Smoke & Flowers

The sun's warmth is shaded today by a haze, turning the sky into a watercolour of rose-yellow and diluted blue. I have been craving rich black tea all winter—malty, pungent, and earthy—but now seems the perfect time to sample two black teas, Fengqing Dian Hong & Qimen Maofeng. Visitors to our former teahouse may well recognise the first, as it is hard to forget once having encountered it in-person, but this Qimen is a brand-new offering, and neither have been previously available online. (To read about the process of sourcing one of our previous Qimens, take a look at this blog post)

While somewhat well-known in the west as Keemun, the lower-grade basis for many 'English breakfast' blends, these fine, wiry leaves with the propensity to entangle and clump are something else: many quality Qimen Hong Cha these days are baked in the oven for a clean, floral flavour, but these have been dried over charcoal according to the traditional method, lending them a rich, full aroma which is immediately apparent. As the leaves swell with hot water, they can release a quite delicate brew, toasty with notes of cacao or peanut and slightly floral, but can equally be steeped longer or more concentrated for a full and malty flavour, in which its absorbed smokiness comes to bear, with undertones of red fruit like raspberry.

Qimen Hong Cha  Water for the first steep is poured; the author's bedside reading in the background

Qimen all a-tangle in a gaiwan which rather reflects the bluer patches of sky. Though the leaves seem no wider than a needle, they plump up and reveal their fleshiness upon reconstitution.


The Fengqing Dian Hong is something of a different, but similarly rich, story: those familiar with Dian Hong and other black teas from Yunnan may be surprised, upon opening its jar or packet, to be assaulted not by a profusion of golden hairs, as is a common feature in this category, but by a heady bouquet rare in black tea: roses and red fruit. The large, wavy leaves are the colour of charcoal and appear interchangeable with much other black or dark oolong tea; just their light purple shades are unique as is their unmistakable scent. Make no mistake, though, these leaves have not been scented, but are the result of the combination of a particular cultivar—different to those classically used for Dian Hong—and processing technique. Infusing them results in a liquor that tastes much as it smells, heady and extremely floral, with the perfect touch of tannins.

Pouring the first steep into the Cha Bei, or 'fairness pitcher'  Green tea sablés with Fengqing Dian Hong in the background

Pouring out the last infusion as twilight rolls in; though unconventional in several senses, I rather enjoy these matcha sablés, or shortbreads.

I had just baked some green-tea-flavoured shortbreads to use up some matcha past its prime, and I couldn't resist immediately pouring myself a round of Fengqing to accompany them; the subtle pungency and sublime florality perfectly complemented the verdant earthiness and butter of the cookies. As an incurable Naschkatze (German for having a sweet tooth, literally ‘nibble cat’), I cannot resist making a delightful teatime out of such combinations.

And after all, the rose-yellow sky with a gauzy haze like smoke simply demanded a corresponding cuppa'.


Written by Dimitri