What is White Tea? A Comprehensive Tea Profile
All true tea comes from the camellia sinensis plant; most notably, Black, Green & White tea. White tea is named after the delicate silver white hairs which can be found on the young, unopened buds of the camellia sinensis plant. In particular, it is grown in Fujian province, China. But white tea is also produced in other Chinese provinces and tea producing countries around the world; such as Taiwan & India. White tea comes from a number of varieties of the tea plant. The most popular are Da Bai (Large White), Xiao Bai (Small White), Narcissus, and Chaicha. White tea is the least processed of teas and harvesting for white tea begins in early spring. However, it is important to note that it is not picked on rainy days or when there’s frost on the ground.
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In terms of white tea production, the young, immature buds and select leaves are picked and left to dry in the natural sunlight to prevent further oxidation. The manufacturing is a careful process where only the young tea leaves with an abundance of fine white hairs can produce high quality white tea of a high pekoe grade. Unlike Green or Black tea, white tea is not rolled, and only slightly oxidized, making it the least processed tea. The minimal processing is believed to result in more health benefits as it has a higher level of catechins than green or black tea. Ultimately, it is the delicate production process which results in a pale, yellow fresh-flavored tea with floral and fruity tones.
History of White Tea
Tang Dynasty (618-907)
References of white tea can be dated back as far as the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Around this time, it was compressed into cakes and processed differently than it is today. For instance, white tea was steamed, crushed, put into moulds and baked until dry. When white tea was ready to consume, pieces from the compressed tea cake would be boiled in earthenware kettles. Essentially, white tea leaves were harvested in spring (i.e. first flushes) when the tea bushes were fully blossomed and resembled silver needles. It was these first flush tea leaves that would be turned into compressed tea cakes.
Song Dynasty (960-1279)
White tea rose to prominence during China’s Song Dynasty (960 – 1279). White tea was the tea of choice for the Chinese royal court and it was notably given as a “tribute” to the Emporer. In particular, white tea was served at royal tea ceremonies. For production, tea would be picked and the buds would be steamed and selectively stripped from their outer leaf. The bud interior was kept intact and rinsed before dried. From here, the song style of tea preparation involved the “whipped tea” method. The tea leaves and buds would be ground into silvery white powder and then whisked in bowls of hot water until froth appeared. This method closely resembles how tea would later be made in Japanese Tea Ceremonies.
Huizong (1101-1125) / Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
Specifically, white tea could only be consumed by royalty and the Emperor Huizong (1101 – 1125). Interestingly, the Emperor was so infatuated with trying to discover the perfect cup of white tea that he almost lost his entire empire. Huizong has been credited for the creation of a number of white teas; most notably “Silver Silk Water Sprout” and ‘Palace Jade Sprout”. The Emperor wrote a book called the “Treatise on Tea” which was seen as one of the most important documents in history for learning about the Chinese tea ceremonies. However, over time, powdered tea and the song tea ceremony was abolished. This was because the Hongwu Emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) issued a ruling that tributes were to be replaced by loose leaf tea. From here, the production of loose leaf tea and the “steeping method” became widespread.
Qing Dynasty (1796)
Just like the people of the Ming Dynasty, tea was processed and sold in loose leaf form during the Qing Dynasty (1796). Around this time, white tea was harvested from a mixed varietal tea bush called “Chaicha”. White teas were produced differently to other Chinese teas as it did not involve pan firing or steaming. Special varieties of the tea bush are cared for several years before the first harvest. As soon as the buds are plucked they are allowed to wither and air dry in the sun or in a carefully controlled outdoor or indoor environment. Around this time, white tea leaves would be small with thin leaves and did not have many of the silvery white hairs that are on the white teas that are produced today.
Modern White Tea
In 1885, white tea truly transformed as various types of the camellia sinensis plant were cultivated to produce “Silver Needle” (Bai Hao Yin Zhen) and other prestigious white teas which are well known today. The Dai Bai (Big White) Xiao Bai (Small White) and Shui Xian (Narcissus) variations were specifically selected to make such white teas. By 1891, China was exporting these teas across the globe at an accelerated rate and by 1922 the production of White Peony started. Thus, white tea is now available all around the world and countries outside China are creating their own versions from other tea plant varieties.
This last week was hard. Good, but hard. The next one will be harder. But there is a cup of tea in my hand and a tree out of the window that is robed in golden leaves and swathed in golden light. Shastakovich is playing. Dogs are walking past. There is a lot of beauty in my life. I'm really thankful. . . . . . #tea #silverneedle #thankful #myhandsholdingthings #werebrosnow
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Types of White Tea
White Peony Tea - Bai Mu Dan (Organic)
This newer form of white tea originates from the town of Shuiji in Fujian, China. White Peony consists of tea buds blended with young tea leaves; whilst the bud is covered in white hairs. This tea is of exceptiona; quality and consists of tall unrolled leafs with many white dots. The color of White Peony is slightly darker than the Silver Needle. Expect a mild and floral taste.
