by Phil on July 25th, 2014
Canton Tea Club Week 95: Bai Lin Gong Fu
Our original plan for the Canton Tea Club was to send out 100 teas from all over the world and then decide where we would take it next. The weeks have passed amazingly quickly and on August 29th we will reach tea number 100. We have some interesting plans for the next stage of tea club, which we will share during August.
In the meantime, we thought it would be good to allow members of the Canton team to a select a tea that they particularly like, and to explain why. It’s also a chance to find out how each of us came to be involved in the company and a bit about what we do.
To introduce this theme, a bit about my own Canton story. My first contact with the company was over a very brief cup of tea in the Bristol office, when I met Jennifer and Edgar. At that stage there wasn’t any prospect of us doing anything together, but I remember being struck by Jennifer’s enthusiasm and drive, and Edgar infusing some outstanding Puerh in quite a serious way. That probably gave a good window into Canton – a particular way of doing things, committed but not obsessive, serious but relaxed, a fascination with China, an energy to spread the word, and above all open and friendly. I remember thinking even then that they would be a great company to work with. Fast forward to April 2013 and we are visiting Yunnan together, which is when I first met Ali. It was her first tea trip, and talk about going in at the deep end. Yunnan is a tough place to visit, with few amenities: I wondered how it would work out but she took it all in her stride. ‘Respect due’, to quote Stouffer the Cat.
And so to this week’s featured tea, Bai Lin Gong Fu. My contribution to the story comes from the visit with Jennifer and Ali last year. We were in Fu’an looking at flowering teas, and during this process were shown some black tea varieties. We saw Golden Monkey, we saw Tang Yang Gong Fu, but Jennifer wanted to see a special Bai Lin Gong Fu. She was looking for something to match the tea she had found in 2012, but nothing quite met that high mark – it was like a cloth merchant bringing out his finest silks, only to be sent away each time to find something a bit better. Jennifer of course was a model of politeness, firm but gentle, but very determined. We didn’t find anything quite good enough and left empty-handed. That in itself reveals something of the Canton philosophy.
Over to Ali, for a bit of her own story and why she chose this particular tea.
ALI: I arrived at Canton two years ago fresh out of university; having decided I wanted to pursue the obscure career of ‘tea buyer’, I really had no idea where to start and neither did anyone else (they all thought I was mad). Luckily one of the best tea companies in the world was just down the road from my university, so I persuaded them to give me an internship and over the course of three months I pestered them enough to give me a real job. Two years on I’m the buyer here at Canton and am lucky enough to have a job that I am really passionate about.
Originally I chose Da Hong Pao as the tea I wanted to feature this week; however, I changed my mind last minute and switched to Bai Lin Gong Fu because I have been reading up a bit on the history of black tea. To cut a very long story short, until relatively recently black tea didn’t exist. It first appeared during the Qing Dynasty in Fujian Province, China. These Min Hongs (Fujian blacks) were not particularly popular in China (to this day, the Chinese drink only a very small amount of black tea compared to greens or oolongs) but the Europeans, the Brits in particular loved them and this really kick started the British love affair with tea. Soon enough other provinces began to produce black tea, not only main tea for export, but it also had the added benefit of being easy to make and farmers could use the older leaves that they couldn’t use to make greens or oolongs. After the British took tea to India black tea production slowed down in China, but recently there has been a revival in artisan black teas, Jin Jun Mei for example is now one of the most highly prized teas in China. But Fujian Min Hongs were the first and Bai Lin Gong Fu is one of the best known of the Fujian Blacks. Hundreds of years ago that first black tea that the English tasted would have been very much like the Bai Lin Gong Fu you are tasting now, which is pretty cool if you ask me!