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’. These 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 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-enthusiastic 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 allowed into Keemun (Qimen Province). We were able to purchase tea by tasting samples with representatives from the tea board there, at a location in a nearby city, but the region and the gardens themselves were 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 our latest offerings. However, we rarely have two different Mao Feng manufactures at the same time as we have most of the recent several years. These are a beautiful complement to the two different ‘congou’ Keemun black teas (the Congou and the Hao Ya ‘A’) that we traditionally have in our selection. And now there are several ‘specialty’ Keemuns that we source whenever we can because they are so much fun to taste against the classics!
Our Keemun Mao Feng Grade A++ black tea has the clean, brisk style and distinctive flavor of an elegant Keemun, while offering a greater depth of flavor due to its later-spring, two-leaves and a bud plucking. While we love the classically-bright, biscuit and raisin, complex flavor of a premium Keemun Congou or Hao Ya ‘A’ tea, we especially look forward to the times in which we have a special Keemun Mao Feng in our repertoire, as we do with this Grade A++. Another unique aspect of this tea is that we were able to source this batch of tea from the very early 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 Keemun Mao Feng Grade A++ and try to not drink it all when it is young, but put some of it away to rest and be able to drink again in three to five years! Even that little bit of ‘resting’ for this leaf will mellow it and surprise 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’.
So during the times that we also have our Keemun Mao Feng Premium Grade in stock, it is a perfect opportunity to taste two very different Keemun Mao Feng manufactures side-by-side. You will at first notice that the 2021 Grade A++ is a slightly smaller particle size over-all, and is very slender, with significant tippy-ness whereas the Premium Grade has little or no tip. Immediately this translates into a flavor profile difference that shows the most-expected effect that tip has on black tea flavor. A tea enthusiast will expect that a tippy black tea will have a rounder, smoother, and possibly more aromatic style. This is not always true 100%, but is the normal difference. In the case of these two Tea Trekker Keemun Mao Feng black teas, this expectation is spot on, and additionally there is a distinct aroma change as well that is even noticeable in the dry leaf. When you add in the fact that the Grade A++ is from what is destined to be a vintage harvest, a comparison tasting is really fun.
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, consider trying them all in the reasonable 2oz size – why not?
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