White2Tea, Featured Vendor

The vendor profile for White2Tea is a part of our Pu’erh Tea Vendor Series, covering a number of Pu’erh-centric vendors that sell to the west. This interview was conducted with TwoDog of White2Tea.

White2Tea is the prototypical curated vendor. It is run by tea blogger turned vendor (TwoDog), who sells a relatively small but diverse selection of predominately small brands and white labels, a stark contrast with the huge, warehouse-like selection of Yunnan Sourcing, Cha Wang Shop, and ebay vendors. Despite being inherently smaller, White2Tea’s selection covers an impressive range of teas including various ages, areas and storages (both wet and dry). The price range also caters towards different consumers, some teas geared towards beginners and others to experts. Cakes range from $12/beeng to $1,000/beeng.

Raw Leaves, White Whale. Source: White2Tea.

Raw Leaves, White Whale. Source: White2Tea.

White2Tea is based in China’s capital Beijing and the home of one of China’s largest tea markets (Maliandao). TwoDog travels to Yunnan seasonally for sourcing, producing, and pressing pu’erh. He is also highly active in the community on reddit and writes a separate blog about tea, apart from White2Tea.

White2Tea has recently launched a tea of the month program and 2014 Autumn Tea.

Last Thoughts

2014 Last Thoughts Raw Pu’erh. Source: White2Tea.

ABOUT WHITE2TEA

How did you get your start into tea? How about as a vendor?

I began drinking tea in 2004, a year before I came to China. I bought some low grade oolong teas at a local Asian grocery store in Texas. I would put about 20 grams of tea into a yellow Dickey’s Barbeque pit 32oz. plastic cup and steep it with boiling water. It was fuel for my World of Warcraft playing. Brewing those trash oolongs in a plastic cup, it is a miracle I am even alive.

I moved to China in 2005, which was also the first time I went to Yunnan and my first exposure to pu’erh tea. From there, I slowly spiraled out of control and became a pu’erh tea junkie.

After a couple years of drinking beginner level pu’erh I started seeking out better and better teas. I saw a disconnect between what was available in the market and what I wanted to drink. At some point I was buying so much tea and getting deeper and deeper into pu’erh, so I felt the need to turn my passion into vehicle to share better tea with other people like me.

You have some of the most creative names for your pu’erh cakes. Many of them are named after albums, others are inside-references reputation as a deal hunter (White Whale). How do you pair a tea to a name? Is there a method to the madness?

Tea is deeply personal. The things that have touched my life, like albums or video games or song lyrics; naming my teas after them seemed like a way I could pay homage to artists in other mediums with a medium that I understand. Other times the tea names are just playful. With teas like the White Whale it was a joking nod to Hobbes’ blog, saying, “Look, Hobbes! I got one!”

With other teas like New Amerykah, Erykah Badu’s work has always been meaningful to me. The wrapper’s cover is a character, Gogo from a Super Nintendo Final Fantasy game that I was enthralled with as a kid. There is something about the songs on that album, this obtuse character, and the idea of a New America, which tied something together for me about that tea. Or maybe it is just my way to nod in the direction of the art that other people have created.

Editor’s Note: Hobbes has referred to TwoDog as the Captain Ahab of hunting tea bargains.

Named Cakes

White Whale (Moby Dick), Repave (Volcano Choir), New Amerykah (Erykah Badu). Source: White2Tea.

CURATING & SOURCING TEA

Many pu’erh vendors, like Yunnan Sourcing, Cha Wang Shop, and many of the ebay stores have an overwhelmingly large selection. White2Tea’s selection is a fraction of the size, yet still manages to cover a diverse range of teas (i.e. factory tea, gushu, cheap ripe, aged ripe, dry-stored raw, traditionally-stored raw, etc.). What is your philosophy as a curator? Are balance and diversity things you strive for when choosing teas to offer?

My philosophy as a curator is to offer what I always wanted when I was wandering tea markets in Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing. I would often mutter, why is their so much shit tea here?! Sometimes I would only have a day in a market and had a limited amount of time to drink teas. It is easy to wander a tea market, try 10 different teas, and not find anything worthwhile.

The fact of the matter is that most tea is average to below average quality. When I started White2Tea I wanted to curate focused on quality and value. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of buying tea. I still have shelves full of trash tea that I bought when I was learning. I hope other people can avoid that and just skip to decent stuff.

20 years ago people never really consumed young raw pu’erh. Now there’s an increasing demand for raw pu’erh to be consumed immediately. Some people seem to want drink-now pu’erh, while others are more focused on a pu’erh’s aging potential (many also want both!). When you are sourcing mao cha and pressing pu’erh, how do you balance these two desires? Do some of your cakes cater towards one end of the spectrum vs. the other?

This gets pretty far into personal preference, but I think that certain regions lend themselves to aging better than others. Similarly, some teas are best consumed now, or at mid-age. Wine drinkers get this. You will often see a vintage with a peak time recommendation. Certain wines are best opened at 15 years, some at 30 years. It behooves most people to drink what they like and store enough (see: two tongs plus) for the future.

