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Monday, July 17, 2017

We Go (Get) High

2016 We Go High by white2tea landed on my must-buy list after reading strong endorsements by two tea writers. This is an autumn production from last year, one of the few fall teas by white2tea, and at $.70/g certainly their most expensive fall production to date. The cake is a 200g size, so $139 is a hefty outlay of cash in this case. I am rarely disappointed by white2tea productions and so I took a very willing risk in shelling out for the whole beeng. I allowed the tea to sit for more than a month in the summer humid storage I have at this time of the year which rewarded me with a highly fragrant cake when I decided to break into it last weekend.

We Go High by white2tea
White2tea always manages to source beautiful leaf and processing is usually top notch. However, the initial breaking into the beeng turned sour when I realized this is a rather stiff machine-pressed cake. To be fair, the listing does say “pressed tight for the long haul,” but I found myself wishing “machine-pressed” would be more clearly identified on the listing, as most white2tea productions are stone-pressed. With this tea, the machine-pressing is a significant purchase factor, and easy to miss the ramifications if you order a sample rather than the entire beeng.

Recently white2tea has been toying with the theory that tightly pressed teas “age better” than stone-pressed teas. Taking a vendor perspective, I can envisage advantages for shelf life storage now that white2tea is based in humid Guangdong. Machine-pressed and iron-press teas like Post Truth will hold up better in a humid climate with relatively less change in a two or three year period compared to stone-pressed teas. Stone-pressed teas tend to loosen up in humid conditions, something you might notice in your storage when leaves start dropping off the cakes and create a mess. On the other hand, tightly pressed teas will not lose shape or change as quickly, and they resist mold much better. Thus, a vendor facing two or three years to sell out a production can rely on that tight tea to remain fairly consistent. People ordering a tight tea in year three will get virtually the same product as in year one. This is peace of mind for the vendor who can rely on the consistency of products shipped without worrying the tea has changed drastically due to storage.

Yet another beautiful cake from the white people
I believe that white2tea is actually considering aging more broadly than mere retail storage, however, and the theory behind the tight pressing also includes some notion of quality in the long run. However, I question the sanity of collecting tight teas in my climate situation. What chance do I have of seeing any tight tea age out, unless I have thirty years at my disposal? Sure, we all have tuos and mushroom shaped teas in our collections. But I associate such tight pressing with lower quality plantation teas with chopped up leaves destined for storage in much more humid parts of Asia. To wit, I am willing to accept the risk of tight pressing in my $20-30 mushroom, but how do I feel with a beeng as expensive as We Go High?

Can't complain about this beeng pucker.
My feelings definitely sussed themselves out trying to break into this tea. Luckily I managed to pry up a few intact leaves, but even my new beeng knife barely dented itself into the tea. My first cup consisted of many broken leaves and tea dust. This is hugely disappointing for a tea as nice as this. Again, I can accept dust and bits in a cheap tuo, but they are hard to swallow at this price point and I don’t find much fun in the activity of picking perfectly good tea leaf bits out of the strainer.

Reality of that tight pucker.
The tea brews up a lovely autumn golden with decent thickness, and a floral sweetness dominates a smooth and clear soup. The advertised tea high hits immediately, I definitely feel sweaty and tea stoned in my face. I didn’t experience much bitterness in this tea, even when pushing with boiling temps, but astringency is noticeable for me. The leaves are strong quality and resist finger breakage when wet, again pointing to the regrettable tight pressing: these leaves are not inclined to break on their own, yet I am going to damage them myself even before I start boiling the water.

Dry damage by this user.
I got a good eight or nine sweaty steepings before the tea thinned out. After reading MarshalN’s new post on grandpa brewing, I decided to try long steeping a few leaves, but the tea leaves just didn’t have enough at this point to even flavor the water much beyond a lightly green tea. I might have got ten gongfu brews otherwise.

Leaves are strong and resist tearing when wet.
On the upside, I positively enjoyed all the gongfu brews. This tea is a highly relaxing stoner tea, very smooth and lightly sweet. While the astringency suggests more aging will bring out deeper notes other than spicy floral, why would anyone age this tea? It is already sweet and smooth. Here again, the regrettable machine pressing nags at me, because this is a tea most people will drink up in the short term rather than age, so why make the cake difficult to break into?

