Dating back to the Tang Dynasty, white tea wasn’t so much a commodity as it was a tribute. Only the royal court could afford to drink such a delicate beverage, and the tradition of it being highly prized stuck around for centuries to follow. Nowadays, it 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 in flavor, others patiently await the new harvest season, or even for it to reach its peak aging period.
What Is White Tea?
It undergoes the least processing of all the five different tea types. Farmers make it exclusively from tender and fresh leaves and buds. As far as taste goes, white teas usually have less bitterness.
Farmers make white teas from bush varieties that produce white-silvery leaves and sprouts. Authentic ones like White Peony are multi-colored similarly to the beautiful autumn leaves and are covered with a silvery-white "peach fuzz". Silver Needle, the most popular one, consists of only silvery-white sprouts shaped like needles.
The 3 Steps Of Production:
Harvest Although the processing methods of this tea aren’t quite as strict as some other types, the crucial point is the harvest. The 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).
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 types is that farmers usually don't apply high heat during the processing. This allows for the freshness of the leaves to remain, while this same freshness is mostly lost in highly oxidized teas (black tea, oolong, pu-erh). Knowing the right moment to stop the oxidation is a crucial step for the farmer!
*The perfect environment for white tea oxidation is sufficiently hot and humid.
Drying Most commonly, farmers dry the tea leaves in a specially controlled environment indoors.
An additional step in traditional white tea production is baking. Farmers bake the leaves over charcoal at very low temperatures. However, nowadays, it is harder to find farmers producing white tea this way. Some farmers incorporate some mechanical baking to ensure that the leaves have reached prime dryness.
Unlike other tea types, farmers classify white tea based on the leaves:
White Tea Price
Until the early 2000s, farmers produced white tea almost solely for overseas shipping under high prices created by various myths. Although they still maintained certain traditional production methods throughout a few farms. It wasn’t until very recently that white tea benefits started gaining popularity in the local Chinese market. Afterward, 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 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 merchants in China discovered that aging only emphasizes its sweet taste, adds layers to the flavor, and further rids it of unwanted bitter and grassy notes.
In today's world there is a saying that emphasizes how enthusiasts view aged white teas:
Let's Get Tea Drunk!
In our experience, drinking certain types of white tea has quickly brought on a state known as being tea drunk or tea high. In a nutshell, it 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.
For example, farmers make Bai Hao Yin Zhen from the very first buds which 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 also promotes this state of being. Click here to read more.
How To Make White Tea
Most white teas brew best at water temperatures of around 185ºF (85ºC). However, we recommend checking each particular one for the best brewing instructions.