Yue Guang Bai White Tea, or White Moonlight, is a type of Yunnan tea, which grows in Yunnan province. The region where farmers produce the world’s supply of pu-erh tea. Interestingly enough, there is still some debate whether Yue Guang Bai should be categorized as a white tea, a pu-erh, or perhaps even have an entire tea category of its own! What we do know, however, is that this White Moonlight is incredibly mellow and delicious, with notes of honey and apricots. One would have difficulty not falling in love with this unique craft tea!
What Is White Tea?
White tea, which we call bai cha in Chinese, of all tea types undergoes the most minimal processing. In order to make this tea, farmers hand-pick exclusively the most fresh and tender leaves and buds during the spring growing season. Then, to produce it, they must wither, cure, and dry the tea leaves. Finally, after the before-mentioned steps, bai cha gains its delicate taste and silky mouthfeel with an undeniably sweet and subtly fruity finish.
Farmers produce most bai cha from medium-leaf tea bush varieties that possess silvery-white leaves and sprouts. The harvest season for most white teas usually lasts but a few weeks once a year – in spring, when the weather is consistently cool and dry. (Some bai cha is harvested during autumn)
What makes this Asian tea unique is that farmers classify it based on the leaves:
White Tea History
White tea production dates as far back as the Tang Dynasty (618-907). However, back then, it was considerably different. Farmers of the Tang Dynasty made bai cha into tea cakes. They then roasted these cakes on the fire before drinking and crushed them up into a fine powder which they then mixed with various spices, like ginger, clove, mint, and orange peel, and then boiled. This preparation method is vastly different from the gentle white tea brewing we are used to nowadays when enjoying gong fu cha.
Further on, during the Song Dynasty (960–1279), white tea became a tribute tea for the Emperor. It was still a powdered tea, albeit now mixed with more gentle herbs like chrysanthemum, lotus, and jasmine. However, it wasn’t until the 19th century when people began enjoying loose leaf white tea according to the preparation methods we are most familiar with today. Albeit, at the time, farmers produced almost all white teas in Fujian province, and you would have a hard time finding it anywhere else. Nonetheless, with time, and most importantly, with the improvement of storage and transportation methods, loose leaf white tea gained popularity worldwide. Read more.
What Makes Yue Guang Bai Yunnan Tea Special?
Tea farmers harvest Yue Guang Bai early in April, then minimally process it — quite typical of a white tea. However, there is something extraordinary about this tea that differentiates it from all others.
Yue Guang Bai translates as “white moonlight” in Chinese. Indeed, farmers make sure to only harvest this tea at night, under the bright moonlight of a full moon. But why?
It’s all because tea is a C3 plant. C3 plants need a cycle of darkness to store carbohydrates in their leaves for photosynthesis during the light cycle. By picking the tea at night, there would be a higher concentration of sugars in the tea leaves. Hence, making Yue Guang Bai White Tea undeniably sweet and pleasant to drink.
While most white tea comes from Fujian province, Yue Guang Bai is a unique Yunnan tea, in that Yunnan is not traditionally known for its white tea.
White Tea Processing: Yue Guang Bai
As we've already mentioned, Yue Guang Bai undergoes minimal processing like all other white tea. The steps are simplicity itself:
- Quick Withering
- Drying overnight in the fresh air or, if the tea requires a longer time to dry, in a dark room.
That's all. Then, when farmers are sure there isn't any excess moisture left in the tea leaves, it's ready for packaging. It's important to note that the fact that White Moonlight Tea undergoes simple processing methods doesn't make it an inferior tea — quite the opposite. Similar to other products, only the best of teas can be left in their pure form without the need to add extra ingredients or unnecessary complex steps. Only then can we taste the natural, gentle taste of the tea leaf itself.
Bai Cha: Yunnan Tea Vs. Fujian
One common reason why Yue Guang Bai isn't always readily classified as a bai cha is that the processing technique differs slightly from traditional Fujian white tea. Producers make White Moonlight Tea from Camellia sinensis var. assamica tea trees instead of Camellia sinensis var. sinensis tea bushes. Var. assamica tea trees are indeed the same trees that farmers use for pu-erh production. Not to mention, the geographical location of this tea only contributes to its common pu-erh classification throughout distributors.
Most importantly, farmers wither this unique Yunnan tea in darkness. On the other hand, when it comes to other white teas, farmers may wither them under sunlight. The process of withering the tea leaves in the dark prolongs the drying period. This, in turn, contributes to more prolonged oxidation compared to most other white teas.
Tea enthusiasts believe that it is, in fact, this crucial step that contributes to the mellow and soft flavor of White Moonlight. A slightly robust flavor that doesn't immediately remind us of a typical white tea. Indeed, this is a taste that is quite incomparable to other bai cha varieties.
Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica (Da Ye Zhong / 大叶种)
As you probably already know, all teas are made from the tea plant camellia sinensis. Furthermore, they are usually made from Camellia sinensis var. sinensis. However, farmers producer pu-erh from Camellia sinensis var. assamica. Our Yue Guang Bai comes from this tea plant as well. As the name suggests, Da Ye Zhong (big leaf) is known for its larger tea leaves. Furthermore, the tea trees grow big and tall when allowed to grow wildly, with strong and wide tree trunks.
Traditionally, farmers would produce this tea from Camelia Taliensis (大理茶), which is now an endangered species due to over-picking. Camellia sinensis var. assamica has very similar qualities to Camellia Taliensis. Furthermore, var. assamica has a slightly higher caffeine content than var. sinensis.
For this reason, we love to start our day off with a little Yue Guang Bai tea ritual. The caffeine and theanine in the White Moonlight provide gentle, creative energy, making it a tea that helps you focus. Of course, without the jitters and crashes of coffee. Read more.
Enjoying Yue Guang Bai White Tea
We recommend enjoying your Yue Guang Bai tea gong fu style. When partaking in gong fu cha, you can brew this tea up to ten times, each time noticing new flavor profiles and aromas. A gongfu tea session is a mindful way to enjoy any quality tea. Furthermore, it’s a great way to dedicate time in your day for some tea meditation. In this way, entirely devoting yourself to the appreciation of tea, letting go of pestering thoughts, and sinking into a moment of gratitude and subtle contemplation.
Furthermore, we would like to suggest everyone explore and experiment with this unique Yunnan tea. Play around with the brewing time, water temperature, and even amount of tea leaves you use. By the way, tea producers often choose to age Yue Guang Bai since it continuously slowly oxidizes throughout the years. Why not try aging this tea at home yourself?