This is the first white2tea production I’ve ever tried. Before we proceed, it should be noted that I may be an extremely biased reviewer and you may want to disregard everything I have to say about this tea or any other white2tea production. To explain my weird relationship with this company, I may not know very much about them apart from that Paul who runs it started out as a blogger and that their teas are extremely well regarded by many people in the Western online tea community based on information I’ve passively accumulated browsing the web, but browsing their site, looking at the names and artwork for their cakes and the vague product descriptions paired with often frankly quite ridiculous prices, I can’t help but get a sense of a pretentious hipster label. Yes, there are a lot of buzzwords being thrown around by vendors when it comes to pu’er and ultimately none of those things matter because what it all boils down to is whether you like the tea or not. But informed tea drinkers do want to know certain things about the material they are buying, especially if they are paying a lot of money for it. People want to be able to try to gauge how the tea might age and they’d also like to be able to compare the cost of the tea to the base cost of similar material. And if they like the tea they’d like to possibly seek out similar material from the same region and so forth to see if it shares any similar characteristics. I can agree with white2tea’s philosophy of letting the tea speak for itself on paper, but they lost any right to make such statements after releasing a product like The Treachery of Story Telling that costs an absolutely absurd amount of money, features no product description whatsoever and they sell no samples for.
Another reason why I’ve been avoiding their products up till now is because I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to tea and while I appreciate people like Glen from Crimson Lotus Tea who create blends and consider tea their art, I don’t mind experiencing the flaws and imperfections of single origin material, and what white2tea offers is exactly that, blends. To use an analogy, while I love music but don’t listen to that much classical apart from modern classical and minimalism in particular, when I do listen to classical, what I very much want to hear is music recorded live in the studio or live in concert, none of that modern over-producer, over-edited crap that is all too prevalent nowadays. You’d be shocked if you saw what the Pro Tools sessions for a modern digital classical recording look like and how many edits there can be in just a single track. To continue the music analogy, those audiophiles who understand the breathtaking beauty that well recorded analog recordings can offer know that “hiss is your friend”. A little tape hiss never killed anyone, and as long as we are talking about hiss that’s within reasonable bounds, making hiss part of the discussion about sound quality is just nonsense. In tea, I think one could liken noise to bitterness and astringency perhaps to digital clipping. As long as bitterness is within tolerable levers (too much of anything in life is a bad thing), it is not an issue and can enhance the experience and even be very pleasurable and desired. Astringency, like digital clipping, is generally not desired or found pleasant. Some amount of astringency can be okay and digital clipping can be used creatively to create a certain sound, but when digital clipping is introduced as a product of trying to simply make the record sound louder, most people find it unpleasant and undesirable. Of course from a young sheng a certain amount of bitterness or astringency is expected and generally desired to give assurance of its ageing potential. Anyway, to get off this tangent, while I acknowledge that blended teas may be better than the sum of their parts, I, while a perfectionist of sorts when it comes to certain things, don’t mind imperfections, in fact I welcome them. Imperfection is in itself perfection. There’s nothing more boring than perfection. It is the pursuit of perfection that drives and motivates us, but I don’t think we’d actually ever want to attain it.
By now you have hopefully gathered that my extreme distaste for white2tea without ever having tasted any of their teas is part rational, part irrational, or perhaps just purely irrational. In any event, up till now I’ve avoided handing over any of my money to white2tea even though I’ve been curious to try out their products, but in the end I ended up ordering a couple of samples from different price points. Originally I’d planned to taste these teas blind and have a person pick teas for me at random from various pu’er samples from different vendors to remove any biases I may have, but right now I’m doing a small experiment to see how much (or little) letting a pu’er sample chill out and hydrate in your pumidor impacts the tea. I may still do the blind test for the other samples, unless I deem it too much hassle, we’ll see. Regardless, this tea was drunk the same day I received the sample, so that along with my potential bias may affect my findings. I will be having another session once the sample has spent some time in my pumidor and if the results differ notably from these initial ones I will do a follow-up review.
