubei Keemun – A variety produced in the Hubei Province said to have similar qualities to the Anhui Keemun. Not a true Keemun.