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The Story of Keemun Black Tea: How the World’s Most Famous Black Tea Came to Be

In 1875, a retired civil servant named Yu Gan Chen returned home to Qimen County after spending some of his professional life in the Wuyi Mountains in Fujian. 

Keemun black tea

At the time, Fujian had developed quite a reputation for producing and exporting black teas. Perhaps both then and to this day, is Lapsang Souchong, or Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong. Although Qimen had been almost exclusively crafting green tea at the time, this did not deter Mr. Chen. Where others saw absurdity, he saw opportunity, believing there was no reason why a similar kind of black tea could not be produced in Qimen, one that could rival or perhaps even best the black tea in Fujian.

This story is the birth of the now world-renowned Keemun black tea.

While in Fujian, Mr. Chen took it upon himself to learn the methods for producing black tea. This occurred during a time when there were no machines to sort through leaves, dry them, bruise them, and cut them.

To make tea in the 1800s, especially Fujian black tea, required the memorization of a number of labor-intensive, difficult steps, for everything needed to be produced by hand. The right leaves needed to be plucked before being sun-withered, bruised, oxidized, slow-fired, sorted, and shaped (our own Keemun is crafted with seventeen steps!).

One can only imagine that accomplishing such a feat required taking extensive notes detailing the process. When you have the opportunity to see some of these tea-crafting steps in person, it becomes very easy to see why this process would eventually come to be known as gong fu tea.

keemun black tea garden Qimen Anhui province 

After implementing and refining what he had learned in Fujian, it did not take very long for Qimen black tea to begin receiving the attention Mr. Chen had expected. The growing conditions in Qimen already favored high-quality tea, and so all that was needed was a strict picking standard and his own touch on Fujian black tea crafting.

Within ten years, the black tea crafting in Qimen had become so well-refined that it garnered international attention from both Japanese buyers and especially British tea connoisseurs, who fell in love with the floral aromatics but, in order to save money, opted to blend it with some lower quality teas, eventually resulting in what we know today as English Breakfast.

Because of the extraordinary efforts undertaken by Qimen farmers and artisans more than 100 years ago, we have the good fortune of being able to taste this incredible black tea that Qimen county offers, a tea made possible from Qimen’s lush, mountainous forests, frequent rainfall, and deep soil, as well as some progressive thinking by a retired and ambitious civil servant.

Today, depending on the dialect and translation, Qimen black tea made using these traditional methods goes by many names, such as Keemun Gong Fu or Keemun Congou, and we are proud to carry a variant that lives up to its world-famous reputation, having been recognized previously in the 2017 Global Tea Championship for its exciting flavor and aromatics! And this year’s harvest looks even better!


MeiMei Fine Teas
MeiMei Fine Teas

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July 12, 2018

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