; Cwyn's Death By Tea: 2016 Into the Mystic ;

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

2016 Into the Mystic

white2tea usually sends a sample with a purchase
I received a sample of 2016 “Into the Mystic” from white2tea this past spring when I purchased 2016 We Go High, a tea I wanted to buy and subsequently wrote about. Over the summer I completely forgot about this sample, until last week when I found it amongst some tea ware on a shelf. The bag held a couple of small chunks and a lot of loose leaf which had gone a bit dry and lost much of its odor. I emptied the bag into a gaiwan and wiped the inner lid with a damp paper towel and let the moisture work its way into the tea for a week. The tea woke up nicely and rewarded me with a floral and fruity nose.

With this tea, white2tea continues a literary theme of mysticism which points to an oft-asked question about tea, and puerh especially. That is, does tea enhance meditation or mystical experiences? For me, I distinguish meditation from contemplation. Meditation is an exercise of observing the self and the breath and any sensation as a practice toward deepening ones attention to anything that might arise in the sitting state. The goal is a stripping of one’s senses. We have neuro-image brain scans of Buddhist monks in a meditation state. Areas of the brain active during meditation are in the back right side of the brain, completely separate from the logical reasoning left hemisphere, and divorced from awareness of bodily sensation. The whole point is to move away from logic and reasoning and sensory experiences such as aesthetic appreciation.

Even before modern neuro-imaging, ancient mystics like John of the Cross in 16th century had already discovered that union with the divine lies well apart from physical sensation, and he emphasized strongly the dulling of the senses in his poem Dark Night of the Soul: “In darkness and concealment, my house is now at rest…with his gentle hand he wounded my neck and caused all my senses to be suspended.” John repeats the phrase “house at rest,” quite often, meaning he was free of emotional situations or other necessary activity. Our Buddhist brothers found much in common with Carmelite and Cistercian monks in the 20th century in sharing meditation practices. Widespread agreement exists among contemplative monks about the nature of meditation, and people interested in such practice seek out experienced teachers.

I think that between centuries of practice around the world, and today’s modern brain images, we have a fairly good idea of what a human mystical experience is not. The real thing is not about taking any substance to influence the senses, but rather the opposite experience of emptiness and sensory rest. This explains why the logical reasoning of science is in one part of the brain, and mystical experiences occur in a different part of the brain. Although one may be aware of the other, they do not cross (apparently Einstein’s intact brain is said the contain a greater than normal amount of connective brain tissue, leading a theory that he had more access than most people between pure experience and logical reasoning). Alas, so many people place all their marbles in only one type of human experience and debunk the other, and this is just missing out, in my opinion. I can only think of how much more a fly sees than I can see, and how much more a dog smells to know that my poor senses are nowhere near to perceiving true reality, inasmuch as we need to agree a table is a table simply to get by in the basic rubrics of living.

Contemplation, on the other hand, is a focused attention of the senses on some aspect of the holy, of nature or of an experience with the goal of uplifting the senses. Contemplation goes well beyond flavor notes of “this tastes like corn” into a deeper understanding of how things grow, cells and sunshine, human labor, life etc. We think beyond mere appearances to the nature of how things come to be, how a tea arrives at our door. For this I apply my reasoning to appreciate a greater whole, this is a higher order thinking skill indeed, but thinking is contemplation and not mystical experience, an exercise and work rather than a state of rest.

Tea is a beverage, so I feel aesthetics are the proper approach, because I want to experience all the sensory pleasures a tea offers. Instead of resting my senses, I fully engage with them. If some want to use the word contemplation, I might offer that contemplation is what follows after an aesthetic moment, when I think about the tastes and body sensations I have had, when I reflect on what is going on with a tea experience. This is why I cannot agree with the notion that tea is somehow divine, or part of the goddess etc., because I distinguish aesthetic pleasures of tea drinking from the thinking activity of contemplation, as well as from mystical experience which has nothing whatsoever to do with sensation or thinking. One can drink tea with aesthetic and sensory pleasure and this suffices, at least for me. In fact, I want to experience tea with the fullest sensory pleasure possible.

Thus I take the name and wrapper design chosen by white2tea as a literary notion rather than a statement about the tea. While indeed the tea may convey various bodily sensations, and it does, and perhaps give me enough of a tea “high” to feel a pseudo moment of mystical indwelling, all this is sheer folly, or more positively, an aesthetic pleasure. I am not fooled that a tea high equals mystical experience, because a substance has acted upon me and my senses are engaged rather than at rest. Of course, I cannot speak for TwoDog, but he is a trained artist and works with various themes in blending and naming his teas, so at minimum I take the name of this tea in a literary manner rather than as a fact about the tea itself.

