White tea is a tea known for its delicate and subtle flavor. It stands out for the naturalness and simplicity of its production process, which basically consists of harvesting and drying it.
White tea has centuries of history in China, at one time it was the drink of emperors and nobility.
This tea is less well known in the West than varieties such as black or green, but it will undoubtedly dazzle the senses of those who seek to broaden their knowledge of the world of tea. This guide is for them.
What is white tea
White tea is a tea obtained from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis, the tea plant; exactly the same from which black, green or oolong teas are obtained.
The concept behind the name white tea has nothing to do with its color, but with its manufacturing process. White teas are the least processed of all the tea families: the leaves are simply harvested and dried.
This, obviously, has nothing to do with a color change, but it does have to do with keeping the factors that affect the flavor and health properties of white tea unaltered and original.
White tea is attributed health benefits such as helping with weight loss, reducing the symptoms of osteoporosis or favoring skin care.
Another element that defines what a white tea is is the type of leaves used. During its elaboration, the buds of the tea plant are selected and harvested before they fully open and become mature leaves. These are still covered by tiny white ‘hairs’, which can often be seen in higher quality tea brews.
Its minimal elaboration process and the delicacy of the buds and leaves used result in a tea considered one of the most delicate and fresh in the world. Its flavors are characterized by being softer than most green and black teas. White teas offer floral flavor notes and a smooth finish. They may also include flavor notes of citrus, honey, vanilla, peach, melon and apricot. Light to medium bodied.
White tea is produced mainly in the Chinese province of Fujian, although there are also producers in India, Nepal, Thailand and Sri Lanka.
White tea can be considered to be the earliest form of tea consumed in China, as the first method its inhabitants used to store tea must have been based on the same brewing principles.
The first white tea seems to originate during the Tang dynasty (618 – 907). In Imperial China, tea drinking was a vital part of the culture.
Each year, the Emperor’s subjects were required to pay tribute, often in the form of tea. However, this tea could not be just any tea. Only the rarest and highest quality teas were accepted as tributes. Only tea produced from the youngest and most delicate shoots of the most select plants was worthy of being presented to the Emperor.
The process of making white tea was refined in the later Song dynasty (960-1269) and the drink became popular despite continuing to be reserved primarily for the nobility. During the reign of Emperor Huizong, The Treatise on Tea, a text documenting the traditional tea ceremony in Imperial China, was published.
The Emperor was a great connoisseur and lover of tea and his treatise is a piece of history that helped establish a culture around the world of tea. In this document appears the first explicit mention of white tea (Bai Cha), an unprocessed green tea that the Emperor especially enjoyed.
The elaboration of white tea similar to the one we know today began in the 17th century in the province of Fujian, in China. The tea plants in this area stood out for their large and beautiful buds that were used to make loose-leaf white tea, not compressed or powdered as before.
At that time, white loose leaf tea was difficult to market outside the area. Due to its minimal processing, the delicate nature of the tea made it difficult to export.
Once better production and storage methods were developed, white tea harvesting became accessible to many other regions of the world. However, it was not until after the nineteenth century that white tea began to be exported to the West.
White tea varieties
All varieties of white tea have mild and delicate flavors in common. However, each of them has its own character with perceptible nuances for expert palates.
Silver Needle White Tea ( Bai Hao Yin Zhen )
The Silver Needle, or Silver Needle, is without a doubt the most famous white tea. It is a highly appreciated tea with usually high prices.
It is grown in the Chinese province of Fujian and is known as one of the most famous and typical teas in China.
To find out what it owes its name to, just take a look at the product. This tea is obtained from the shoots (and only the shoots) of Da Bai variety tea plants, Great White. These are famous for their large and beautiful buds, which once dry take on grayish tones.
Silver Needle tea is harvested at a very specific time, between the end of March and the beginning of April, when the first buds of the year appear. These are collected before they open and become mature leaves, which ot
The resulting infusion is pale yellow in color and contains the typical hairs from the tea buds. It is often said that Baihao Yinzhen smells like freshly cut hay and its taste is described as sweet, vegetal and delicate.
White Peony White Tea ( Bai Mu Dan or Pai Mu Tan )
This tea is more affordable than Silver Needle tea and provides a very high quality. It can be said that both are part of the group of the best known and most consumed white teas.
The White Peony is made from the choicest buds of the tea plant. In this case, harvesting is restricted to the unopened central shoot and the first two young, newly opened leaves. The inclusion of young leaves enhances the flavor of the infusion and makes it less subtle than that of Silver Needle tea.
Bai Mudan is preferred by fans of white teas who favor more elaborate flavors. Its flavor profile is more intense, without losing sight of the fact that it is a white tea, and it has floral notes such as peony and chrysanthemum.
Darjeeling white tea
This tea is peculiar in the group of white teas, since it is produced in the Indian region of Darjeeling, at the foot of the imposing Himalayas.
This white tea is quite similar to its Chinese cousins, but you can’t deny its provenance. The climate and the soil give the infusion of this tea the muscatel and nutty nuances so characteristic of any tea grown in Darjeeling.
Long Life Brow White Tea ( Shou Mei )
Shoumei is a white tea with an intense flavor; it is often compared to lighter oolong teas.
Its cultivation is carried out mainly in the province of Fujian and the province of Guangxi in China. Its harvest is later than that of the Bai Mudan, this causes more intense, toasted and delicately earthy flavors and darker colors in the infusion.
Tribute Brow White Tea ( Gong Mei )
Gong Mei are obtained from a specific variety of the tea bush (Camellia sinensis). On the other hand, its manufacturing process is a bit different than the traditional one for white teas. This combination produces an unusual white tea.
Its infusion is clear, orange and golden in color and provides a smooth and velvety flavor with cheerful floral touches.
How to prepare a good white tea
White tea is prepared with water at a temperature around 85ºC. Be careful, temperature is crucial.
If the recommended is exceeded, the tea becomes bitter and the most delicate flavors disappear. On the other hand, the antioxidants are affected at temperatures close to the boiling point, the tea becomes astringent and its best qualities are lost. To avoid overdoing it, bring the water to a boil and let it sit for a couple of minutes before pouring it in.
Use between 2 and 2.5 grams of tea per cup (about 1.5 teaspoons of tea).
The recommended infusion time is 4 minutes, although some specialists decide to increase this time to 10 minutes for the first infusion to allow the more delicate aromas to develop. Some manufacturers of varieties such as Silver Needle recommend times of 15 minutes. Look for instructions specific to your variety on the tea package.