When I am making teas I always consider aging, but there are teas that I press that I think should be consumed by year ten (i.e. my new cake Apple Scruffs). Then there are other teas that you can give to your grandkids.

Yunnan Autumn 2014. Source: TwoDogTeaBlog.

Yunnan Autumn 2014. Source: TwoDogTeaBlog.

There’s alot of propaganda in the pu’erh world.  It is often difficult to separate marketing speak from actual truths. One aspect that sometimes gets demonized (in new school pu’erh) are blends (especially those that combine multiple regions). White2Tea has pressed a couple blends, notably the Giant Steps/Amerykah series. In your opinion, is blending a good use for mao cha (high-end or low-end)?

The current market trend towards single region seems silly to me. What about all those teas that are so sought after from the 70s , 80s, and 90s? Are any of them single mountain? Most of the respected teas from past years are blends. Blending gives depth. There is clarity from single region (or even tree), but for aging purposes, I still think blends are the more interesting. In the end this is a personal preference thing. Many, many people would take issue with the above statement.

If I had my way, I would be blending experimental stuff like old arbor Laobanzhang and Guafengzhai, but I have yet to get a letter from the wealthy dowager who wants to invest in it.  If she reads this, hit me up.

Editor’s Note: Laobanzhang and Guafengzhai are two of the most high-profile regions and are usually sold as being “pure”.

What do you look at when determining what the best use for mao cha is?

Drinking fresh maocha is a skill in itself, as it is very different from tea that is even a few months old, but here are my basic criteria: Base material quality (how big and healthy are the trees, surroundings, and environment), good processing (correct roasting levels), stamina (how many brews can you get out of the leaf) and there are a laundry list of other visual cues regarding the coloration, size, sheen, rolling, clarity of the soup, and other factors. There are a few people who could write books about this, but none of them would.

Pu'erh Processing

Pu’erh Processing. Source: White2tea.

ORDERING FROM WHITE2TEA

If someone had $80 to spend (excluding shipping) on their first pu’erh order from White2Tea. What recommendations would you give them?

I’d tell them to buy samples of several cakes to see what they like. Get a couple of aged cakes, one dry and one wet. Get a newer old arbor sample. Get a plantation sample. And probably a shu or two. Maybe a Rougui oolong to drink in between pu’erhs.

Any specific advice you would give this friend?

If you find a tea that you really like, buy two tongs. Good puer teas doesn’t wait for anyone. There are a few teas from years back that I still kick myself over. I didn’t spend the $200 it cost for a few tongs. Now those tongs cost $2000. What did I use that $200 on? Probably nothing. I should have hit it. Note to all you young people out there. If you are in your 20s and like Puer, skip a night at the bars and buy some cakes. Your 50 year old self with thank you for the good tea and the lack of liver damage.

Further reading: How to Buy Pu’erh: Three Tenets.

2014 Manzhuan, 1997 7582, 2011 Dayi Wuzidengke, Rou Gui

2014 Manzhuan, 1997 7582, 2011 Dayi Wuzidengke, Rou Gui. Source: White2Tea.

MISCELLANEOUS

On the TwoDog Tea blog you wrote a post on the thorny topic of storage recommending a middle-of-the-road sort of approach. Beijing and the west have a reputation for being both cold and dry (as far as storage is concerned). Do you add any humidity, seasonally or otherwise, to the pu’erh sold on White2Tea?

Absolutely. I keep our storage room humidified beyond what Beijing natural storage is because Beijing is too dry. It’s actually very hot in Beijing during the summer, but far too dry for my taste. Teas that I have extra stock of I keep in South China (more humid), especially if I am not planning to sell them immediately.

One last caveat, this is all personal preference. Some people I know in Beijing hate anything stored in even remote humidity. People near Guangdong despise dry storage. And then there are people who drink anything and everything, like me. Storage is just a means to different outcomes, like choosing how to prepare a potato.

The pu’erh world and marketplace have been incredibly dynamic in the last 20 years. You’ve compellingly written about what you think the market might do (notably drawing a distinction between the markets of plantation and gushu). Any bold predictions of what the future pu’erh world might look like?

This is one of those questions where I should avoid going on the record, so that people won’t blame me if I steer them wrong, but to hell with that.

High quality gushu pu’erh will become increasingly difficult to find and the price will not drop much for famous mountains. In all likelihood it will continue to rise do to low supply and high demand.

Gushu teas will continue to be faked and misrepresented by many, see above.

Genuine teas circa 2000 will become increasingly scarce and people will pine for the days when a cake of good 90’s tea cost under $1000.  This is already happening now.

Plantation teas will probably drop in price whenever the Chinese or global economy falters. Especially lower quality teas or teas that are mass-produced with little regard for quality.

The pu’erh community in other countries will have a lot of growth. I get a lot of emails from young kids starting tea clubs at high schools. New tea bloggers are everywhere. I see a new post of “I want to try pu’erh tea” every week in forums. I just met a group of 16-20 year old guys in Slovakia who started a group to meet and drink Puer. This thing is just getting started. Pu’erh is a tea that people fall deeply and madly in love with. There are a ton of potential pu’erh drinkers out there in the world. They just haven’t been on their first date yet.

