Dating back as far as the T’ang Dynasty (618-907 AD), white tea was served only to the emperors of China. It is the purest of all teas in which only the downy buds of the Camellia sinensis bush are plucked and did not undergo much change until 1885 when specific varieties were selected to make specialty white teas including Silver Needle and White Peony. Chinese exportation of these rare and expensive teas began in 1891
Once only grown in China, these teas are now produced in other countries as well including the Darjeeling region of India. Plucked forty-eight hours or less between the time the first buds become mature and they open, only the best are selected by hand. The quality is greatly dependent upon the season of harvesting with the best being picked in spring. White teas are not steamed in processing, but are withered in the sun which produces the tea’s color, leaf shape and fragrance and then carefully hand selected to bake dry. This tea is unfermented and much milder than other teas. White tea also has a most delicate flavor and natural sweetness. Their delicate flavor will be destroyed by water that is too hot (the kettle should just begin to emit a “rumble” sound) and the leaves should only be steeped for 1-2 minutes. In addition to possibly less caffeine than green, black or oolong tea, white tea is higher in anti-oxidants which stimulate the immune system to fight disease, has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties and can help protect skin cells from the damaging effects of the sun.
The highest quality white teas are Silver Needle and White Peony, both of which have various grades and are primarily produced in China.
Silver Needle (Yin Zhen) is the crème de la crème of white teas, made entirely from the downy buds picked within a two day period in spring. The highest grade should be fleshy, bright colored and covered with tiny white hairs plus very uniform with no stems or leaves. The flavor is delicate, light, fresh and slightly sweet.
White Peony (Pai Mu Tan) results from the selection of the buds with two leaves which must be covered with tiny white hairs and virtually unbroken for the highest grade which is extremely rare in America. The flavor is fresh, mellow and sweet, devoid of astringency and grassy flavors.
TEA TIME TRIVIA
The Chinese sometimes add a dried rosebud or
chrysanthemum flower to white tea to enhance the flavor
“Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.”