White tea is one of the rarest and exquisite tea. It was used to be reserved for royals in China but has recently started to make an impact on the global tea market. Here we will introduce you to this mysterious tea. We will first learn more about its origin, processing technique, and flavor profile. Later, we will share key instructions for brewing a fresh cup of white tea.
ORIGINS OF WHITE TEA
Some Chinese believe, during the Tang era, there was a custom of offering a tea tribute to the imperial ruler. To make this special tea deserving of a tribute, young leaves of tea bush found at Tai Mo Shan mountain were used. It was a rare species of the tea plant found only in Fujian province, with unusually large leaves and a strong aroma. The tea made from these leaves were reserved only for the emperors and no one else could drink it.
Even after many years, tea was produced using traditional methods. As a result, it could not be stored and transported. Hence, this tea remained hidden from the world for a long time. It was very recent when the cultivation and processing technique improved, making this royal tea accessible to regions outside China.
Related Article: Learn the History of Tea in China, the Birthplace of Tea
HOW WHITE TEA IS MADE?
Genuine white tea is made from Da Bai Hao bush, a rare species of the Camellia sinensis plant grown in China. White tea is one of the least oxidized tea with minimal processing. In simple words, its processing technique can be summarized as dehydrating the fresh leaves. Despite having a few steps, this process is very delicate and requires extreme precision to produce high-quality tea.
- STEP 1: Fresh leaves
- STEP 2: Dehydrating
- STEP 3: White Tea
The most crucial part is selecting the fresh leaves. Unlike other teas such as black, green, or oolong tea, this tea uses only young and immature leaves that are not fully open. These buds and young leaves are covered with very fine white hair.
Farmers need to perfect their harvesting time as these leaves remain available only for a couple of weeks in a year. The limited supply of young/immature leaves makes this tea rare and expensive.
After collecting the leaves, one need to dehydrate the leaves. Normally, farmers rely on the natural drying process. Hence, they use the withering technique of exposing leaves under the sun for almost 72 hours. If the outdoor weather conditions are not suitable, the drying process changes to indoor drying under controlled environment by blowing air.
In some cases, tea growers may wish to limit the air exposure that initiates the oxidation process. Hence, to accelerate the process of drying farmers may apply very light heat. Once dried, tea is ready to be consumed.
Traditionally, this tea comes in loose tea form. Although, now you can also buy tea bags and ready to drink white tea beverage, the flavors of brewing from loose tea leaf are just magical.
Related Article: How Tea is Produced? Tea Processing and Production Steps
WHITE TEA TASTE
This unique tea has beautiful flavor elements and mesmerizing aroma. Generally, it may have delicate, light, subtle, fresh, floral, fruity, vegetal, chocolaty, and sweet flavors. However, this tea has more than one variety, with each having a unique taste.
Nevertheless, you can also adjust the tea’s taste according to your mood by altering the brewing temperature, steep time, and the number of infusions. Usually, using temperature on the lower range would result in more light and floral notes. While brewing the same tea leaves with a higher temperature would result in more stronger and woody flavors.
VARIETIES OF WHITE TEA
Although some other countries have started to produce white tea, it is still believed that the authentic varieties come only from China. Even today, these traditional-style Chinese teas are considered to be the most delicious and fine varieties of all. The top three Chinese varieties are mentioned below:
- Bai Hao Yin Zhen (Silver Needle): This tea is the most famous, exclusive and expensive variety that uses only the finest top buds. Due to its long silver and needle-like leaves, this tea has a silvery grayish appearance. It has a pale yellow liquor with flavor and aroma that is very delicate, refreshing, light and melon sweet.
- Bai Mudan (White Peony): It includes silver buds and barely opened emerald leaves. It has more fruity, floral, and vegetal flavors as compared to Silver Needle. When brewed properly, this tea has a light golden hue.
- Shoumei (Longevity Eyebrow): This tea has thin crescent-shaped leaves that resemble an eyebrow. It is harvested later in the season. It has slightly more fruity and stronger flavors as compared to the two varieties mentioned above. Drinking this tea will remind you of lightly brewed oolong tea.
HOW TO BREW WHITE TEA?
Brewing tea is a creative process, you can use the following guidelines to avoid major mistakes and improvise as you wish.
- Take fresh, pure, and filtered water. Avoid using water that has chlorine.
- To enjoy the full range of flavors it is best to use water that is hot enough but not boiling, i.e., around 190° F. However, depending on your preferences and the variety you are using, you can always experiment with the temperature and use water between 160-195° F.
- As the tea leaves are fluffy, you may want to use 1 tablespoon of loose leaf tea per 12 fl. oz ( 355 ml ) cup of water. Conversely, you can use the amount mentioned on the tea package. If you find it too strong or light, just adjust the tea amount accordingly.
- Let it steep for 3-5 minutes. However, steep time would depend on the type of tea you are using.
- Cover your tea while it steeps to prevent the heat loss. And always avoid over steeping your tea.
- This is one of the most delicate tea with a diversity of flavors. Thus, to enjoy its true taste, it is best to drink it without adding milk, lemon, sugar, or honey.
- You can use the same tea leaves for more than one infusion. Just remember that in order to have multiple infusions, you need to reduce your initial steep time.