What is White tea?

What is White tea?

White tea is minimally processed and is second only to green tea. It is made from the unopened buds and occasionally the first shoot of the plant. Usually, it’s made from the first flush tea when a tea plant is at its prime growth state.

There is little consensus on a single definition of white tea. In China, white tea is defined by the plant sub-species it is derived from viz. Camellia sinensis var. Khenge Bai Hao and Camellia sinensis var. Fudin Bai Hao. These plant species are only found in Fujian province of China and traditional methods of tea processing are followed to produce these whites.

In other tea growing regions white tea is defined by the style of plucking. The ‘imperial pluck’ refers to the bud and first leaf of the plant, and some white tea is made using this pluck withered under the sun. Some tea experts also maintain that these qualify as white because of the presence of fine, silvery-white downy hair on the surface of the unopened buds and young shoots of a tea plant, which, upon drying, are noticeably silvery in appearance.

To make a white tea, the leaves are only withered and lightly rolled. As a result, the beverage is extremely light, pale-colored or blush-toned and characterized by mellow floral-fruity flavors.

How is white tea made

White tea was first made in the Fujian province of China in the early 16th century from the unopened buds of Camellia sinensis var. Khengo Bai Hao and Camellia sinensis var. Fuding Bai Hao plants. However, over the last few years, many tea growing regions of the world have started producing white teas using local tea cultivars that are strikingly different from those grown in China. The method of production of white tea, however, remains the same across most of these regions.

The plants that are plucked for making white tea are typically grown at a very high elevation (usually 5000-6500 ft above median sea level). The rigors of such a terrain and the cold air surrounding it intensify the aromatic compounds within the plant, most of which exist in concentrated form within the young buds and new leaves. To extract flavors from such buds/young leaves, very little processing is required and usually, no more than two steps – withering and drying – are employed for making the final tea.

Plucking

Most high-grade white teas are made from young, unopened buds and first leaf of a tea plant. Plucking for white tea is carried out early in the flush when a tea plant is at its prime growth stage. Shoots are typically plucked under temperate conditions and only in the first few days of the flush. Conditions of plucking significantly impact the quality of the white tea.

Withering

Withering refers to the process of allowing the leaves to wilt for a specified period of time. To make white tea, freshly plucked buds (with/without a leaf) are spread out on withering pans and left to wilt for up to 72 hours. The process is typically carried out under controlled conditions. However, some orthodox white tea producers choose to wilt the teas under the sun or in natural ambient conditions.

Occasionally, the wilted tea leaves are loosely rolled – typically by hand – to extract maximum flavors from the leaf. However, rolling is wholly avoided when making white tea out of buds.

Drying

Extended periods of withering draw out much of the moisture from the tea leaves. However, to ensure the white tea is shelf-stable, the buds/leaves are fired or dried in an oven at around 110°C. Drying brings down the moisture content in the tea to a little less than 1%.

Types of white tea

Bai Hao Yin Zhen or Silver Needle White Tea

Made only from the buds of the tea plant, this is a prized white tea and one of the most expensive. Traditionally, silver needles were made from Da Bai cultivars; however, today, most high-elevation tea growing regions of the world (including Darjeeling and the Nilgiris) produce Silver Needle white tea with local tea cultivars.

Bai Mudan or White Peony

This tea is made from the initial leaves of a tea plant, typically the first and two subsequent ones. Compared to the Bai Hao Yin Zhen, the Bai Mudan has a stronger flavor and darker liquor since its leaves are partially oxidized. With demand for high-quality white tea on the rise, White Peony is being widely produced along with Silver Needles in all major tea growing regions, including Darjeeling, Nepal and the Nilgiris. The white peony tea benefits include improving kidney health, liver support and its blood thinning properties.  

Shou Mein or Eyebrow White Tea

Shou Mein is mainly produced in China using leaves plucked late in a harvest season. Shou Mein is made right after Bai Mudan, using the buds and first few leaves of the tea plant. The white tea flavors are strong, fruity, almost resembling an oolong.

White Tea Benefits:

Similar to green tea the health benefits of white tea include a reduced risk of cancer and cardiovascular disorders. Apart from this, organic white tea is even said to improve oral health. Now, many of us may want to know if white tea is caffeinated. While white does have caffeine, white tea caffeine content is very less as compared to any other tea. As white tea is less processed, it retains more antioxidants than even green tea, and therefore, drinking white tea may help in weight loss. Although this is a great low-calorie beverage, simply drinking the tea will not help you reduce weight. You will need to combine exercise with a healthy diet to see results. Now that you know what white tea is good for, you can add this healthy drink to your diet and start living well.

There are different types of white tea available in the market today in different forms. You can make this tea using white tea leaves or white tea bags. Either way, you will still be able to benefit from this low-calorie tea. You can also look for recipes on how to make white tea in the way that you can effectively derive its benefits. White tea tastes light and slightly sweet making it a great morning drink for those who want to avoid too much caffeine in the morning.

For more on the white tea, 

The true colors of the white tea by Peter GW Keen
Moonlight sonatas: The great white teas by Peter GW Keen

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