White teas are different from other teas you may have tried. It’s the least processed of all the teas. So while other teas are rolled, steamed, crushed, and more, white teas are plucked, and then they’re set on bamboo racks to either dry by air or fan. The pluck refers to which leaves or buds are included in the tea that makes its way into your cup.
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What’s in a name?
The name “white” tea refers to the fine silvery down on unopened tea buds. The liquor is more of a hay or yellowish hue.
Of course, the people in charge of naming teas (yes, there are international groups in charge of such things) can’t seem to agree on exactly what should be considered a white tea. There are some groups that think that white tea should be defined as only those teas that are dried and have no additional processing, there are other groups who believe that white tea should only refer to teas that contain the tea buds (aka shoots) that haven’t opened fully, and then there are others who believe white tea should refer to teas that contain tea buds and the young leaves that are next to the bud that may be steamed or fired before drying.
When it comes down to it, you’ll know a white tea because the liquor is a hay color, and the tea itself isn’t processed much.
Where Do White Teas Come From?
The magically delicate flavors of white tea may make you think of a faraway dreamland where pixie dust rules. But it has a much more down to earth origin.
White teas were cherished by the Chinese; only emperors and high ranking officials were permitted to drink them because of its rarity. Most white teas are grown in the mountainous Fujian Province of China (aka, the white tea capitol of the world), but more countries are experimenting with creating white teas including Malawi, India, Nepal and Taiwan. I talk about this a bit more below.
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Are White Teas All the Same?
Nope. There are dozens of white teas. I talk about three below that are very different from one another.
Just like different grapes grown in different regions and processed differently create different wines, different tea leaves grown in different regions and processed differently create different teas.
Examples of White Teas Plucked from the Other Side of the World
The leaves you see here are from three different regions.
Each tea producer processes the leaves differently creating different flavor profiles.
The Silver Queen
Silver Queen is an experimental batch of white tea from Assam, India. They hand-pluck young leaves that are dried carefully to preserve the downy white hairs on the leaves. The tasting profile is fresh and lush, but it’s strong, so it shouldn’t be steeped too long to prevent it from becoming too stringent.
Bai Mudan (or white peony) originates from the Fujian Province and is plucked from one leaf shoot and two young leaves beside it. It has a honeyed flavor and away colored liquor. You can tell from the coloring of the leaves that it’s been slightly oxidized (processed) unlike the Silver Queen; there are brown patches within the green leaves.
The third tea you see was picked in Malawi at the Satemwa Estates. It’s named after a nearby town, and BSP is short for “Broken Special Pekoe” grading system. Because the leaves are broken, the tea is more full-flavored (not as delicate as a non-processed white tea might be), and it infuses quickly. If you brew other white teas for one minute, you ay want to start by steeping this one at 45 seconds, then see how you like it. Liquor has a smooth buttery quality that’s intoxicating and rich. The liquor is a darker honey color than the other two white you see pictured.
Another white tea not shown here is Silver Needle. It’s a premium white tea that is also produced in Fujian Province (that’s the white tea capitol). It’s the most expensive of the white teas because of the pluck. The pluck has the top buds (aka unopened leaf shoots) only. They’re the most delicate part of the tea plant. They’re simply dried, and great care is taken not to bruise the buds. Bruising the buds causes the flavor profile to change.
What about Caffeine and Health Benefits?
All tea is caffeinated (we’re talking teas plucked from the Camellia sinensis plant, and nothing you might think of as an herbal “tea”), so white tea is caffeinated. However, it has the least amount of caffeine of all the teas because it’s the least processed. It’s the crushing, rolling, etc., that exposes the tea leaf oils to the air that increases the concentration of caffeine in the leaf.
As far as health benefits are concern, a lot of people consider it the elixir of youth. more realistically, it has a lot of the same properties as the other teas, so drink whatever tea you like. You can find more of my thoughts on tea and its health benefits here.
If you want to explore more teas, learn more about all 6 kinds of teas here.
Common Aromas and Flavors of White Teas
White teas are complex, and their flavor profile vary depending on where the leaves are grown and how they’re processed. However, here are some of the aromas and flavors you may expect.
How to Brew the Most Flavorful White Tea Leaves
Because white teas are more delicate, they should be treated as such. While you may boil water for sturdier teas like black teas and tea or herbal blends, you want to keep the water a bit cooler here. In fact, I love drinking cold white tea; the flavors seem to come out more once the water has had a chance to cool.
Here’s My White Tea Brewing Suggestions:
- Heat water to about 175 degrees F. You can boil water and let it cool about 5 minutes to get there.
- Use 2 teaspoons of tea per 8 ounce of water (Hint: there’s 12 ounces in a regular coffee mug.)
- Let steep 1 minute.
- Re-steep your leaves 3+ times to get all the healthy and aromatic oils.
Ready to dive into the world of tea? Learn about the 6 Kinds of Teas here.
Have more questions about white teas? Have a few tips of your own you’d like to share? Tell me in the comments below!
Ciao for now,
LINKS MENTIONED IN THE VIDEO
Where Does Tea Come From? (All about tea processing)