To finally get to my actual tasting notes, I brewed around 8.4g of this tea in a 140ml gaiwan. The sample I received was prepared exemplarily, consisting of really nice looking large intact leaves and a few larger chunks. No dust, no debris. I don’t know how they detached so many so nice looking leaves from the cake. I got hardly any smell trying to sniff the sample bag, but once in the preheated gaiwan my nose was greeted by the scent of… cotton candy? Maybe. I’ve seen the words cotton candy floating around in the list of flavor notes for some young pu’er teas recently and that was actually on my mind right when I sniffed the leaves so I may have been influenced by that. I haven’t actually had cotton candy in a decade or more so I can’t really say I can recall off the top of my head how it smells like. After a 10s rinse the smell of the wet leaves was green, darkish and buttery. Pretty typical for some young raws. Since this was such an expensive tea, I did drink the rinse. It was extremely light, but had a nice body, which is not that unusual for a lot of teas if you rinse them with a relatively small amount of water like I did. The taste that I could discern was sweet, buttery, with a finish that was… maybe fruity would be a more conventional way of putting it, but I’d describe it as kind of perfumey. I don’t want to use the word artificial, but it had this “unnatural” quality to it, like it consisted of an impossible combination of flavor notes. The finish turned mineral after some time passed. After it died down, there wasn’t really any kind of lasting aftertaste. I can’t really say if the rinse had any effect on me, but if it did, I’d probably describe it as calming/grounding.
I carried on with the brewing after giving the leaves a 10 minute rest. I did a total of nine more steeps, for 7s, 7s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s and 2 min. The first proper infusion had a nice milky/juicy body. It was still very, very light in flavor. Despite my extreme preconceived biases, I actually secretly had really, really high expectations for this tea and I expected it to blow me away. This was evident when I thought I could feel cha qi from just the first sip, before I’d even swallowed the tea. I assume all of that was just pure placebo. After this I never felt any cha qi over the course of the entire sessions (spoiler). The flavor wasn’t exactly like water, but water is the closest thing I can think of to describe it. I couldn’t really discern if it was mineraly, perfumey, astringent or what. The finish was sort of unpleasant, but in like the mildest way possible. Again I happened to pay attention to how the finish dies rather quickly and leaves your palate relatively clean without any sort of real aftertaste. At this point I drew the conclusion this is probably a tea you don’t drink for taste. I was basing this on expectancy of plenty of body and cha qi. Things didn’t quite turn out that way (spoilers).
After doing the second steep, I noticed a leaf with clear black spots/burn marks on it in the gaiwan. This wasn’t anything like the scorching you can see in tea leaves that have been hit with boiling water over and over again over the course of a session in the form of mild discoloration, etc. I can only assume the black marks are from the wok. I’ve heard you can get burnt leaves if the frying isn’t done correctly, but I’ve never actually seen it myself before. If the spots are indeed from the pan frying, I find that a very big no-no for material that otherwise looks quite nice and is being asked such a steep price for.
The second infusion itself lacked any real flavor initially. The first thing it reminded me of was fat-free milk, but the milkiness went away with time. There was an underlying young greenness and astringency, but both were very faint. There was also a mineral character. The body was lighter now, which even though the tea was still probably thicker than some other teas was kinda disappointing after the last “two” steeps. Even though the flavors weren’t strong, I wasn’t enjoying the tea very much. The very last gulp had a very rocky taste to it, literally like licking a rock. That was a first one for me. Although the tea left some stuff residing in the mouth, there was once again no real lasting aftertaste to the tea.
After the third steeping the leaves were finally starting to open up. I noted that the material does look rather good, healthy is the word I would use. Sadly the body of the soup was even lighter now, not too far from water. D: The flavor wasn’t too far off from water either. It wasn’t really super mineraly anymore. There was a very, very lightly green aspect to it, but overall the tea stayed impressively neutral in flavor, like it was trying its damnedest to be Switzerland and not taste like anything, not even water. I could see someone calling the flavor a super, super, super light white chocolate if you ignore the slight green tinge. The taste was soft and the astringency was kept surprisingly well under control for now. Since it had become a habit by this point, I noted that there was once again no aftertaste, the taste just dies down like soft drinks for example are designed to do to keep you drinking them. This tea was no battery acid like some young shengs can be for your stomach, but I noted it starting to affect me somewhat, although I hadn’t actually eaten anything so it could have also been my growing hunger.
