Tea Review: DAVIDsTEA: Keemum Panda #1

Keemum Panda #1Qimen (Keemun, Keemum, Pinyin 祁门), grown in Qimen County, in Anhui Province, is a tea I haven’t given enough attention to. Every time I drink it I find that it’s much more interesting and complex than I think it’s going to be, and Keemum Panda #1 from DAVIDsTEA is quite a nice example of a Qimen tea. Qimen is said to be “the burgundy of tea.” While I generally think that wine/tea analogies are rather silly and not terribly useful, if the intent is to convey that Qimen, like the wines of Burgundy, is darker in flavor and richer in complexity than other varieties of black tea, then I have to admit that the analogy has some merit. There is an underlying flavor distinct to Qimen that I can only describe as sort of woody or charcoal-like, but not at all like smoke, and it does have a bit of a red wine note. DAVIDsTEA’s description:

“It was the British, with their love of black tea, who inspired the invention of Keemum in a country that produced mostly green tea. An instant success in 1874, it is today considered a highly-prized tea in its native China. Our Panda #1 is a first rate specimen. Like a fine wine, it has hints of oak and a lovely burgundy depth, and when properly stored will take on a deeper, more mellow character.”

Indeed, black teas were not produced in Anhui Province until the mid 1870s, so this is not a tea with a terribly long history. Qimen teas were originally developed for the export market and they are often used in the blends sold as English Breakfast Tea today. I am sure that there was less growth in this particular varietal than might have happened if the trade with Britain had not collapsed near the end of the 19th century. In line with its history, Keemun Panda tastes to me like a tea cultivated for a more Western palate. It’s a very pretty red color and it is worthy of a second steeping, and even a third, depending on your personal preferences.

Keemum Panda #1

As I was concentrating on the flavor of the cup of Qimen that I was drinking I recognized something subtle in the taste of it that initially reminded me Russian blends, like a Russian Caravan, but not smoky. Then I remembered that Lapsong Souchong and Qimen are grown in the same region of China, Anhui Province. So I think I can reasonably say that the distinct note is the terroir of the area.

Edit: I can’t remember where I got the idea that Lapsang Souchong was produced in Anhui province, but I was mistaken. It is produced in Fujian Province.

Incidentally, the spelling of this tea’s name as “keemum” is one of the more unusual ones and even less common than “keemun.” “Qimen” is the standard Pinyin spelling.

There is some good additional information on the renowned congou Qimen tea called Panda #1 on the Hina’s Tea site. Note: the tea is not currently available on DAVIDsTEA’s website.

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19 Comments

  1. Cinnabar:

    As always, a useful review.

    I’m not a Keemun drinker, but I’m intrigued anyway. Because of the kind of goofy name (Panda tea), I probably would not have made a purchase, but your description of it as complex, with a charcoal-but-not-smoke flavor seems like it would be pleasing. Do you think that the charcoaliness (if that could possibly be a word) came from the roasting of the tea or something?

    Also, I like that you used an English teacup service to enjoy the tea, because it is so closely associated with British tea drinking.

    • (And yes, I renamed myself Stevem for the occasion, in keeping with the DAVIDs TEA spelling conventions.)

    • Oddly enough, “Panda No. 1” is the standard name for this particular Qimen. I haven’t found out the origin of the name, but lots of references call it that in combination with the gazillion spellings of “qimen.” It’s one of the higher end Qimen teas and pandas are not involved in the manufacturing process, as far as I can tell. They have entirely the wrong type of paws for processing congou teas.

      I think that maybe there’s something in the processing of teas in Anhui Province that involves smoke, even when they’re not Lapsang Souchong. I should find out more about that…

      • I wonder if the pandas and monkeys who pick teas are in cahoots, somehow. Maybe the pandas outsource?

      • It could be the terroir, as you noted. Anhui tea might all taste somewhat smokey, and perhaps the folks in Dong Mu Village thought, “Hey, let’s work with this by seeking to highlight, rather than mask, that natural smokiness.” And voila, Lapsang Souchong.

        • That seems like a logical explanation to me. I should drink some more Qimen teas to see if they all have that faint smokiness. Of course now I’m looking for it, so my investigation is tainted.

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  4. I gave it a try and its very refreshing one. I love to have it again. Thanks for this article.

  5. Well the actual name of the brand is “Panda #1”. Many people say that Qimen teas have some smokiness. I should drink some more Qimen teas to see if they all have that faint smokiness.

  6. Pretty teacup. What’s the origin?

    • A friend gave me that tea cup before she moved to London. The manufacturer’s stamp says “CDBG China” and “Made in Japan,” but I haven’t been able to find anything useful about the company.

    • Bought it in an antique shop. So happy to see it being used, so perfect that you’re drinking my favorite black tea out of it!

  7. I love Keemum Panda #1. It is very spicy. Also its aroma is nice.

  8. A black tea thread on Teachat regarding smokey flavor in Chinese and Indian teas has made me wonder if this isn’t a processing issue, when charcoal or wood smoke is used for drying and flavoring teas, by adding volatile esters (aromatic oil components from wood sap, for instance) to intensify inherent tea flavor.

    In Keemun and related Lapsang teas, tea masters have begun to use other flavors, tart fruit aromas (maybe fruitwoods for drying), for example, to smoothly augment aroma and flavor without the bite associated with softwoods, like pine pitch or softer coals. Their tea doesn’t have to be aged to soften that smokey, almost acrid bitterness, of freshly processed smoked Chinese teas.

    Typical Anhui subtype terrior may have subtle smoke-like attributes, but relatively few modern tea drinkers find these qualities desirable for everyday teas, other than as blender teas where they may add depth to a tea mixture.

    I think your description of the body and depth of this tea suggests that its a better quality, maybe aged as is typical of higher grade Keemun teas.

    If only tea retailers would provide us with a bit more information on the subtype and processing in their product description, they might find a dedicated following among tea sophisticates. A catchy product name is little more than window-dressing.

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