TEA KNOWLEDGE

White Tea

WHAT IS WHITE TEA?

White tea represents tea in its purest and rarest possible form.

White tea is known to be one of the most delicate varieties of tea because it is so minimally processed. White tea is harvested before the leaves of the tea plant have fully opened, when the young buds are still covered with fine white hairs, hence the name “white tea”.

In contrast, what defines white tea is an almost complete lack of processing.

The youngest, most tender leaves and buds are hand-picked from the garden at each harvest and then separated at the point of processing. Once harvested, they are quickly and meticulously dried to protect them from oxidation.

There is no steaming or burning involved. The leaves are simply picked and dried naturally.

This minimal processing and low oxidation results in some of the most delicate and freshest teas available. This is a stark contrast to the treatment of leaves harvested for green or black tea production when they are left out in the open to dry and oxidize.

This produces some of the purest and most refine cups of tea.

WHAT ROLE DOES OXIDATION PLAY IN TEA PRODUCTION?

A CRITICAL ROLE!

Oxidation is a defining factor in the production of all different types of teas. Essentially it the time which teas are left exposed to oxygen order to dry and darken its leaves after harvesting.

The longer the tea leaves are exposed to oxygen, the darker the leaves will become and the deeper the flavor profile that has developed.

Tea masters use many different methods during processing to create and control oxidation, among them rolling, shaping, or crushing the leaves to speed up oxidation, and steaming, burning, or roasting the leaves to stop it.

It is important to know that all the different types of tea – white, green, oolong, black, and even pu-erh originates from the Camellia sinensis plant, a species of small evergreen shrub original to China.

Over time, hundreds of cultivars and hybrids have evolved in various geographical areas of the world from the Camellia sinensis plant, each flowering in a distinctive way and developing unique characteristics.

Yet, what defines the final type of tea and how it tastes when brewed, it is the variety of tea plant and how the leaves of the plant are processed.

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White Tea:   Green Bud → Withering (72 hrs) → Drying (110°C/65°C)

We only procure White Teas that follow the orinal protocols.

Therefore, our white teas are the least processed of all our teas as it is left to quickly wither and dry in a carefully controlled environment without being artificially heated. It is neither rolled nor fired, almost non-oxidized and minilly processed.

This careful treatments, results in a fresh-from-the-garden, very delicate tasting tea.

White Tea: Origins

Sometimes referred to as Champagne Tea, white tea is only considered an original product that is grown in the authentic region of Fujian province in China.

According to the analysis of Ming dynasty texts, it seems that the method of making white tea was already practiced in this period, since books from the 16th century refer to a tea obtained from sun-dried and unrolled leaves, whose quality would exceed that of traditional, heated tea.

The Legend of the Imperial Tribute or Tea Tax

During the early Chinese imperial dynasties (between 600 and 1300), a tea custom developed as tea drinking and tea culture flourished throughout the country.

The custom was for citizens to pay tribute in the form of rare and fine teas to the emperors of the time. In many ways it was a kind of taxation, in this case a tax on tea. This imperial tribute to tea was typically made from the newest, newest, and most delicate buds of the finest tea plants.

These often secret imperial tea gardens were developed to cultivate these rarer and more honorable types of teas. These imperial tributes to tea are considered the earliest forms of white tea, but they are not the white tea we know today.

The origins of modern white teas can be traced back to the 18th century Qing Dynasty, around 1885.

The great white tea cultivar Baihao Yinzhen is attested to as early as the late 18th century, during the Qing dynasty, but the buds used were then less long and fluffy than today. With the introduction of the Dabai cultivar in 1857, the quality improved and the modern method of making white tea was established in 1885, when specific varieties of tea bushes specially selected for making white teas were selected and introduced into Fujian.

The introduction of the new bushes and natural processing methods that did not incorporate any steaming or pot-burning into the creation of tea from the plants indigenous to the Fujian province region gave rise to this type of tea.

This natural processing of the leaves of these varieties resulted in leaves that were thin, small, and did not have much silver-white hair.

Expansion and New Types

Some of the most popular varieties today appeared around 1922, a few decades after the new production methods were introduced, when teas such as the large silver-white leaves of the silver needle (Yin Zhen) in 1891 and the white peony (Pai Mu Tan) appeared. Since then, many others have followed.

White tea then became a quality product, sought after by connoisseurs who abandoned the poor quality mass production that was emerging at the time (notably due to the development of plantations in the British and Dutch colonies), and were exported to the Chinese communities of Southeast Asia and also to Europe, where they found some success.

Then, in the 1920s, to meet the growing demand for white tea that could not be met by high quality production, the cultivation and manufacture of Baimudan developed in Jianyang and then Zhenghe.

In the 1960s, this tea was adopted in Songxi and Fuding regions and new manufacturing methods were introduced to expand production, sometimes incorporating leaves picked late in the year

White Tea Types

The loose leaf white tea type that we know today were developed using Da Bai and Da Hao discovered in the Fujian province in the 1800’s. These plants were famous for producing large and beautiful tea buds

For decades, white teas were rarely found outside of Fujian province in China, as these minimally processed teas made from delicate young buds were difficult to store and transport without spoiling.