As I continued steeping, I noted that the leaves look kinda weird color-wise. I’m not sure if it has to do with the tea being blended. The appearance reminds me of the dry leaf for Oriental Beauty. The fourth steep hit me with a ton of astringency. It was almost more like a flavor than the typical physical sensation you get. The mouth-pucker was actually kept relatively minimal. The tea had perhaps a mineral finish. Albeit I didn’t particularly enjoy it, the tea wasn’t as unpleasant as you might think. Over time the tea became dominantly more mineraly – unfortunately the bad kind – replacing the astringent taste. Once again no aftertaste.
The leaves started looking just about fully open after the fifth steep. I will say again that if nothing else the leaves do look rather pretty, even if different than what I’m used to. The tea was still extremely light. Thankfully it did not have the same astringency from before. It had perhaps a very, very light front vegetal sweetness to it. It tasted greener, more vegetal than before, even though the flavors were still faint. The greenness started to resemble for the first time the typical bad young sheng greenness I don’t enjoy, although it was still lighter than in other teas. At the end of my cup, I could feel some slight pucker on my tongue.
I was scared to lengthen the steeping time for the sixth infusion, but what really surprised me was to find that the flavors had tapered off severely despite me doing that. The tea was mineraly again. You really had to look for the vegetal character to maybe catch a glimpse of it if you were lucky. The tea was starting to taste a bit nasty to me, although it was soft nasty. There was more pucker now after finishing my cup like I’d expected, but the sensation wasn’t as uncomfortable as with other teas.
I didn’t really want to keep drinking the tea, but I went on anyway. Somewhat ironically, I think the flavors were genuinely really strong and bold for the first time in the seventh steep. I’m not sure if the taste was a weird mixture between mineral and vegetal or what. I don’t know why, but I found the taste less enjoyable than the “too young, too green” taste I’ve encountered in so many other young raws. The following eighth steep was equally bold in flavor, flavor that was that epitome young sheng green astringent bad green tea taste. It did have a softer edge to it than other teas though.
In an effort to try to do as many steeps as I could, I did do one final ninth infusion and I was punished gravely for it. The tea was really damn nasty from the moment it hit my tongue and I for the life of me could not finish my cup. It’s not typical for me to toss a cup even if it’s not very enjoyable, but this one I simply could not bring myself to down. Even the half a cup that I did soldier down caused unpleasant prickling on my tongue. The tea was way beyond just simple bad green tea.
And there you have it. A bit of a longer review. If you made it through the whole thing, rant and all, then well done. You’re a real sport. Needless to say I did not enjoy this tea. I’m not sure if saying this is the worst raw pu’er I’ve ever had is going too far, but it’s not far off. One could say that it started off kind of decent, but I think it would be a bit too generous to say that it was genuinely interesting even at that point. As I was drinking this tea I started to ponder what my criteria are for rating a tea “Not Recommended” as that has not come up before, and whether it would be too extreme of me to rate this tea as such. After giving it some thought after the session though, taking into consideration that this is one of the most negative experiences I’ve had with pu’er and pairing that with the extremely high price point of this tea, I think there is actually nothing extreme about my conclusion. I half expect some pu’er connoisseurs to say I don’t know how to appreciate this tea, which could of course very well be true, but I fail to see how that would be the case when I found this tea mainly quite unpleasant to drink after the first few steeps. I got no qi, the body and texture were ultimately disappointing after the initial steeps, and the longevity was really disappointing as well, especially relative to the strength of flavor and the price of the material (bringing up the price again).
Now, it could very well be that this tea will improve dramatically in my pumidor as it hydrates a little. As stated earlier, I am going to session this tea again in a few weeks’ time and if the results differ dramatically I will report on that. It is possible that I will try to do the blind tasting arrangement for the other white2tea samples I have, but as fun as that would be, if I deem it too much hassle I may just end up reviewing the teas regularly. I’d like to be able to trust my own ability to ultimately review teas fairly.
Flavors: Astringent, Green, Mineral, Perfume, Vegetal