Qimen (Keemun, Keemum, Pinyin 祁门), grown in Qimen County, in Anhui Province, is a tea I haven’t given enough attention to. Every time I drink it I find that it’s much more interesting and complex than I think it’s going to be, and Keemum Panda #1 from DAVIDsTEA is quite a nice example of a Qimen tea. Qimen is said to be “the burgundy of tea.” While I generally think that wine/tea analogies are rather silly and not terribly useful, if the intent is to convey that Qimen, like the wines of Burgundy, is darker in flavor and richer in complexity than other varieties of black tea, then I have to admit that the analogy has some merit. There is an underlying flavor distinct to Qimen that I can only describe as sort of woody or charcoal-like, but not at all like smoke, and it does have a bit of a red wine note. DAVIDsTEA’s description:
“It was the British, with their love of black tea, who inspired the invention of Keemum in a country that produced mostly green tea. An instant success in 1874, it is today considered a highly-prized tea in its native China. Our Panda #1 is a first rate specimen. Like a fine wine, it has hints of oak and a lovely burgundy depth, and when properly stored will take on a deeper, more mellow character.”
Indeed, black teas were not produced in Anhui Province until the mid 1870s, so this is not a tea with a terribly long history. Qimen teas were originally developed for the export market and they are often used in the blends sold as English Breakfast Tea today. I am sure that there was less growth in this particular varietal than might have happened if the trade with Britain had not collapsed near the end of the 19th century. In line with its history, Keemun Panda tastes to me like a tea cultivated for a more Western palate. It’s a very pretty red color and it is worthy of a second steeping, and even a third, depending on your personal preferences.
As I was concentrating on the flavor of the cup of Qimen that I was drinking I recognized something subtle in the taste of it that initially reminded me Russian blends, like a Russian Caravan, but not smoky.
Then I remembered that Lapsong Souchong and Qimen are grown in the same region of China, Anhui Province. So I think I can reasonably say that the distinct note is the terroir of the area.
Edit: I can’t remember where I got the idea that Lapsang Souchong was produced in Anhui province, but I was mistaken. It is produced in Fujian Province.
Incidentally, the spelling of this tea’s name as “keemum” is one of the more unusual ones and even less common than “keemun.” “Qimen” is the standard Pinyin spelling.
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