Yunnan

Source: TwoDogTeaBlog.

This entry was posted in Aged Pu'erh, Article, Long-form Article, Raw Pu'erh, Ripe Pu'erh, Tea Learning and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to White2Tea, Featured Vendor

  1. shah8 says:

    One quick note:
    Outfits like Diancha and Sanhetang are already totally about the blending as far as top new tea is concerned. Where once, in 2006 and 2007, blends were about the lower end tea (not for all the premium brands, ChenGuangHeTang’s not-quite-top-tier were blends back then), with occassional efforts like http://www.houdeasianart.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=27&products_id=1306 . Of course, you will find in various reviews, that this blend of LBZ and Yiwu is highly erratic in performance.

    Of course, there is blending, and then there is *blending*. There’s blending in terms of leaf grade, mixing different sizes of leaves in a certain proportion. There’s blending in terms of seasons, where people will mix spring, summer, and fall–most of the time to cut the expense of craft, but some will blend for taste and feel. There’s also blending in the sense that before about 2008-2010, most Yiwu was something of a blend of various villages, and Yiwu is big enough where that matters. Lastly, most “pure old tree” product that aren’t extremely exclusive should probably be assumed to be a blend with cheaper leaves slotted in. Of course, now with every bit of ancient grove that’s any good exploited to the max, it’s harder to do that today, than it was in 2006.

    • James says:

      Hi shah8,

      Thanks for the comment. Very informative!

      Cheers!
      -James

    • Pedro (Puyuan) says:

      Shah is pinpoint accurate in all acounts. Both Diancha and particularly Sanhetang 2014 are of note due to the superb, and ridiculously expensive, base material used in their blended cakes. I would just like to point out that mr. Huang at Jingmeitang has been doing that for a long time… with incredible virtuosity (reproducing specific xiaguan cakes with gushu material from several areas and several leaf grades etc.)

  2. Peter says:

    Great interview with “the man”! TwoDog is possibly the nicest, friendliest, kindest, most gracious vendor that I have ever dealt with. Thanks!

  3. Doug says:

    And the Repave is back in stock now. That was one that got away for me. I loved the sample but the cake was out of stock by the time I was ready to make a decision. I picked up a tong today (my first).

    • James says:

      Hi Doug,

      Congrats on the tong! That is a fine tea and if it goes as fast as some of White2Tea’s other teas there won’t be anymore left soon.

      Cheers!
      -James

  4. Paul says:

    “Storage is just a means to different outcomes, like choosing how to prepare a potato.” — That’s really great.

    • James says:

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for the comment! I’m reminded me of the analogy that Zhang Jinghong draws in her book on pu’erh of cooked and raw pu’erh being cooked or raw food. The storage is simply the method in which it is cooked.

      Cheers!
      -James

  5. Richard F. says:

    James,
    You kind of lost me with the comment “20 years ago people never really consumed young raw pu’erh.” In Zhang’s book, didn’t it take the outsiders from Taiwan to create the awareness of puer’s aging potential?

    Oh and I can’t forget to comment also that TwoDog/W2T rocks!

    Richard

    • James says:

      Hi Richard,

      Great point! Made me think for a hot second.

      Pu’erh has historically been an export so it was not consumed in the majority of Yunnan. The areas where it was exported would mainly store it for later. In the case of the farmers.. Zhang gives the impression in her book that most of the farmers in Yiwu had only began farming when the Taiwanese presence returned in the 1990s and pu’erh as an industry began to grow and boom. The Taiwanese businessmen were instrumental in this.

      I’m less certain about farmers elsewhere in Yunnan where production was going pre-1990s. I’m not sure whether they were consumers of young pu’erh tea but they certainly may’ve been.

      Overall, I guess my point is that the majority of pu’erh was either ripened for more immediate consumption or set aside for aging. Hope this clarifies a bit.

      Cheers!
      -James

      • Richard F. says:

        James,
        Thanks again for the clarification, good stuff as always. I’m mid-way through the book now and this new vs. old sheng thing was kind of a grey area for me.

        Guess I’m just one of the “new schoolers” who enjoy those punches to the face!

        Richard

  6. Jaime says:

    Hi guys,
    I really like Reading these featured vendor interviews.
    I have noticed western vendors tend to make 200g. cake while chinese press 350g. cake. is there any specific reason?
    Thanks

    • Pedro Ferrari says:

      Everyone and their grandmas, chinese, taiwanese and westerner alike, have been pressing 200g cakes starting this year, due to the high maocha prices for gushu. But the standard size historically has been 357g and most cakes still are pressed as such.

    • James says:

      Hi Jaime,

      Thanks for reading and the kind words! Pedro is spot-on with his comment. It seems as if there is an upper cap on the price people are willing to pay for a cake. Given maocha prices it makes sense to decrease the tea quantity in their cakes.

      Cheers!
      -James

  7. Peter says:

    Here is another interview with the proprietor of W2T:

    http://half-dipper.blogspot.ca/2014/11/an-interview.html

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