I brewed 11g of tea in just under 120g of water, but
used a larger pot to allow for expansion.
The beeng is stone-pressed, a format that white2tea appears to be getting away from lately in favor of heavier machine pressing. I went heavy with 11g in about 120 ml of water boiled in a clay kettle. Based on the wet leaf smell, I detect a blend of both southern and northern teas. The description in the catalogue is an “out there blend,” and this is fairly obvious. I notice bud fuzz in the first cup and the brew is very oily thick and grape-y smelling, surely they wouldn’t add in camellia taliensis…would they? Surely not.

Second steeping on a sunny Sunday.
My bamboo tea tables are all cracked,
hence the cutting board.
This thought brings up a sort of puerh collector paranoia about white2tea that enough of us are having these days, so I might as well just say it. I think the lack of description about the provenance of the tea leaves made a fine statement about the puerh market two years ago, and yes, we get it that the market is all lies. But nowadays, alas, the lack of information on white2tea’s puerh cakes really works against the teas rather than for them. The notion of trusting the vendor has limits, and while I do trust this vendor, any creeping in of doubt is not the fault of the customer. Even I am having a more difficult time than ever selecting a tea from the catalog, because I cannot tell if I am getting something similar to what I already own or a unique experience. Every year we find more places to spend tea dollars and let us face it, those teas with more information are more likely to get the money if any doubt creeps in. We need a bit more information, especially when collections grow larger and tea vendors have more and more choices with little to distinguish between them.

This is really why I did not buy 2016 Into the Mystic blind, and also why so many of us are sitting around waiting for somebody else to try the 2017 offerings before spending a lot of money with this vendor. We have to wait for “word of mouth,” and even the bloggers seem to be waiting lately. The only real way to know what you might get from white2tea is by making tea friends with more money to spend who buy the cakes or samples and they can hopefully tell you what they think. I am not ashamed to say white2tea is one of the best blenders with the finest leaf quality I can buy, and one of my favorite places to browse and shop. But it is getting tougher for me to figure out what to buy from one of my favorite vendors. An upside is the teas are usually better a year later, such as this tea probably is, so I can save up.  

A thick porcelain teapot holds heat well
and does not cost a fortune.
Celadon teapot by camelliasinensis.com
About 36 USD
I hear the naysayers though, and I am truly not among them. I think to appreciate the best factory teas, a puerh collector needs to try better leaf and better processing and white2tea is all about the aesthetics of the leaf. “Into the Mystic” is definitely a literary statement about leaf aesthetics. This tea is as cleanly processed as you can possibly find, an interesting blend spanning the whole of Yunnan province. The tea has a heavy body feel, and best not to have any other caffeine in your system when you drink this, for the tea is very strong. I appreciate the florals but also the tea’s bitterness, powerful stuff, no insipid watery third rate leaf. You need a strong constitution not merely because of the bitterness. The whole of the tea is equal to an effect of moonshine on the body. I am certain I can put this tea into my car’s gas tank and it would run.

My first steeping has some notes of oatmeal cookie, then subsequent steepings are fruity and floral with darker apricot notes, the blend of regions is hard to miss. This cake is likely to age the florals first, and fade these while the bitter leaves turn over a longer period to sweetness. I am tea stoned on the fourth steeping and walked off to try and find my cat outside, and left the tea in the teapot, my brain is gone.

Over an hour later as I am typing all this I still feel it. I notice a bit of sour aftertaste that I think is my fault for allowing the loose tea dry out in the bag for too many months. Samples in bags are never the best way to evaluate a tea compared to drinking from the cake, and normally I prefer to buy the entire cake. I understand the budgetary need to buy samples, but samples in a bag are not representative of the full beeng.

Astringency creeps in, but when I am tea high I just want more. I left my fifth cup to go cold while typing this post, and quaffing the tea fast the cup is bitter, punishingly bitter, a quality in its favor. I know for a fact in my gut and brain this tea is better now than it probably was a year ago when pressed. I really do not want to like this tea, or more accurately my wallet does not want to like an ouch $149/200g, but YES I like it, way too much and the script in my head gets highlighter pen on lines like “all the crap tea you have had lately old girl yes you have, many good teas out there for less money, but admit it, none of those can hold a candle to leaf like this.” I suppose I can remain happy with cheaper teas but it’s worth it to remind myself that better tea is out there and white2tea has it. One must drink the so-so stuff to appreciate good tea, and keep drinking that tuition before dropping money on the better teas.

Because this is one strong tea, enjoy the first 3-4 steepings and ease up. Maybe refrigerate the leaves for another day.. This is not an everyday drinker tea and frankly I do not feel many stomachs could or should drink Mystic very often. This is the bottle of expensive cognac you want to pour a small glass from on occasion and drink up the cake slowly. Save a good chunk of it for long term, years down the road.

