I have not encountered very many black teas that were suitable for brewing using the gongfu method, but as the name would suggest, Canton Tea Co’s Bai Ling Gong Fu is one of them. It is quite a marvelous tea, with a rich, velvet-like character much smoother than most black teas, even Yunnan Gold (Dian Hong) teas, which are notoriously quite smooth.
Bai Ling Gong Fu, grown on Tai Mu Mountain in Fujian Province, is one of only two black teas that Canton Tea Co carries. I interpret this as an indication that they consider it rather special, knowing that it can hold its own alongside their oolong teas, which are generally expected to exhibit a greater degree of subtlety and refinement than any black tea.
Canton Tea Co’s description:
“This soft red tea is made from only tender buds, which are shaped into tight and elegant strips. The leaves have fine orangy-yellow hairs hence its nickname – Ju Hong (clementine red). The ‘Hao Xiang’ (bud’s aroma) is fresh and sweet with a hint of creamy caramel and the liquor is golden red with a smooth texture and a long, soft, mellow aftertaste.”
Note: in China, the fully oxidized teas we call “black” are more commonly called “red” (hong).
One thing notable about the dry leaf of Bai Ling Gong Fu is that it has long, slender and very curled leaves with brilliant golden highlights and it has a fine layer of light brown dust on the leaves. This dust left a fine residue in the strainer as the tea was poured through it each time. The dry leaf had a nice sweet scent, promising a nice liquor.
As I anticipated, based on the look and scent of the dry leaf, the brewed tea had a wonderfully complex flavor. The taste varied quite a bit across the four infusions. At times I found it reminiscent of wood charcoal and creme brulee, and, most prominently, orange peel and burnt sugar. This dark, bity richness was quite wonderful alongside the tea’s interesting slick, coating mouthfeel.
While I imagine that this tea would still be good if brewed with a method other than gongfu cha, I do not think that it would display its best qualities. I suspect that a lot of the tea’s finer character would be undetectable if it were made in a large teapot, typical black-tea style. Overall, drinking it was quite a nice experience each time, and in addition to the pleasurable taste of the tea, it’s quite a gorgeous shade of brilliant orange.