What We Don’t Know About Keemun

I recently offered a tea tasting where participants compared different Keemun teas. We compared grades (gongfu/congou, mao feng, hao ya) with each other, as well as different vendors’ products of the same grade with each other.

In preparing for the class, I tried to fill out the Keemun article on the Tea Geek wiki. As I researched, I kept coming up with additional questions that I wanted to know. In the end, I got enough information for an informative class, and at the same time was appalled at how little good information there is about Keemun in English.

Here are some of the things I could NOT find information about, in question format. If you happen to have a line on good answers or information sources on any of these, I’d love you to post a comment or send me email.

1) Keemun Black Tea (Qimen Hongcha or Qihong) is supposedly made only from a particular varietal–kind of like Tie Guan Yin. Is this true, and what’s the name/classification/genetic identifier/ etc. for the varietal/cultivar/clonal?

2) Many tea vendors say that Keemun is one of the only sources of a substance called myrcenal that imparts some of the rosey/toasty flavor unique to Keemun. Yet I can’t find other references to it other than by people who are using this “fact” to sell tea. Is there such a substance, what is it, and is it indeed unique to Keemun (and oil of bay, as mentioned in James Norwood Pratt’s New Tea Lover’s Treasury)?  Any other chemical or biological points of interest?

3) Are there technical classifications that can be easily described and differentiated to explain Hao Ya A, Hao Ya B, Mao Feng, Xin Ya, and Congou? Are there other grades? Is there really a Keemun grade that is rolled like Gunpowder? (I’ve seen claims that there is, but never seen a picture or real-life example.)

4) Any good descriptions on the production methods? Statistics on amounts of genuine Keemun? Statistics about counterfeit Keemun production?

5) Geography–I can find Huangshan City and the Yellow Mountains to the north in Google Earth, but so far haven’t had much luck with other geographical information specific to Keemun tea. Is there much to know other than that the area is gorgeous? 🙂

6) History–what reliable information is there about She Ganchen / Yu Quianchen / Hu Yuanlung or whoever started production of red tea in Anhui? Can the oft-repeated date of 1875 be verified? Can the mysterious inventor of keemun be actually tracked down to being a failed civil servant or other particular biographical information?

4 thoughts on “What We Don’t Know About Keemun”

  1. Yes, I followed up with a friend of mine who’s an environmental toxicologist. She also independently came up with myrcenol (instead of the tea-industry spelling of myrcenal), as “-al” isn’t a suffix used in chemical nomenclature but “-ol” is. She said it’s extremely common in nature (though perhaps not in tea) and sent two more references:



    So, I’m going to count “myrcenal is only found in Keemun” as a myth busted unless I get any other data. 🙂

  2. I have recently come across a Teapresso machine – a modified expresso machine to accomodate loose leave tea providing a concentrated shot. Depending on the loose leave, one might have to do further mulching and filtering to prevent clogging in the machine. While this is very fascinating, I’m just wondering that by mulching the leaves in preparation for the shot – are we not reducing the fine loose leaf back to fanning or dust ? and converting back to a tea bag form? Nowadays, we see pyramid type tea bags to accomodate loose leave but the Teapresso machine seems to be going the reverse.

  3. Hi. I see that this blog entry is quite outdated. I came here via google and would like to clarify on myrcenal.

    Contrary to the other commenters’ claims, myrcenal and myrcenol are NOT the same molecule! myrcenol is an alcohol while myrcenal is an aldehyde. The -al ending is indeed chemical nomenclature and labels the substance as an aldehyde. Mycenal is indeed the oxidised form of myrcenol and has an entry in the NIST database: http://webbook.nist.gov/cgi/cbook.cgi?ID=R193732&Units=CAL
    Myrcenal is one compound in the large group of terpenes and therefore, not much specific information is available. That much is true, however.

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