Notice the large leaf at the top left of the photo,
it is not even unfurled yet after six steepings.
My photo of the leaves shows they did not even fully open, so I kept them until day two. Saving leaves will not work in warm and humid weather, but we have a crisp and dry autumn day and no worries for me the tea will turn to smelly mush. I kept the tea for three days and went on steeping, I increased steep time starting about steep eight, and well past ten the tea is still going, the bitterness less intense. The florals in the empty cup are nice to sniff.

Mystic is worth the money, damn my wallet. Fk what anything else thinks, fk u w2t a million thanks keep at it please-please-please and god bless.


  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts—love the detour into mystical vs. contemplative, I share your feelings on tea being an aesthetic experience and not mystical (or whatever word you want to use for it). Though of course those can blend at times...


  2. I can't help but be a sucker for w2t

  3. Qwyn,

    Thought provoking review, as always, with so many points of discussion built in. I love your tea reviewing style for this reason.

    However, I disagree with your thoughts on adding the regional descriptions again- that would be completely selling out to pressure.

    In fact, I implore Paul to do exactly the opposite and go in the direction of completely "white washing" his puerh line up with just plain white wrappers with a simple number name (#1, #2, etch). He should also not have any descriptions what so ever.

    Then, I think, his vision of tea being judged on its own merits will be fully achieved.


    1. I am sure you are fortunate enough to afford all the teas, but many of us find affording even one is difficult. Many more have too much tea already and are looking for something more unique, or are trying to avoid flavor profiles they dislike. When a collection has a dozen cakes and no information for many the temptation is simply to walk away.

    2. Cwyn,

      Hahaha... I am not so fortunate and have a similar purchasing strategy as you on White2Tea. In fact, I agree with every point you made about the effect that this direction is having on buyers. I just disagree that he should "tuck tail and run" on his philosophy.

      I think the overall effect is to put the experienced puerh buyer in a really uncomfortable position. This is especially true for those who have the advantage of years of puerh drinking experience and knowledge to draw on. By completely blinding us to any information about the puerh, it essentially puts us closer to the same level as someone new to puerh. That's a really uncomfortable place to be, but it is also a humbling place as well.

      Those who are new to puerh and/or can afford sampling many cakes benefit but those who are filled with much puerh knowledge and expertise do not benefit from their position of power.

      The positive point about Paul's offerings is that he offers moderately expensive puerh, expensive puerh, and crazy expensive puerh... you can choose the level at which you wish to dwell, sample, or purchase from.

      The fact that he is just offering so many different 2017 puerh really pushes the buyer into these categories and really makes the experienced buyer squirm.


    3. Seems like the harvest this year presented challenges to find good tea due to the weather issues, many smaller quantities purchased rather than fewer larger. The quantities are probably lower on some blends. No information is exactly the same as misinformation in the end, just another form of nihilism, it doesnt rectify the problem in puerh marketing. Rather it takes advantage of the ambiguity and allows the seller the freedom to pass off anything on a price tag. Puerh buyers are in a placebo situation unless they want to confront the idea they overpaid. One thing I know about puerh buyers is they will defend their purchases. I see a big difference between beginners and experienced buyers of white2tea. Beginners are the most likely to buy for the wrapper design. Last year was Nightlife, this year will probably be Pussy.

  4. I think you may be reading too much into the name of the cake... I take it as merely homage to the Van Morrison song of the same title, consistent with Paul's penchant for naming his blends in this way.

    I will resist the temptation to differ with you on the role of sense impressions in meditative states.

    1. I'm going with the patent leather shoe Catholic school influence, too many other cakes have the same theme. One song doesn't explain the repetition. But, as I noted, I am making a literary, and not literal, interpretation here.

  5. It's worth noting that this year's descriptions include more discussion of flavor provenance, or at least the naming of broad regions (Yiwu and Menghai specifically). The only teas to do that last year were Diving Duck and that year's iteration of Poundcake; this year, Bellwether and Manichee name Yiwu and several others name Menghai. That bit of info helps narrow things a little.

    For what it's worth, my favorites of the new lineup this year (after a single tasting of most) are Bellwether, Manichee, IPA, Hype (already gone through half of a cake), and maybe Magic Mountain DNA, in no particular order. On the balance, I think this year's production might be stronger than last's. I'm reserving full judgment (and posting anything on Steepster) until I've finished my samples, though.

  6. I agree that this tea has really blossomed with a year on it. I also agree with Matt about Paul keeping his mad blender profile. He has a vision based on flavor and qi and like a chef he presents it. It's great that the trust my vision shop exists shops as well as shops like puerh.sk that offer lots of single origin gushu and in between shops like Crimson lotus