In China, white tea is traditionally used for healing, soothing and as refreshing morning tea; its gentle nature is comforting to the body in good or ill health. The final very light oxidation (15-20%) takes place in the sunshine typically under some light gauze or pure cloth. A very light firing is used to stop the oxidation. When the processing is finished, the resulting tea is so magnificently delicate, gentle and pure – it’s simply ethereal. The best quality white tea is Bai Hao Silver Needle. This tea is produced from the tea buds which are covered with a beautiful white down during withering (drying), giving this fine tea its name. The prime area for growing Bai Hao Silver Needle is in north Fujian province in China. Tea grown in this region produces a very strong bud that brews to an incredible sweetness.
White teas are semi (Barely)-oxidized and carefully made with a gentle process of withering, curing, and drying. Of all the types of tea, white teas are the least processed, and the highest in key antioxidant levels. White teas are characterized by delicate flavors, a smooth mouth feel, and a subtly fruity, sweet finish. Those who are accustomed to fast brewing teas with strong body and astringency will find white teas surprising. Delicate and slow to release their subtle flavors, white teas are very light on astringency and bitterness.
With less tendency to bitterness than other teas, white teas can be more forgiving of hot water temperature and infusion times than green teas. In other words very hot water and long steep times still produce exquisite cup quality.
Most white teas are made from medium-leaf tea bush varieties that yield silvery-white sprouts and leaves. They are delicately hand-harvested only once a year, for a few weeks in early spring when the weather is consistently cool and dry. The withering process of white tea raises an abundance of silvery-white hairs on the dried tealeaves and buds. Authentic white teas such as White Peony are multi-colored like autumn leaves, and are covered with a silver-white “down” that resembles the skin of a ripened peach. Silver Needle, the premier style of white tea, consists of only silvery-white sprouts shaped like needles without attached leaves. White teas take their name both from their appearance and from the original Fujian tea bush varieties selected for the production of white tea. These medium-leaf tea bushes include “Fuding Da Hao” (Fuding County’s Big Silvery-Hair) and “Fuding Da Bai” (Fuding County’s Big White).
Tasting and brewing
White teas generally are best brewed using water well below boiling (at around 75 to 80 degrees Celsius or 167 to 176 degrees Fahrenheit) and produce a slightly viscous glittering pale yellow color with evidence of floating white hairs that reflect light. The flavor and fragrance should be delicate, light, fresh, and sweet. Steeping should be longer than other white teas; up to 5 minutes per brew – even longer for iced teas – and the volume of tea to be used can be higher (3-4 grams per 8 ounces of finished brewed tea).
Tea Ranch White Tea Insights:
White tea does contain vey high levels of antioxidants (ref. LP Instit study) of certain types, but not all. It is used in wellness centers, to support detoxification and provide nutrient-rich liquids to people on the mend.
White tea originated in China and in recent years virtually every other country has starting producing “white teas” setting off debates about whether or not white tea made outside of China is indeed ‘white tea’ or not. Think champagne made outside of France as a reference.
White tea is a perfect brewed beverage for people (seniors, convalescing, etc.) wanting the gentle caffeine boost (est. at 35 mgs. / 8 ounce serving) of tea, not heavy tannins or astringency and a splendid morning, noontime cuppa.
In hot weather, white tea brewed, cooled and iced is exceptionally cooling and refreshing. A small touch of citrus, oolong or pomegranate juice creates a simply irresistible beverage.
A fair amount of white tea is either poorly produced to rush it to market, blended with lighter green tea or otherwise diluted. Buying from experienced and reputable tea dealers is a must. Like Darjeeling tea and some puer teas, there is moiré white tea sold than produced, hence some of that sold is cut with cheaper teas; let the buyer beware. On the Tea Ranch if we’re not sure – we simply do not sell it.