Anji Bai Cha is a comparatively young tea with a long history. Its cultivar was first re-discovered in 1982. As the name suggests, Anji Bai Cha comes from Anji County in Zhejiang province. It is still predominantly produced in Anji County, although there are a few other farms in other parts of Zhejiang province producing the tea.
Anji Bai Cha has a very short harvesting period, making it one of China's rarest and more expensive teas.
Anji Bai Cha translates as Anji White Tea, although it is actually a Green Tea. Why? Let's follow its long history to find out!
The History of Anji Bai Cha
While the cultivation of Anji Bai Cha began in the 1980s, the story of this rare and exquisite tea starts much earlier. Eight hundred years ago, to be precise. During Song Dynasty China, Anji Bai Cha green tea was the most revered green tea.
The Song Dynasty's poetic emperor, Song Hui Zhong, called the tea Anji Bai Cha, which means Anji White Tea, because the brew's color resembled white jade. Emperor Song Hui Zhong was known as one of the most prominent tea connoisseurs of his time.
During the time in Song Dynasty, white tea as a tea type didn't exist. Soon, all Anji Bai Cha production was lost, and the tea bushes abandoned.
It wasn't until the 1970s that a single Anji Bai Cha tea bush was found in Anji county. From the single tea bush, all cuttings were made and further propagated. Slowly, the grandeur of Anji Bai Cha green tea was revived. It is once again one of China's most prized teas.
How Is Anji Bai Cha Green Tea Processed?
One of the most significant characteristics of Anji Bai Cha is the color of the tea leaves, which produces the gentle pale brew.
Anji county is known for its cold winters. The tea leaves of the Anji Bai Cha tea bushes are always harvested when the temperature falls below 65 degrees Fahrenheit. The cold temperatures combined with the Anji Bai Cha tea bushes variety develop a rare albino effect on the tea leaves, making them very pale. This is due to the colder springs of Anji county, which causes the tea leaves to lose their chlorophyll content. Once the leaves are processed, they are a pale yellow color and waxy in appearance.
The small window during which the tea leaves can be processed makes this tea type quite rare and exceptionally valued amongst tea enthusiasts in China and abroad. The tea leaves can only be picked during a 30-day harvest period. If harvested too late, the tea leaves would have already turned green and lost their iconic qualities and taste.
Similarly to teas that grow at very high altitudes, teas that grow in cold climates develop a large number of amino acids, doubling the amino acid content of other green teas, and making the tea incredibly sweet. The high amino acid content also contributes to the tea's deep umami, much similar to that of Japanese green teas.
All Anji Bai Cha tea bushes today are descended from the mother bushes. A process quite rare in modern-day tea production.
The complete processing method of Anji Bai Cha is as follows:
The tea is picked in early spring when temperatures are below 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
The tea leaves are spread over bamboo baskets in a well-ventilated place without direct sunlight.
Kill-green is a process done to stop oxidation. The leaves are heated at a temperature of around 480 - 570 ℉. This step is crucial for all green tea production because it helps eliminate the unwanted grassy taste, yet leaving the tea leaves with a pleasant freshness.
The tea leaves are rolled in special machines (or sometimes by hand) into the iconic thick strips.
The tea leaves are dried two times.
The tea leaves are stored in freezers until ready for packing. This helps keep the tea leaves away from large amounts of moisture.
The taste of Anji Bai Cha green tea is noticeably sweet and smooth. You will notice a prominent vegetal flavor — one of soy beans. Also nutty and citrusy. With unforgettable deep umami.