What an elegant leaf!! and delicious tea…
This Keemun, our 2021 Golden Keemun, is a real treat! We have been tasting this leaf for several years now; however, there has not been enough of it harvested lately (or historically) to meet export obligations, so we have not been able to offer it until last year for the first time, and we have it again for 2021. Keemun (Qimen Province) is quite small and it is difficult to obtain leaf from the region other than the traditional Congou and Mao Feng, and within those two categories there is often little sub-categorization or grading, although there certainly is for Keemuns sourced within China, as this is.
So this year when one of our tea sources advised us that this leaf would be available in limited, but sufficient quantity to allow for export, we jumped at the opportunity and purchased all of it that was on offer!! We love drinking this tea and know that you will too. The leaf is stunning and the flavor, style, and liquor are exactly similar to Keemuns that we have tasted ‘over there’, but rarely outside of their little pocket of the world.
You will find that this tea surprises you. It is so elegant as dried leaf, slender, fine, and showing a perfect twist. For those who have only experienced the compact congou style (including the famous Hao Ya A or B) or the larger, fatter Mao Feng leaf styles, this will be a shocker! The dry leaf is what is known in China as a ‘spider leg’ shape. There have been several times when we have tried to offer a green tea with this classic style of manufacture, and they just would not sell, due to so many Westerners having a phobia about even ‘that word’. But I am resolved that this Keemun will be a success, and am calling it what it would be called in China: a fine pluck, spider-leg manufacture. If there are some of you for whom this is off-putting, well then that is your loss and will simply allow for more of this tea to be available for the rest of us. You snooze, you lose!
This style of leaf is a combination of certain cultivars of camellia sinensis, combined with a growing condition that encourages the plant to need to ‘stretch’ to reach for the light during the early growing period of the season; this produces this longer-than-usual leaf. During the manufacture into black tea, it is even harder to maintain this length and elegant spiral twist throughout the oxidation and shaping processes than it is when making green tea, but in locations such as Keemun, in which the tea craftsmen are so dedicated, they persevere, although the challenges of manufacture are a part of why the quantity available is so small every year. You should notice the classic Keemun flavor components: raisin; biscuit; cacao; a light, dry astringency; and a marvelously soft but penetrating aroma. All these are softer than in their Keemun ‘cousins’ that have a bolder characterization of these flavors, but they are all in harmony in the Golden Keemun.
Golden Keemun should be drunk ‘neat’ in order to be able to fully appreciate its nuance of flavor, and it may require several attempts before the perfect measure, temperature, and timing are attained. Being such a slender leaf profile, it means that either too hot or too long are not good mistakes to make when steeping this unbelievable tea!
The small but traditional family of Keemun black teas is one of our favorite sub-sections of the classic China black teas. Keemun teas are quite popular with tea drinkers who enjoy the lean and dry, and soft but full flavor of eastern China black tea. Within the Keemun family there are what are arguably the more traditional small leaf, ‘raisin-y’, and well-focused ‘congou’ style manufactures that are often referred to as ‘English Breakfast tea’. They are often drunk with milk and/or sugar (even cream sometimes!).
There are however, other teas that are manufactured in the Keemun tea-growing region. The next best-known of these are the Mao Feng style teas. These are generally from gardens that are sited at a higher elevation, from a slightly later harvest; and are significantly larger in leaf size. We here at Tea Trekker have been fortunate to have been able to source many of these harder-to-find, wonderfully delicious Mao Feng black teas from the Keemun area. And, of course, all of this is just so bizarre given that historically the leaf grown in Qimen was manufactured into green tea (as was 99% of the tea in China) and that outstanding green tea is what made the region famous for tea throughout China and the rest of the tea-enthusiast world. Today, while there certainly is excellent green tea manufactured in the region, it is really black tea that continues to maintain Qimen’s reputation as a premier tea-growing location.
Dare to say that having excellent versions of both the ‘congou’ and ‘mao feng’ styles of Keemun black teas has been a standard of our black tea selection here at Tea Trekker over the years. When we first started to visit the famous tea-growing areas of China in 2000, foreigners were not even allowed into Keemun (Qimen Province). We were able to purchase tea by tasting samples with representatives from the tea board there, but the region was physically ‘off-limits’ to outsiders for several reasons. This of course has now changed, although one still needs permission to visit tea production the same as in all of China; and the tea has only become better and more diverse with time, as we show here with this latest offering of a ‘Golden’ Keemun. It joins the very few other ‘specialty’ Keemuns that we have sourced whenever we can because they are so much fun to taste against the classics!
Another unique aspect of this tea is that we were able to source this lot of tea from the 2021 harvest, which is shaping up to be a ‘vintage’ year for tea. We have had many Yunnan black teas from 2014 and 2016, and eastern China black teas from 2015 that have been particularly great harvest years. These teas are for the most part sold out now, so now we must all purchase young leaf such as this Golden Keemun, and try to not drink it all when it is young, but put some of it aside to rest and be able to drink it again in three to five years! Even that little bit of ‘resting’ for this leaf will mellow it and surprise you with the melding of flavors and increase in style that will show off in a mellowness and richness that it does not have now as a ‘youngster’. It will be quite difficult to not just drink this tea up, as it is so delicious right now!
Several of these eastern China black teas are among our all-time favorite black teas. Because our Keemun black tea collection has been so outstanding in recent seasons, if you can’t decide what to try, then try them all in the reasonable 2oz size – why not?
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