Keemun: The Smoky and Floral Chinese Black Tea

Keemun is a Chinese black tea that is cultivated exclusively in Qimen County located in the southern reaches of the Anhui Province of China. It is classified as one of China's famous teas and is also known as qimen hongcha. The black tea was first cultivated in the late 1800s and is consumed as a stand-alone black tea or used as the base for tea blends such as English breakfast tea. Learn everything there is to know about Keemun black tea with this handy guide.

Flavor Profile

Keemun black tea is a lighter black tea that has top notes including orchid and base notes of stone fruit and smoky tasting notes. The tea is smooth and malty with a low astringency and is often compared to the flavor of cocoa. Keemun tea offers a light body with a smoky aroma and toasty tastes.

History of Keemun Tea

In 1875 a tea cultivator in Anhui Province known as Yu Ganchen took a trip to Fujian Province to learn more about black tea production. At that time, Anhui was only producing green teas and Ganchen wanted to bring black tea production to the region. Taking what he learned in Fujian Province, Ganchen created the first keemun tea using a cultivar of the Camellia sinensis plant that is also used to make Huangshan Maofeng, a green made in the Yellow Mountain area.

keemun black tea on spoon

Types of Keemun Tea

Keemun Mao Feng

This type of keemun is made using two leaves and one bud from the tea plant and is a higher grade keemun. Keemun Mao Feng is a rare Chinese black tea that is harvested early in the season. This type of Keemun offers a silky smooth texture with aromatic cocoa notes.

Keemun Hao Ya

This is another high quality keemun black tea. Keemun Hao Ya is made using a blend of tea leaves and tea buds but is harvested after Mao Feng. The tea is further classified into A and B grades with A grade Hao Ya being higher quality and more flavorful. This keemun is complex and light with mildly floral notes and chocolate hints in a smooth body.

Keemun Gongfu (Congou)

This type of Keemun is produced specifically for use in the traditional Chinese Gongfu tea ceremony. The tea leaves and buds are rolled into a tight ball, which gracefully unfurls when infused in hot water. It has a lively flavor profile and is often brewed as a breakfast tea.

Keemun Xin Ya

Keemun Xin Ya is made using buds that are harvested very early in the season. This type of Keemun tends to have less astringent and bitter notes due to lower tannin content.

Hubei Keemun

All true keemun teas are produced in Qimen so this type of Chinese tea is not technically a keemun. Just like a burgundy wine has to come from Burgundy, France and parmesan has to come from the Parma region of Italy, true Keemun must come from Anhui Province. The tea is produced in Hubei Province and offers similar black tea characteristics as true keemun and Indian Darjeeling.

How Is Keemun Produced?

The tea leaves are harvested in spring and summer depending on which type of keemun is being produced. Tea harvesters typically pluck the buds and two to three tea leaves from the top of the plant, making sure to use the youngest leaves possible. After the leaves are plucked, they are sorted and withered on large bamboo mats in direct sunlight. 

Once the leaves are withered, they are rolled into tight balls. The process helps to enhance the flavor of the tea leaves while also creating a visually pleasing form. The tea leaves then undergo a complete oxidation process, which creates bold flavors and turns the leaves a deep brown or black color. Finally, the leaves are fired over open fires or in large woks and then packaged for sale.

keemun black tea in kettle

How to Brew Keemun

Brewing a cup of tea incorrectly can lead to strong bitter flavors and poor taste quality. Fortunately, it's not very hard to brew a great cup of keemun tea. For the best results, stick to loose leaf tea instead of tea bags. Tea that is found in tea bags is generally lower quality and also doesn't have enough room to fully expand and infuse flavor. Make sure to use spring water or filtered water for the best flavor results.

Use one to two teaspoons of Keemun black tea for every eight ounces of water. Steep the tea in the water around 194 degrees Fahrenheit for two to five minutes. The longer the steeping time, the stronger the flavor will become. To make iced tea, simply brew the tea as you would for hot tea, then allow it to cool to room temperature before serving over ice. To make cold-brewed tea, place Keemun tea leaves in a large pitcher with cold water. Let the tea steep for six to eight hours.

Get Smoky, Chocolaty Flavors With Keemun Black Tea

A great cup of Keemun tea will offer an intoxicating smokiness when it comes to aroma and a brilliant red hue when brewed. The flavor will be mildly floral with hints of cocoa and smoky undertones. Grab some Keemun from your favorite tea shop and brew yourself a cup of this delicious black tea today.

October 02, 2020 — Sencha Tea Bar
Tags: Black Tea