As the popularity of white tea has grown, so has the demand for this unique and fine tea. Thanks to modernization, improved white tea production methods combined with better transportation methods, the production of loose leaf white tea has expanded beyond Fujian province to other growing regions in China and around the world.

Today, many varieties of white tea are being grown in countries outside of China, with many growing their own versions of white tea from other tea-plant strains. Some of the most popular varieties of white tea include:

  • Bai Hao Yin Zhen (Silver Needle): White Teas that originate from the Fujian province of China, are often refereed as TRUE Silver Needle tea. As such, this tea is cultivated from the original varieties of China’s white tea plant.  It’s  silver color name derives from white, downy hairs that cover the large, full buds
  • Bai Hao Yin Zhen (Silver Needle): Another true Silver Needle  from the Fujian province of China and is cultivated from the original varieties of China’s white tea plant. the silver color it’s named for comes from with white, downy hairs that cover It’s large, full buds. .
  • Bai Mudan (White Peony): This newer white tea variety which includes some buds blended with unfurled or barely opened young tea leaves can be cultivated from an original Chinese white tea bush or from another variety. It is produced in China and other countries around the world. 
  • Monkey-harvested white tea: it is rumored that monkeys trained by Buddhists harvested the tops of wild tea plants in the mountainous regions of China. The term “monkey-harvested” is used today to describe a very high quality Chinese tea made from the buds and young leaves of the tea plant.
  • Darjeeling white tea: This variety is not grown from the original Chinese white tea plant, instead it is cultivated from tea plants originating in the Darjeeling region of India. While the processing method is similar to that of Fujian white teas, its flavor profile is usually very different.

White Tea: Taste Profile

As did the Chinese emperors and courtiers of the past, white tea is still revered today for its delicate, rare and beautiful aromas and flavors. Most white teas are still hand-harvested and processed, making them a true delight to savor as you enjoy the art of tea drinking.

The most common characteristics to describe the overall flavor profile of the white tea category are: floral, herbaceous, honey, fruity, melon, peach, apricot, vanilla, chocolate, citrus, herbaceous, soft, subtle, delicate and sweet.

Gräfenhof white tea

, slightly sweeter notes – usually with a light, clean liquor (some varieties can be almost completely clean) and sweet aromas.. To learn more about the Gräfenhof Tea Selection, , visit our white tea product page.

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White Tea: Caffeine Content

White tea generally contains less caffeine than green or black tea. Fujian white tea, native to China, has been shown to have lower caffeine levels than other tea plants. However, other tea plants grown around the world for white tea do not contain such low levels of caffeine. Studies have also shown that some white teas can contain as much or more caffeine than green or black teas, depending on where they are grown and how they are processed.

Ultimately, the caffeine content of a beverage made from a caffeinated plant depends on a number of factors, including where the plant was grown, how it was processed and, finally, how it was brewed in the cup. If you are checking your caffeine intake, always ask the tea vendor about the specific caffeine content of the tea you are buying.

White Tea: Buying and storing

Tea can’t really “spoil,” but it can go Stale. To ensure that you get the freshest tea possible, buy it from a well-known firm that is able to inform you about the time and method in which the tea was processed and packaged.

Despite being relatively more delicate, White tea requires similar storage methods as green tea . These less oxidized teas can remain fresh for up to a year with proper care. Some storage tips:

  • Store your tea in a cool dry area.
  • Keep tea away from heat, light, oxygen and humidity and do not store it in the refrigerator.
  • Tea will keep longer if it is stored in an opaque, airtight container.
  • Do not store your tea in the same compartment as products such as coffee and spices, which can release their aroma into the tea leaves.

For more information about how to best care for your tea, visit our How to Store Tea page.

White Tea: Preparation

First, ask for instructions regarding the tea you are purchasing from your tea supplier, as different white teas may have different brewing temperatures and ideal steeping times. But here are some general tips for brewing white tea that you should keep in mind:

  • Some white teas can be brewed for longer and at slightly higher temperatures than green teas. This usually takes 3 to 5 minutes at 190 degrees. Others are much more delicate and need to be treated like green tea, steeped at 160-180 degrees for 2-3 minutes.
  • White tea is slightly more forgiving than either green or black tea when it comes to steeping time. But again, you should not steep the tea too much, otherwise it may give off bitterness and astringency. Taste the tea after the recommended steeping time and then decide if you want to steep it some more.
  • If you do not have a temperature-controlled kettle, remember that at sea level water boils at 190 degrees Celsius and boils at 212 degrees Celsius. The boiling temperature drops about one degree for every 100 feet difference in altitude. Therefore, in general, temperatures below boiling are perfect for brewing white tea.
  • If specific white tea recommendations have been given for brewing, use them. But if you use about 2 grams of loose tea per 8-ounce cup of water, it is safe.
  • Always use fresh, clean, cold, filtered water to brew the tea. Spring water is best.
  • Cover the tea during infusion to keep all the heat in the infusion vessel.
  • Most high quality white teas can be steeped several times.
  • White teas are so delicious and delicate that it is best to drink them straight, without milk or sugar additives, to appreciate the true flavor of the tea.
Sources:

What is White Tea? from About.com
The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide by Mary Louw Heiss and Robert J. Heiss, 2007
New Tea Lover’s Treasury by James Norwood Pratt, 1999
Specialty Tea Institute

White teas at Gräfenhof

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