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Keemun and Other Black Teas

We refer to Norwood Pratt's New Tea Lover's Treasury for this tea tip. Keemun is one of our favorite black teas here at In Pursuit of Tea, and it's one of the reasons that unblended, whole-leaf teas are so much more interesting than the mediocre and consistent blends commonly available.

Keemun: One of the two or three best black teas in the world, Keemun is deservedly one of China's Ten Most Famous Teas, even though the Chinese rarely drink it. Like Tiekuanyin, Keemun is a cultivar or subvariety of tea plant unto itself and this is what accounts for its splendor of flavor and perfume. This is the only tea leaf in which an essential oil called myrcenal is found -- it also occurs in oil of Bay -- and this is what lends its indescribable sweetness to the taste of the tea. Its aroma is like a dying black rose, I think -- friends less poetic are reminded of toast hot from the oven.

Strange to relate, Qimen, the county in Anhui Province where this miracle of vegetation is found, almost failed to become the home of Keemun. The area produced only green tea up until 1875. Having been dismissed in disgrace from his post as a junior mandarin in Fujian and not daring to face his father, a young man named She Ganchen came home only after learning how to produce the black congou Fujian exported to England. He persuaded his father that congou could be profitably made in Qimen, little dreaming it would in fact become world famous. It has been prized ever since She Ganchen sold his first in 1875. All Keemun is distinctive and much of it is superior. Then you discover Keemun Mao Feng and Keemun Hao Ya, which are simply superb-perfectly formed leaf, black as aslphalt after dark, with taste as delicate as bird song. These are handmade teas for which reservations are required, so little is produced. Their unique Keemun flavors are so nuanced and layered that one feels adding milk or sugar would be sacrilegious, faint praise impossible.

Reprinted with permission from New Tea Lover's Treasury by James Norwood Pratt, Publishing Technology Associate, San Francisco, California, 1999.


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