Tag Archives: anhui

Keemun from the UK

Keemun Mao Feng

Darkly sweet, like a deeply ripe blood orange. An aroma of very dark chocolate with a touch of cinnamon. There’s a subtle dryness and roughness at the end that is typical of some Qi Men teas.

Qi Men (aka: “Keemun”) tea (祁門红茶) is a black tea (“red tea” in China) made in Anhui province in Eastern China. It is a style that has been relatively famous in the West for quite a while and is often blended with other, stronger leaves to produce concoctions like the English Breakfast tea. As with any harvest, though, there’s a spectrum of quality that can be had and most of the leaves exported for teabags are literally the bottom of the barrel. A Mao Feng (毛峰) pick is considered a pretty high grade and should have entirely full leaves, gently twisted into spirals.

This tea I purchased from an artisan tea and coffee shop in Brighton in the UK. While the staff didn’t know a tremendous amount of tea information, I appreciated that their tea was well sourced and well served.

At the shop they used a kind of plastic mug with a drain on the bottom for serving, so the leaves went right in with the water and then the infusion was strained out of the bottom into a ceramic mug when ready. I’m not a big fan of plastic for anything tea-related, but this method did have several advantages which I think many methods of tea infusing lack.

Firstly, the leaves were not separate from the water during steeping. Probably the most common way to infuse tea of any sort in the West is to use some sort of separation tool, such as a teabag, tea ball, or strainer. While there is quite a bit of experimentation ongoing with these methods in the form of different fabrics and materials, shape and size, ultimately there is always part of the water which is not coming into direct contact with the leaves. In my experience this never produces quite the same effect as having loose tea leaves swirling around in your pot or mug.

The second advantage of these draining mugs was that after the infusion time was up, it’s easy to quickly drain the whole thing into your cup. This means that no tea remains steeping in water while you drink your first cup, which would otherwise almost invariably produce a bitter second pour. The speed was also important since a slow-pouring teapot can make timing your infusion much more challenging than it needs to be.

Due to the plastic, I find it hard to recommend these devices in general, but you could do a lot worse, and the above points are definitely worth keeping in mind for your own infusion experiments.

Overall I’m very happy with this tea and pleased that there are more shops taking unflavored tea seriously. Thank you, Naked Tea!

2012 Tai Ping Hou Kui

I have to confess that I started this tea session with the plan to use my jade gaiwan. The last time I used it was just after its purchase in Dali (大理) with some average shou puer. It didn’t work particularly well. I had the thought that maybe it would work better with some green tea. When I started warming everything, I poured some hot water (probably around 90 C) into the gaiwan and heard the terrifying sound of cracking stone. Ah, impermanence! The gaiwan is still intact, but I’ve made the decision that it is definitely more of a show piece than a tea pot. Back to the shelf it goes!

For the tea, I chose a large-leafed green that I don’t make enough: Tai Ping Hou Kui (太平猴魁), usually called “The Monkey King”. Hou Kui tea is from Liu’An (六安) in Anhui (安徽) province, where I spent a few days last spring. This particular Hou Kui was purchased from some friends we met there who owned a small tea company.

The cultivar, according to Wikipedia, is Shi Da Cha. The leaves are massive. I think that they’re larger than any Hou Kui I’ve had before. When I was in Liu’An I didn’t have a chance to see the bushes where these leaves were harvested, but now I wish that I had made an effort. Beautifully pressed into flat, patterned leaf sets much like Hangzhou Long Jing, they melt into the gaiwan like long pasta once water is poured on.

What a delicious experience! It was stronger than I expected. Greener tasting, too, for a year-old tea. Bold and sweet, a bit spinach-like with a crisp finish. I started brewing with 1 minute at around 80 C to begin with, by the third infusion I am steeping it for 3 minutes. Still, the crisp green flavor remains.

I thought that some bold green tea (even from last year) might be a good choice for today to help start the season. The sunshine is appearing on and off, and there’s definitely the feeling of Spring in the air. The qi of this tea is solid and stout; it’s energizing but not overly so. A delicate pale-green liquor reminds me of new-grown grass.

Still potent after 5 infusions (3.5 minutes), it’s impressive what can be made from so few leaves. I didn’t weigh them, but I generally infuse around 4g of leaf tea and this was probably half of that.

All told, I managed 6 good infusions before they started becoming a bit lightweight. With a few more leaves in the gaiwan, I bet I could have managed 8 easily. Well done, Xian Ming Xiang Li Pin Cha She (纤茗香礼品茶社)!