We recently highlighted the discovery of a hundred year old box of Qimen black tea in Anhui China. The story of this century old tea, though short, featured a beautiful wooden box that was typical at the time for shipping finished teas around the world. Though few producers actually ship in this type of wooden box any longer it was a handy excuse to focus a post on this wonderful tea from Anhui Province, China. Qimen or Keemun black tea, which incidentally forms the base for our Colonial Breakfast, tea has been produced in China for hundreds of years and like so many others has a history of it own.
Keemun Black Tea
Black tea has been produced in the region of Qimun County in Anhui, China and the area around it for about 200 years. The name Keemun, as we know it today, is an Anglicized version of the name. Black tea from this region is known for having a very unique aroma and taste. The aroma is often described as having hints of honey while the taste is often said to be sweet and mellow. It can take milk and sugar though is often consumed straight. The tea was common in the United States dating back to the colonies and has been part of some blends of English Breakfast Tea over the years.
Keemun black tea has been awarded international recognition many times as a gourmet tea product. In 1915, at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, which had 30 tea companies from Anhui Province, Keemun Black Tea was awarded a Gold Medal. Much more recently, in 1987 it received a gold medal for food quality in Brussels. Over the years there have been many other awards as well and it has been the gift of choice for visiting dignitaries.
Qimun Region Tea Production
The Qimun region dates back to the Tang Dynasty in 766 C.E. and is about at the same latitude as Northern India, falling due West of Shanghai and North Northwest of Taiwan. Although inland a bit, the region isn’t far from the East China sea. It lies in the general vicinity of the famous Yellow Mountains and the Yangtze River. It is a mountainous region at about 2000 ft above sea level with large temperature swings between day and night and often has very high humidity. Tea is a major industry in this part of China with hundreds of thousands of farmers producing tea on tens of thousands of hectares of land.
Not all of the tea produced in the area is black, of course, with green tea featuring prominently. Most tea produced in the region is for domestic consumption and the majority of Chinese drink green tea regularly. Indeed, black tea production has been on the decline in this part of China according to the Qimun County Government for a number of years. Reasons for the decline include international competition by Indian black tea, Ceylon black tea, and others. The competition from international black teas and continued low consumption of black tea in China has contributed greatly to the black vs green tea production decisions.
Steeped in history, Keemun Black Tea continues to be a wonderful example of Chinese black tea. Despite production falling off from the height of its demand, this tea continues to delight consumers around the world, even if not consumed so much in China itself.
Qimun [Keemun] County Government, The Rise and Fall Keemun Bicentennial (translated), January 4, 2010, http://www.ahqimen.gov.cn/DocHtml/1/2010/1/4/2197202312203.html
CPC Huangshan Committee, the People’s Government of Huangshan, Tea Industry, http://www.huangshan.gov.cn/en/NewsList.aspx?cid=10680&tid=10690
Official Catalogue of Exhibitors, Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, California, 1915, pg 80, Digitized at: https://books.google.com/books?id=c-VFAQAAMAAJ
Cultural China, Food Culture, Keemun Black Tea, http://www.cultural-china.com/Kaleidoscope/en/131Kaleidoscope294.html