Nepal White Tea
Grown at 1500-2000 m, This rare tea provides a light golden cup. This white tea from the Shangri-La garden is smooth, light and offers a touch of fruitiness in its taste. Expect notes of dried fruit, honey and sweet vanilla. It is soft and delightful on the mouth.
Monkey Picked White Tea (Organic)
The name originates from the concept that Buddhist-trained monkeys use to harvest white tea. However, oday it refers to the very high quality white tea which comes from the highest mountains and tree tops in China. It comprises of young leaves and buds of the Camellia Sinensis. This leaf provides a delicately soft white tea with a light and aromatic taste.
Immortal Warrior White & Green Tea Blend
A blend of green tea, white tea and tea twigs with a delicious fruit flavour. A refreshing tea with a mild grassy touch.
This Cocoa and Roses Green Tea is a romantic infusion for all true tea lovers. Witness the perfect companionship as white and green tea leaves elegantly come together. As the brew settles down, the on-screen chemistry between the roses and cocoa peel starts to truly blossom!
Silver Needle (Bai Hao Yin Zhen)
The most prominent and famous white tea available. Silver Needle comes from the Fujian province of China and is harvested in Spring before the tea buds have turned into leaves. Silver Needle comes from the original white tea bush and should contain no leaves or stems and have long needle-like silvery trips. Expect a sweet and mild flavour.
Tribute Eyebrow (Gong Mei)
The leaves that form this white tea come from the tree known as Xiao Bai (Small White). This tea predominately includes young leaves, but no buds which results in a dark cup which has a full bodied taste.
Longevity Eyebrow (Shoumei)
This tea is grown in the Fujian or Guangxi Province of China. It is produced from the naturally withered tea leafs and tips from the white tea plant. It’s harvested after Silver Needle and White Peony and subsequently has a darker appearance; and is rich in flavour compared to other white teas
The caffeine content in white tea can fluctuate depending on a number of factors – the type of white tea, whether it is a blend, processing style, steeping times and how much loose leaf tea is used per cup. Interestingly, some white tea, such as White Peony, has been found to contain more caffeine than most loose teas; whereas others, such as white tea blends, have been found to contain a minimal amount of caffeine. For further information of caffeine content in white tea, Rate Tea provide a comprehensive article on this subject matter.
How to Make White Tea
It is important to see if there are any specific brewing instructions on the tea packets before using these instructions. We have based our instructions on the white tea which we sell at True Tea Club. Generally, white tea infusions can take anywhere between 20-30 seconds; whereas pure white tea can take up to 5 minutes to steep. Nonetheless, white tea is very simple to brew.
A full 60 second white tea saga. Decided to try and show the brewing on video. This tea is so forgiving. Brew it how you like. Use a lot, use a little. Brew it quickly, or cook it on the hob. It comes out beautifully - clean, crystal clear, bright and alive in the cup. Aroma of apple seeds and taste of apple and almonds. The colours are fantastic. Can't get any more 'down to basics' than this. Tea.
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It is ideal to use freshly filtered water or spring water to produce the most flavorsome cup. Essentially, it is recommended for the water to reach a temperature of 70c. If the water is too hot, the tea leaves will be over cooked which will result in a less pleasant and astringent cup. If you are unable to measure the temperature, it is best to stop the water just before the boil.
When you have reached the appropiate temperature, place the water into a cup. In China, white tea is commonly enjoyed from using a tempered glass tumbler. Take 1 tablespoon of loose tea (i.e. 2-4 grams) and place it into an infuser. Then put the infuser into your tea cup and let it rest for 5 minutes. White tea can be reinfused several times. With each steep providing a new and delicious flavour. For future servings of the same loose leaf, let the tea steep for 45 seconds.
It is important to make sure your tea stays as fresh as possible. This can be achieved by using an airtight storage container which would also block out light, such as a tea caddy.
For instance, the tea in our subscription boxes comes in air sealed brown bags which prevent air from escaping and the tea being subject to any light. If you receive tea in clear sealed bags, make sure they are stored away from light in a storage cupboard. Other negative factors to bear in mind is condensation, heat, humidity and cold temperatures.
It is generally advised not to keep your tea more than 6 months, primarily so you can enjoy the optimum freshness. But tea can be consumed 2 years after purchase.
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