Yesterday I got a message on Reddit from someone who knew I had experience in Huang Shan and was curious about Qimen. The sender was looking into Qimens and was wondering what he should be looking for. What's the Qimen flavor? Is there a good Qimen?
Little did he know that these were the exact questions I have been asking myself for a while. Qimens, for being such a well-recognized name， seems to be a tea that is surprisingly hard to define. While I haven't entirely found the answer I can share what I've reached so far.
The Qimen Flavor: There is a Qimen flavor. It's a flavor that is present in any half-decent Qimen. While you can use words to describe it such as rose and yams, those are merely fingers pointing to the moon. To be honest even in Huang Shan I've heard a few Qimen drinkers simply refer to it as "the Qimen flavor" which is honestly the best way to describe it. You might need to drink a few Qimens before you start to understand this flavor but I'll try to explain.
As I mentioned before rose and yams are the closest descriptive words I can use. Rose aroma is a common term to describe Qimens in Huang Shan. The aroma though is different from aromas found in other teas. The rose aroma in Qimens is deeper. It's more interwoven into the flavor of the tea and doesn't stand out as much as an oolong or green tea aroma.
Qimens are to me the mix between red tea and green tea. They have much of the red tea's flavor profile but there is a complexity and crispness to them that is very green tea. When these two aspects are in balance you are given an amazingly complex tea that is durable as red tea and can stand up to all types of brewing.
The Current Market: Qimen was made for export. Qimen has always produced green teas. During the end of the Qing Dynasty, the domestic tea market wasn't good and all the money was in export. What type of teas got exported? Red teas (black tea). Qimen makers took the making from Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong which at this point was being regularly produced and made their red tea. The thing is, Qimen was and still is part of green tea regions. A Qimen seller recently admitted to me that the average person from Qimen still mostly drinks green tea, Chao Qing to be specific. Qimen also still produces quite a bit of green Mao Feng. The point is, Qimen for a long time produced red tea for the sake of red tea, without a real focus on quality. It's only in recent years has there been a focus on quality. And while you can find more and more quality Qimens, in this drinker's opinion the market is still finding its way and trying to figure out what it wants to be.