The grandpa on the left is a bit of green water.
On the other hand, We Go High may be an excellent opportunity for people living in warm and humid settings. In your case, you have a chance to buy a more premium tea that will hold up better in storage. Many people living in humid states like Florida have written me saying they much prefer iron pressing. Well then, here you can get a better quality tea leaf than you normally find with firm pressing. The tea “high” and leaf quality easily compare with far more expensive (cough Yiwu) productions. I’d hold this up as a bargain against any of the super premium Yiwu teas any day for a sweet and thick stoner brew. If I live in Mississippi, why would I pay more for a stone-press Yiwu when I can buy this hefty mama for much less?

The wrapper itself suggests that white2tea deliberately designed this production for southern-based tea drinkers, with the reference to Pope Pius IX's letter to Jefferson Davis during the Civil War. Basically this says "here is one for you Confederates." I am not sure how this appeals to anyone nowadays, but Catholic guilt is certainly a theme in many white2tea wrappers. The Catholic fashion nowadays is to mea culpa much more over Pius XII, who still has at least a century or more yet to go for us to culturally be free of him and then we can finally start in on the mea culpas for equally horrible post-Vatican II pontiffs such as Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) who at least had the good sense to resign. As art, I suppose I can accept or ignore this tea wrapper, but the fact remains the tea pressing is meant for more humid climes. 

The reality is, I live in Wisconsin and I plan to drink this up, dust and all. I am glad to own this tea among my more recent autumn tea purchases. I feel like I have done well recently buying autumn teas, rounding out my mostly spring collection quite nicely. Yet I have to warn you people. If you are thinking about this one, take my word that a sample is not the same experience as the full beeng. Pressing and climate do matter, and take your climate into consideration. If you are living in humid conditions and want a premium tea that will hold up to weather, “We Go High” may be worth the investment. It is certainly worth the enjoyment.


9 comments:

  1. Hi, your blog was just recently recommended to me by a Finnish tea friend. And I have to say: I am very grateful for his rec. This article was the first I read and look forward to reading older blog posts by you. Many greets from Berlin. Morten

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    1. Hello in Berlin! Thanks for reading, would love to visit tea shops in your town.

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  2. Hi Cwyn!
    Isn't there an issue in how you're breaking up the cake? Provided the leaves were not broken to start with, I thought the puerh needle to be able to break even iron cakes rather nicely (splitting the cake "horizontally" first, as into two super-flat cakes).

    This is an intriguing-sounding tea for sure, will have to try that.

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    1. Hi Jakub! The edge of the cake is really thin, like 2-3 mm. The whole thing is tight, hardly a spot to stick a needle. The knife I have for puerh cakes normally works rather nicely separating perfect halves on stone press cakes. But this cake is so much tighter. If you get this tea and find a way to get better chunks, let me know. Maybe my hands are just too weak too.

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  3. Seems to be the case with most of his 2017 spring pressings as well. The F what u heard is the only one that seems to be stone pressed. This is from checking out his samples this last week.

    I enjoyed this tea very much. Although at that price point I can still think of a few spring cakes I'd rather be in the market for. The She's Not Me from this year included. I like the blend approach to these cakes better than last years. Last year I found some polarity that muddled my assessment. Even though, there is just a touch of thinness throughout these cakes compared to last years.

    Cheers and thanks for the informative articles.

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    1. A well-met remark, many people are seeking this kind of feedback in comparing this season with last year. The only thought I would add is the 2017 are all so very new, the teas are likely to settle and change a good deal within this first year. I'm amazed how the 2016 Head started out rather vegetal and then within a year tightened up and turned more of a high scented floral profile. But everyone is scrutinizing this year carefully ;)

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  4. Hey Cwyn, thank you for this interesting article. Have you ever tried carefully applying some steam? This might influence the tea (or not), but it will certainly allow you to take it apart without breaking even a single leaf. I use Chineese bamboo steamers for iron teas, works wonders!

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  5. Indeed, the first year transformation is something to keep tabs on. I usually jump right in and buy based on what I like in fear that cakes will sell out :-)). Lots of new additions this morning, and I 'reluctantly' dished out for the Treachery 1. Last years Treachery 2 was such a delight that I figured it was worth the risk. Not until after I ordered did I begin to wonder, is this actually a kind of replacement for Last Thoughts? And if so, it's (a bit) substantially steeper in price. I mean I know the blend is different, but I'm dying of curiousity whether it will be yiwuish or banzhangish in nature. Or as much of a mystery as it is now..

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