July 12, 2016

Bai Lin Congfu - Totem Tea and Joseph Wesley Tea

With my sweet tooth and love of chocolate, I have an affinity for teas with chocolate notes such as Bai Lin Congfu. The tea is named for the city of Bailin in which this style of tea originated. It is a Fujianese black tea prepared from Fuding Da Bai or Da Hao cultivars. I received several teas from Totem Tea including a Bai Lin. Fortunately I also had Bai Lin I had purchased from Joseph Wesley Tea. The two made for a delicious tandem tasting. Keep reading for my impressions.

This was not a professional cupping of two Bai Lin teas. I used two dissimilar vessels. One is a thick porcelain gaiwan with a 6 ounce capacity. The other is a thinner porcelain houhin. I used 150 mL (or 5 oz) of 195F water in both. The weight of dry leaves was approximately 4.5 grams. The Bai Lin teas looked very similar: reddish black and gold colored narrow, needle shaped, slightly curled leaves. I steeped the leaves four times, each time for 30 seconds. The fourth infusion yielded a ghostly version of each tea. I use JWT to refer to Joseph Wesley Tea and Totem as shorthand for Totem Tea.

Infusion #1

Totem: A light amber liquor yielded chocolate and malt smells with an aroma of milk chocolate. The infused leaves smelled like wood and chocolate. I think the maltiness I detected would be described by some as sweet potato or yam.

JWT: The liquor was a darker amber than the Totem with a deeper taste and dryer effect more like cocoa powder and grape must. The infused leaves smelled of chocolate and fruit.

Infusion #2

Totem: The liquor has a similar hue to infusion no. 1 with more expansive flavors of milk chocolate, malt, and honey. The liquor was dryer than in the first steep and lingered on the tongue. There was a floral quality which I could not identify but it might be of cherry blossoms. The company's tasting notes mention cherry.

JWT: Cocoa and a roasted grain sweetness were the dominant flavors in the liquor. The liquor was still dry and the fruit was definitely raisin.

About the infused leaves: The infused leaves were more intact and longer than those of the JWT tea. The Totem tea was steeped in the houhin which is wider and more shallow. The JWT tea was infused in the taiwan which is deeper and narrower. Also, I used the last of the tea in the JWT tea for this tasting.

Infusion #3

Totem: A much darker, dryer liquor of milk chocolate. Woody notes emerged and lingered on the back of the tongue.

JWT: The liquor was still dry and fruit forward but with fewer lingering tail notes.

Do I recommend one Bai Lin black tea over the other?

No, I don't. The Bai Lin Congfu from Joseph Wesley Tea has been a long time favorite. However, I enjoyed the Bai Lin Gong Fu from Totem Tea. The overall flavor profile of each of these Bai Lin blacks is different. The Totem Bai Lin has a mellower start. As it progresses, it is earthy, woody, and sweet. The JWT Bai Lin is immediately robust. It is sweet and fruit forward but balanced by alternating starchy and malty notes. The most enjoyable liquor from both teas was infusion no. 2.

Sources & Further Reading
Bai Lin Gong Fu [Totem]
Bai Lin Congfu [JWT]
Bailin Gongfu Black Tea – An Overview [Teavivre]
Bailin Gongfu Black Tea [Teavivre]
Bailin Gongfu [In Pursuit of Tea]
Taste, Texture and Aroma Part Two: Black Tea & the Savory Flavor Spectrum [Verdant Tea]

P.S. There are several ways to write this tea name: Bai Lin Gongfu, Bai Lin Gong Fu, Bailin Gongfu, and Bai Lin Congfu. I do not know the variant that is considered correct. I have used Bai Lin Congfu in the past so do so here for consistency.

P.P.S. I drank both samples of the Totem Tea Bai Lin Gong Fu without taking many photos. I was too busy drinking the tea.

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