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What is China Black Tea?


China’s best known black teas, fall into two main categories, North China Congou and South China Congou. Of the varieties in the former category, Keemun is the most famous, and is also widely considered the finest of all Chinese black teas. In China you will hear Chinese referring to Keemun as a “red” tea rather than the category of black tea, due to the red colour upon infusion. This is one reason Keemun has the name the “burgundies” of teas and another reason is due to its’ wine-like quality. At their best Keemuns unquestionably rank among the great teas of the world. Keemuns are also among the longest-keeping of all black teas; if properly stored, they last literally for years. While Keemun is delicious plain it goes perfectly with milk and/or sugar. Because of its wine-like quality, lemon should not be offered.

Keemun Black tea or Keemun for short is produced in the Huangshan mountains of Qimen county in the Anhui province and is China’s prized black tea (though the Chinese refer to it as Qihong - meaning “red” tea.). The rolling ranges of the Huangshan Mountains, luxuriant with forests, towers over crisscrossed rivers and streams where tea gardens stud the valleys and hills at 200 - 400 metres above sea level. The tea gardens are often shrouded in fog that bathe the hills in great humidity, a condition most beneficial for the growth of leaf buds resulting in the leaves being soft and tender. The congenial natural environment endows the Keemun tea with a unique aroma and rich taste.

Qimen County produced only green tea until the 1870's. It owes the change to a young civil official who lost his position when his superior fell into disgrace. Then he remembered his father’s advice, - “a skill is a better guarantor of a living than precarious officialdom”. The young man went to the Fujian province and learned the black tea process. On his return to Qimen he set up three factories using the new technique on the same leaves his neighbours were making into green tea. The method was perfectly suited to the leaves, produced by the loose, easily drained soil and the area’s warm, moist climate. His first product in 1875, fine, dark tea leaves with distinctive flavour, hit a wave of popularity in England. Soon after, other local factories switched to black tea production. Keemun is originally one of the congou-type teas. That is, it requires a great deal of gnogfu (disciplined skill) to make the fine, taut, sometimes irregular strips without breaking the leaves. Choice Keemun has an exquisitely complex, subtle, mellow flavour that may grow winey with age and depending upon how the tea is brewed, can be quite strong without being unpleasantly bitter. The aroma, at its best, is equally penetrating, and may be reminiscent of orchids or incense, while the liquor is reddish and thick-bodied. 

Keemuns were once an essential ingredient in English Breakfast blends which, however, are now often made without any Chinese teas at all. Despite the sometimes irregular appearance of the dried black leaves, choice Keemun has an exquisitely complex, subtle, mellow, sometimes delicately sweet flavour that may grow winy with age and eventually unpleasantly bitter. The aroma, at its best, is equally complex, wonderfully penetrating, and reminiscent of orchids and/or incense. The liquor is reddish and outstandingly thick-bodied. Keemuns of lesser quality have a simpler flavour and lack the intriguing aroma of the finest Keemuns.

We do use Organic Chinese Keemun in our Prince Edward Island Breakfast Blend


Our China Black Teas

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