Tea Company: Mark T. Wendall Tea Company (website)
Ingredients: Black Tea
Vendor Suggested Preparation: not listed
In 1875, a failed civil servant traveled from his home in Anhui Province, China to Fujian Province. The goal was to learn the secrets to black tea production. While Fujian was mainly known for its white teas and oolongs, the region also had Golden Monkey to brag about. He returned and set to work on a type of his own. The results were a hearty and sweet “red tea” that exceeded his wildest dreams. The new beverage took the name of the county where it was created – Qimen. Or as we “Anglish” know it, Keemun.
The tea also gained popularity as an export, becoming the principle ingredient for the titular English Breakfast blend. There are five true Keemun varieties in existence and one “faux” Keemun produced in a province west of Anhui. I had no idea that a Keemun variant was produced in Taiwan, but leave it to Mark T. Wendell Company to surprise me. Their site mentioned that this silver-leafed tea was one of their founder’s favorites, referring to it as the “Burgundy of tea”.
Rarely has Mark T. Wendell let me down in their selection of Formosa (or Taiwanese) teas. The first of theirs I ever sampled was the much-lauded Hu-Kwa – a Lapsang Souchong-inspired smoke tea. The notes were subtler than its campfire kin and also possessed a strange floral presence. From then on, I knew Taiwan could make a black tea. Their Formosa Keemun also promised something unusual. At first sight, the leaves were indeed as silvery as the site description proclaimed; they were also longer and twistier than their Chinese inspiration. The aroma was an odd mixture of dust, earth, nuts, rice and spice – like I was smelling a pu-erh blended with flowers and herbs.
Black tea brewing instructions on the MTW site called for a four-to-five-minute steep in 190F-200F (88C-93C) water. That was much stronger than I took my black teas. I had to give in to my palate preference on this one. I raised the water temp to 205F, used 1 heaping teaspoon of leaves in 8oz, and steeped for three minutes.
The results were a far lighter-looking beverage than I anticipated. The liquor ended up a dark gold color with a middling smoky/nutty nose to it. The lightness was probably due to my steep preference, but most Keemuns I had sipped fared well at three minutes. The flavor – as is often the case – was where this showed promise. Keemun proper usually possessed a bitter foretaste then settled into its sweeter notes. This, on the other hand, went straight for an earthy (almost leathery) prologue and settled into a textured pinecone-like middle. The aftertaste was understated but not unwelcome.
I can’t say this lives up to some of the best Keemuns I’ve tried. Keemun Gongfu does figure-eights around this variant on nuance alone. That said, the earthy characteristics give it a body and taste similar to another Formosa offering – Ruby Black. And from my sipping perspective, that isn’t bad company to keep. It’s still quite an acceptable alternative.
You can purchase the Formosa Keemun directly from the Mark T. Wendall Tea Company website.
Written by Geoff
Its All About the Leaf Reviewer
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