Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Keemun or Keemum


Keemun or Keemum

Keemun is a black Chinese tea that I really enjoy. It's more complex than the other teas that I've written about and depending on how long you steep it and the amount you use, it's character can change so that it resembles a different tea entirely.

Taste
Its taste starts off being floral and barely sweet. Once it completely enters the mouth, the taste changes with the floral notes fading and a slightly winy taste comes into play. This too leaves, and a tannin taste (that's almost bitter) lingers on the palate. The neat thing about this is that unlike other teas where the taste stays the same and becomes bitter toward the end of the cup and dregs, keemun changes its tasting notes throughout the cup. The top portion of the cup has a light, warm, flowery taste with very little tannin and a little winy character. The middle of the cup has decreased floral notes, and a more pronounced winy character that increases in strength towards the bottom of the cup, until you have to actually concentrate on picking out the floral notes. The dregs are somewhat bitter but still palatable. The tea that I'm currently reviewing is the Southern Season brand, which I can't be sure if it's a tea with primarily Keemun and a lower grade black tea, or exclusively Keemun. The Grace Rare Tea Co.'s version of Keemun was decidedly stronger and a lot more winy (though it did say "Winy Keemun" on the tin and not "Oh-So-Delicious-Floral-Keemun").

Scent
The scent of Keemun is sort of flowery, but nothing like Silver Needle tea. It's more subdued and doesn't have a crisp, sweet scent, but rather a warm, fragrant scent.

Steeping and then some
For me, this tea is hard to pigeonhole into a specific steeping method. I use a full boil and steep for 3-5 minutes, but the character of the tea changes with each infusion! A first infusion yields a robust melange of flavors: floral, winy-sour, and tannin. A second infusion highlights the floral notes throughout the cup, transforms the winy-sour taste into a winy-fruit taste, and leaves very little of the tannin character left except for the finish. A final third infusion removes the winy character of keemun and results in a mildly smooth, sweet, lightly floral cup.
I've heard several different ways of yielding consistently good infusions of black tea instead of pouring, timing, and hoping that it tastes good. One way is to rinse the tea off to get rid of the dust on the leaves. This tea dust has a high surface area and steeping can extract a good portion of the tannins, resulting in a tea that's very bitter and harsh tasting. No tea dust, no harsh, bitter tea!

Another way is to actually pour boiling water into the infuser with tea in it. Swirl it around for about a minute, and then dump it out. Reboil water, pour water into the cup and infuser, and steep normally. The thought behind this is that this will extract enough of the tannins but very little of the flavor compounds in the tea leaves, so that you're left with a good cup of tea that's somewhat similar to the second infusion.

For keemun, I can't say which way is better than the other. I've tried the rinsing method and the half extracting method, and I've said to heck with it. Now I just try not to steep the tea for too long (3-4 minutes at the most), and enjoy the changes in flavor that each infusion yields.
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