Ezra Szkup @the_rabbit_of_tea
Tea Master + Director of Teas at Phoenix Coffee Co
Taking over the blog to share his awesome interview
w/Paul Murray, the Founder of White2tea.
Modern Puerh Culture in a Changing World:
A Glimpse of White2Tea
By: Ezra J. Szkup
Photos By: White2Tea
Puerh Cha for decades past (and for years to come), has been a tea that is highly favored, collected, aged and treasured in the hearts of many who seek to drink it. Since the expansion of the Puerh bubble of 2007, many new tea companies emerged that held fast, and in the forefront of their work, put an attention to ancient tradition, experience and quality, while their design, aesthetic and character in an ever changing world, carries the matching spirit of personal emotional connections, culture and art of that same transformative landscape.
Paul Murray of White2Tea, who started the company in November of 2012, embodies his personal experiences with Puerh and tea as a whole, which have influenced his aesthetic and idea of how tea can be experienced, while navigating as a tea lover and business owner in a rapidly changing climate and tea market. I spoke with him recently to shed light on this threshold, as well as some of the ideas and inspirations for some of his wrappings and designs.
Ezra: Since the designs of your first Puerh releases ("Giant Steps", "New Amerykah"), can you describe your current aesthetic and how it has evolved over the years?
Paul: The aesthetic of White2tea is always evolving. The earlier stuff was more self-referential or informed by my experiences with making the tea blends. Lately, there is more dialogue with the perception of tea in Western online tea culture or how tea marketing tropes or information are absorbed. The expectations and realities, posturing and naming constructs. Those types of things.
Ezra: How do you balance your aesthetic with maintaining the very ancient culture that is Puerh production?
Paul: I don’t see it as my role to balance it. There are already thousands of tea companies using imagery of dragons, clouds and landscapes that are tied to the roots of tea or Chinese culture and painting. I can only convey my experience, which is as a non-Chinese tea obsessive who has lived in China for 15 years. I am more interested in tea in my own modern context. The ancient culture isn’t mine and I think it would read as false if I started wearing traditional Chinese clothing and fetishizing the ancient East as an outsider.
Ezra: Do personal events, music, global and political events, inspirations such as people you interact with, or teas you have drank give you the ideas for names and designs you use for your cakes? Or do you decided after you drink the newest offerings you plan on releasing?
Paul: All of those inform who I am and what I make. It’s an ongoing process, I couldn’t say definitively what influences are, the chicken or the egg.
Ezra: Since your last Puerh State of the Nation, what has changed the most and how does it affect things going forward?
Paul: This is not new, but climate change is the most urgent issue. The last couple of seasons have been dry and the climate is out of balance. The ocean’s are heating up, Australia is on fire, and we are collectively doing irreparable damage to our environment. It’s an issue that we (the collective of humanity) need to address immediately and with full force. I hope that countries like America, China and the rest of the developed world lead the way.
Ezra: As you would know the best, Yunnan had a hot season, as did everywhere. How is the landscape changing, not only as far as climate, but the growing popularity and demand of new tea trends and marketing?
Paul: Not to be overly dramatic, but the non-climate factors just aren’t that important. If the global temperatures are rising and we continue to have doubters and global inaction, we are all cooked. Maybe the tea market trends will be affected; yield will be low like last autumn and prices for Puerh tea will rise or something, but that is all secondary to climate change. It’s the single most important issue.
Ezra: On that note, what steps have you taken now and in the future for recent climate events and those to come?
Paul: That’s what is so frightening about the prospect of climate change, nobody knows what is to come. I haven’t altered how much tea I usually purchase, but I always try to keep a bit of material back for blending from year to year.
Just over the last two years Yunnan as well as many other tea growing regions experienced record heat that, much like speculations about the increasing dryness in Li Shan Gao Shan Cha since 2015, has had many tea masters, producers and buyers rethinking their buying, selling and farming strategies. But that is an important factor, "Individual choices matter," says Paul, "but we’ve got to think bigger and address root causes of climate change in a systemic way in order to truly alter the course of the future".
Ezra: So where do you see White2tea and Teaware.house in the new decade?
Paul: You mean other than leading a roving band of marauders in a post-apocalyptic climate dystopia? I’ll just keep making tea as long as I can.
Aside from this aspect of tea, Paul's wrapping designs and company aesthetic is highly unique, blending his own personal spirit with much of the art that embraces the tea he curates and sources.
Ezra: What inspired the idea behind the Astro Kittens packaging?
Paul: It’s how I felt about that style of tea and how it was being represented by other people the last couple of years.
Ezra: Of all your releases, art work and the tea itself being factors, which design (or designs) and tea hold a special place for you?
Paul: "Last Thoughts", "Fuck what u heard"
Ezra: Why do those specific Puerh hold that place and can you explain the ideas behind the designs of both?
Paul: For "Last Thoughts" it was the first blend where I really went for it, trying to make a tea that was above what I saw available in the market. The poem “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie” has always spoke to me about where we find meaning. The drawing is a sketch I made of two sleeping dogs in Yunnan around the time I made the wrapper. For "Fuck What U Heard", it’s about the idea of what is or is not real in tea. Using a well-established wrapper design and printing on top of it. It’s all meaningless and misleading. It’s right in front of you. Or positioning my brand that way, right in front of you. Both of those teas are statements of purpose, so they stick out in my mind.
Ezra: With that being said, how has your mission evolved with the ever changing tea market?
Paul: My mission has evolved in some ways, but really I just want to make tea. Hopefully a few people will follow what I am making so that I can keep doing my thing and bring tea into more people’s lives.
Paul Murray in many ways has allowed us to visualize a more human way of experiencing tea especially Puerh, as well as the way we think about, buy and drink tea in our current global dynamic and climate. He has also shown others through his connection with his experiences, a way to taste tea that is more personal than people tend to think than simply something you drink. His aesthetic is vibrant, visually pleasing, and a reflection of himself in his work. It is truly a pleasure to experience White2tea.
Special Thanks to Ezra for taking over the VIBES Lifestyle Blog, and taking us on a deep dive into the beautiful and intriguing world of Puerh Tea!
Pu-erh tea originates from the Yunnan province of China and is named after the market town in which it was first developed. Pu-erh tea is post-fermented, which means that the tea leaves go through a microbial fermentation process after they have been dried and rolled, causing the leaves to darken and change in flavor. This process allows the teas to not only improve with age like a fine wine, but many pu-erhs are able to retain their freshness for up to fifty years! Pu-erh teas can be found in compressed brick form or in loose leaf form.