The Beginner’s Guide to White Tea

Tea is one of the most popular beverages in the world, and for good reason. It is comforting, energizing, and has a wide range of health benefits. Among the many varieties of tea, white tea stands out as the most delicate and subtle of all. It is made from the newest tea leaves from each bush, using minimal processing. White tea is gaining popularity in Western culture due to its exquisite taste and numerous health benefits. In this article, we will take an in-depth look at white tea, including its growing regions, processing, taste, and history.

Growing Regions of White Tea

White tea originated in China’s Fujian province during the 18th century Qing Dynasty. Today, most of the white tea in the world is still produced in China, but regions of India and Sri Lanka also produce it. The finest white teas are made from unopened buds, still covered in fine white hairs, which are hand-plucked and harvested. White tea is scarcer than other traditional teas and is quite expensive.

Processing White Tea

White tea production is a simple process that involves allowing freshly plucked leaves to wither until they’re completely dry. Sometimes, a dryer set at a very low temperature is used to help the leaves wither faster. Unlike other teas, white tea is not twisted, rolled, or steamed. The lack of processing gives white tea its unique flavor, which is light, sweet, and delicately floral.

Taste of White Tea

Most green teas have a distinctive “grassy” or “vegetal” taste, but white tea is different. White tea typically does not have a grassy or vegetal flavor. Instead, it has a smooth, naturally sweet taste with delicate floral notes. The flavor is subtle and nuanced, making it a favorite among tea connoisseurs.

History of White Tea

The history of white tea is fascinating. In the 18th century, specific cultivars of tea bushes were selected to make white tea. The most common cultivars include Yinzhen Baihao (Silver Needle), Bai Mu Dan (White Peony), Da Hao (Big Silvery-Hair), Da Bai (Big White), and Xiao Bai (Small White). These cultivars yield silvery-white leaf buds, which are traditionally harvested in the early spring. Because this annual, bud-only harvest produced a very limited crop, open leaf white tea production began in 1922 with the creation of White Peony (aka Pai Mu Tan or Bai Mu Dan). These teas included the first and sometimes second open leaf along with the bud.

Brewing White Tea

White teas are versatile and forgiving in their preparation. While there are many “rules” on how to brew them, they are much more flexible than that. A good starting point is 175 or 180 degrees for 3-7 minutes, depending on personal preference. Hotter water at 190 degrees or more steeped for a shorter time will make a brighter cup with more body. Cooler water for a longer time will yield sweetness and a soft, delicate quality. As most white teas can be very large and fluffy, use more leaf – 2+ heaping teaspoons per 8 ounces of water. One serving of white tea can be brewed several times, with each steeping revealing another element of flavor.

Health Benefits of White Tea

White tea is packed with health benefits. It is a rich source of antioxidants, which protect the body from damage caused by free radicals. Antioxidants also have anti-aging properties and can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. White tea also contains caffeine, which can improve alertness and cognitive function.

Although white tea has not received the recognition it deserves, its increasing availability in larger markets speaks to its quality and longevity. This gives hope that Western culture may yet develop a taste for this exquisite tea.

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