China’s Keemun Teas – Desired For Their Unique Chocolate Flavors

Keemun Mao Feng is one of China’s most famous and popular black teas, as well
as being a favorite in the West for well over a century, revered for its chocolaty
flavors of unsweetened cocoa, but without the bitterness.
These chocolaty flavors are
formed by what chemists call
“the Maillard reaction,” nam-
ed after the French chemist, Louis-Camille
Maillard, who studied it in the early 1900’s.
It’s a reaction caused when tea leaves are
seared over very hot woks or in ovens,
creating com- pounds called pyrroles,
pyrazines, and other compounds that draw
out flavors of baked peaches, roasted nuts,
or other baked and roasted flavors.  In
Chinese Keemun teas, the Maillard reaction
draws out the formation of dimethylpyra-
zines which create the chocolate and cocoa
flavors that these teas are famous for.
The family of Keemuns consists of Keemun Mao Feng (also called Keemun Hairpoint Mao Feng),
Keemun Hao Ya A and B, and Keemun Congou.  The name Keemun comes from an old Western
spelling of Qimen (pronounced “Chee-men”), the town near
where the tea is grown, in a region between the Yellow Moun-
tains and the Yangtze River.
The harvesting season for Keemun Mao Feng is very short, just
eight to ten days in late April and early May.  The early spring
leaves contain softer, milder polyphenols and healthy amino
acids.  The pluck for Mao Feng is the standard two leaves and a
bud.  The buds help lighten and add sweetness to the tea.

As is characteristic of

Chinese black teas,
Keemun Mao Feng receives both a lengthy
withering of three to four hours after which
it’s rolled, shaped into a twist, and then re-
ceives a lengthy oxidation.
The leaves are placed in tightly woven, deep
bamboo baskets, covered with a cloth, and
placed in a steam filled room for approximate-
ly five hours.  This long oxidation turns the
tips a lovely golden color, while the leaves
begin to acquire the non-bitter cocoa flavors.

Because of the short harvesting season,
Keemun Mao Feng is quite rare.  Some tea
producers even skip the Mao Feng harvest
entirely, instead saving the leaves for the Keemun Hao Ya harvest which begins a few
days later and lasts for six weeks or more.

Keemun Hao Ya teas also come from the small town of
Qimen, in

 China’s Anhui Province.  Keemun Hao Ya
leaves,  like Mao Feng are small, thin, and tightly twist-
ed, and are naturally sweet and refreshing with the
same chocolaty flavor all Keemuns are famous for.
Keemun Hao Ya teas are sorted into grades, with
Keemun Hao Ya A and Keemun Hao Ya B the two highest grades.  This designation was
added for the U.S. market to distinguish the two teas.  A and B grades don’t exist in

They are separated based on the quality of the tips with the
best tips becoming Hao Ya A, and the next best Hao Ya B.
The processing for Hao Ya teas is much the same as for Mao

Keemun (also called Keemun Congou) or qihong tea is grown
in four areas located near Huang Shan City, and China’s fam-
ous Huang Shan Mountains; Dongzhi, Guichi, Shitai, and
Yixian. Located nearby the stunning mountain range, the
growing area for  Keemun teas has a temperate climate and abundant rainfall.  This
microclimate includes moisture filled blankets of clouds over the tea growing area, a
phenomenon known as “cloud and mist” in China.  The teas grown in these areas are
called “cloud and mist teas.”

Even though Keemun teas are made from eight different
tea bush varieties, the best Keemun is said to come from
leaves with a little red vein running down the backside of
the leaf.

Keemun Congou is said to be made from a certain sub-
variety of tea plant with high levels of myrcenal, an
essential oil found in bay leaves and other herbs, but not
in any tea plant other than this one.

Myrcenal adds an underlying subtle sweetness of ripe fruit to Keemun Congou.  The in-
fusion is a bright reddish-orange color, with a rich, floral aroma that is distinctive yet not
overbearing and perfumey.

Keemun is grown in hilly country at about 2,000 to 3,000 feet above sea level, and is not considered to be a high-grown tea.  It is the only Keemun with
four harvests, with a first flush in late April or early May, continuing with a second and third
flush throughout summer, and a final autumn flush.

China’s black teas are some of the best in the world and Keemuns, with their chocolaty
taste and sweet, mellow flavors are especially good, and very popular in the West.  Even
though Keemun Mao Feng is very limited, it’s well worth the hunt to try and find, but with
Keemun teas you can’t go wrong-no matter which one you try, they’re all delicious.  Enjoy.