The enigma of white tea
Originally from China, white tea is the least processed of all the six tea categories. It is also probably the most misunderstood type of tea. For one thing, many people associate the colour white with being pure and assume that white tea will contain little or no caffeine.
The beauty of the buds
As the best white teas come from prized harvests consisting almost entirely of buds (the youngest leaves of the tea plant hold the most nutrients), this is not strictly true! The buds for white tea are plucked just before the leaf opens on the stem and are air-dried to lock in colour and flavour. The chlorophyll is not mature in this bud and that gives the tea its “white” appearance.
Manufacture of white tea
- Careful picking to ensure that the leaf cells are not damaged.
- Withering on large bamboo trays in gentle sunlight.
- Indoor withering / drying.
- Final baking to remove excess moisture (if necessary).
- For Jasmine Silver Needle, scenting of the buds with fresh jasmine blossom.
Types of white tea
- Silver Needle (Yin Zhen), is the original, traditional, plump, bud-only tea. White tea made in the same style from other countries tends to be known as “Silver Tips”.
- White Peony (Bai Mu Dan), consists of varying amounts of bud (depending on the quality from 10% to almost half) combined with leaf from the same tea bushes.
- Jasmine Silver Needle (Yin Zhen Moli) is Silver Needle that has been scented naturally in the traditional Chinese way, which involves the buds being exposed to jasmine blossom over five or six consecutive nights until the natural scent of the flowers is absorbed into the tea.
- Moonlight White (Yue Guang Bai) is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to Bai Mu Dan and the best qualities are suitable for ageing. Over the months and years the flavour of Yue Guang Bai becomes darker and closer in taste, comparable to a sweet black tea.
- Other – for us less interesting – types of Chinese white teas include Tribute Eyebrow (Gong Mei) and Long-life Eyebrow (Shou Mei). These are earthier and darker in the cup than Silver Needle.
White Tea Preparation
White tea is suitable for multiple infusions and should be steeped at around 80°C.
Steeping time varies, but a leafy white tea rarely needs longer than 2 minutes at a time, so start with a 2 minute steeping and then increase the time by 30 seconds each time until it tastes good to you. The volume of tea to water should be between 12-15g of tea for 1 litre of water.
If you are new to white tea we suggest weighing the dry tea leaves before you try it for the first time, that way you will use the right amount of tea and know how many teaspoons (or tablespoons) to use in the future.
As with all types of tea, the leaves should be given as much room as possible to open up.
For convenience’s sake we recommend using a teapot with a removable sieve that can be put aside until you are ready to make subsequent infusions. Otherwise let the leaves brew loose in the teapot, and pour the tea through a sieve to another vessel to pour or drink from. What is important here is that the leaves do not continue to steep in the time between making the first and next infusion. By the way, Yin Zhen (Silver Needle) is a beautiful tea to observe the “agony” or the “dance” of the leaves as they twist and unfurl during steeping.