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What Is White Tea? From Production To Price

Posted by Path of Cha on

Dating back to the Tang Dynasty, white tea wasn’t so much as a commodity as it was a tribute. Only the royal court could afford to drink such a delicate drink, and the tradition of this tea being highly prized stuck around for centuries to follow. Nowadays, white tea has gained its way into the cupboards of many of us and is no longer hard to acquire. However, there are still things influencing its high prices to this day. 


While some don’t understand the price-tag on this tea that may seem lacking of flavor, others patiently await the new harvest season, or even for it to reach its peak aging period. 


What Is White Tea?


White tea is least processed of all the five different tea types. It is made exclusively from tender and fresh leaves and buds. As far as taste goes, white teas usually have less bitterness.


White teas are made from tea bush varieties that produce white-silvery leaves and sprouts. Authentic white teas like White Peony are multi-colored similarly to the beautiful autumn leaves and are covered with a silvery-white "peach fuzz". Silver Needle, the leading white tea style, consists of only silvery-white sprouts shaped like needles.


white tea processing


The 3 Steps Of White Tea Production:


  1. Harvest
    Although the processing methods of white tea aren’t quite as strict as some other tea types, the crucial point is the harvest. The tea leaves make a significant difference in the final product. The best white tea includes hand-plucked buds with plenty of pekoe (the iconic white fuzz). 

  2. Withering
    Otherwise known as oxidation, this step is crucial as it rids the tea of the characteristic “grassy” taste, making it more mellow, sweeter, and nuttier.

    What differentiates white tea from other tea types is that there is usually no high heat applied during the processing. This allows for the freshness of the tea to remain, while it mostly gets lost in highly oxidized teas (black tea, oolong, pu-erh). Knowing the right moment to stop the oxidation is a crucial step for the tea farmer! 

    *The perfect environment for white tea oxidation is sufficiently hot and humid. 

  3. Drying
    Most commonly, the tea leaves get dried in a special controlled environment indoors.

    An additional step in traditional white tea production is baking. The tea leaves are baked over charcoal at very low temperatures. However, nowadays, it is harder to find farmers producing white tea this way. Some tea farmers incorporate some mechanical baking to ensure that the tea has reached prime dryness. 

Unlike other tea types, white tea is classified based on the tea leaves that it is made from:


silver needle


White Tea Price 


Until the early 2000s, white tea was produces almost solely for overseas shipping under high prices created by various myths. Although certain traditional tea production methods were still maintained throughout a few tea farms. It wasn’t until very recently that white tea benefits started gaining popularity in the local Chinese tea market. Afterwards, tea farmers truly started focusing on improving processing techniques as well as aging the tea. Now that white tea has also found its place in the local market, prices only continue to rise.

Unfortunately, with such a steep rise in white tea popularity both in China and across the world, another problem that white tea is facing is the abandonment of traditional methods in favor of faster production to meet demand. 


How Does White Tea Taste? 


While the tea liquor is generally very light in color, the taste has notes of fresh tea leaves (without the sharp grassiness present in green teas), field flowers, hay, a certain nuttiness. For aged white teas, the liquor is darker, and the taste starts gaining more sweetness, nuttiness, and some dried fruits. 


The trend of aging white teas started in 2013, when tea merchants in China discovered that aging it only emphasizes its sweet taste, adds layers to the flavor, and further rids it of unwanted bitter and grassy notes. 


In today's tea world there is a saying that emphasizes how aged white teas are viewed:


one-year tea is still tea
three-year tea is medicine
seven-year tea is a treasure


shou mei white tea


Getting Tea Drunk On White Tea!?


In our experience, drinking certain types of white tea have quickly brought on a state known as being tea drunk or tea high. In a nutshell, tea drunk is that feeling we get from the psychoactive components of Camellia Sinensis. It is the state of feeling alert, creative, and blissful; at the same time, peaceful and relaxed. 

Bai Hao Yin Zhen White Tea, for example, is made from the very first tea buds which are known to have a higher content of caffeine (slightly different effects from the caffeine found in coffee). On the other hand, aged tea like Fuding Shou Mei White Tea also promotes this state of being. Click here to read more about getting tea drunk. 


How To Make White Tea


Most white teas brew best at water temperatures of around 185ºF (85ºC). However we recommend checking each particular tea for best brewing instructions. 



Read more:

White Tea vs Green Tea