About White Teas [+]
What Is White Tea?
White Tea (Bai Cha) undergoes the most minimal processing of all tea types. Farmers hand-pick the tender and fresh buds and leaves during the spring growing season to make this tea. The standard processing of white tea leaves includes just two steps, withering and drying. Tea farmers might add other production steps like reroasting depending on weather conditions, tea varieties, and regional specifics. Unlike other tea types, it does not undergo the "kill green" (杀青 – Sha Qing) or rolling (揉捻 – Roun Nian). Therefore, it neither destroys the enzymatic activity nor stimulates the enzymatic oxidation. Consequently, it is considered tea in its most natural form. Bai Cha (白茶) possesses delicate flavors and a smooth mouthfeel with a sweet and subtly fruity finish.
Farmers make most bai cha from medium and big-leaf tea bush varieties that produce silvery-white sprouts and leaves. The harvest season for most of these teas is usually once a year for a few weeks, in spring, when the weather is consistently cool and dry. An abundance of silvery-white hairs is a highly sought-after feature of the tea leaves and buds. It also manifests in the brewed tea with a delicate sweet aroma called "Hao Xiang" (豪香) – "hair aroma".
What makes this Asian tea unique is that farmers classify it based on the leaves:
- Yin Zhen — buds (first harvest)
- Mudan — buds, and leaves
- Gong Mei - buds and leaves (later harvest)
- Shou Mei — leaves (last harvest)
There is also a unique type of white teas from Yunnan that doesn't fit into the above four categories: • Yue Guang Bai Cha.
History of Bai Cha
Tea wasn't a commodity during the Tang Dynasty but rather a tribute. Only the royal court could afford to drink such a premium tea, and its clout stuck around for centuries to follow. The production process was quite different back then, and the result had little to do with white tea as we know it today. It wasn't until the Qing dynasty that white tea and its production process took shape.
Luckily, we can now find what was once considered a rare tea in many homes and cafes throughout the west.
Let's Taste Tea: White Tea
While the tea liquor is generally very light in color, the taste of white tea can be deep and complex. Many of these delicious Asian teas possess notes of fresh leaves yet without the sharp grassiness of green teas. They also have pleasant aromas of wildflowers, hay, and a certain nuttiness in the taste. The liquor of aged white teas is darker, and the taste becomes sweeter and nuttier, with pronounced notes of dried fruits.
Aging bai cha became famous in 2013 when Chinese tea merchants discovered that its age only emphasizes the sweet taste, adds layers to the flavor, and further kills any unwanted bitter and grassy notes.
Asian tea enthusiasts speak so of aged bai cha:
one-year tea is still tea
three-year tea is medicine
seven-year tea is a treasure
Tea That Gets You High
In our personal experience, drinking particular types of bai cha has brought us to the state of being tea drunk or tea high (茶醉 – Cha Zui). It's is the feeling of being alert, creative, blissful, peaceful, and relaxed.
Since tea farmers produce Silver Needle Tea from the youngest buds with higher caffeine content, it is excellent for getting tea drunk. Aged tea like Fuding Shou Mei also promotes the tea high state.
White Tea Vs Green Tea
Farmers harvest early spring green and white tea in the same period. Of course, all teas come from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis. Moreover, farmers often harvest early spring white and green tea on the same day.
One visible difference between white tea and green tea is the leaf shape. White Tea leaves are usually larger than green tea leaves. Furthermore, certain White Teas have the iconic fuzz covering the leaves. As the name suggests, most of them have light-colored tea leaves. On the other hand, Green Teas are a vivid emerald or yellowish-green hue.
The taste of Green Tea is grassy, refreshing, and uplifting, and the brew is light and smooth. On the other hand, Bai Cha is thicker and even viscous, with a warming effect.
We can say that quality White Teas have less bitterness than other tea types. Consequently, they are more forgiving of high water temperatures and longer infusion times than Green Teas.
Top Tea: The Most Popular Types Of Bai Cha
Silver Needle Tea
Silver Needle White Tea, called Bai Hao Yin Zhen (白毫银针) in Chinese, is undoubtedly one of the most popular types of Bai Cha! Its taste is exquisite and alluring. It has the iconic fuzzy white tea tips, which are cute and soft like bunny ears. The brewed buds and tips result in a gentle and light brew.
Tea Taste: Clear, fresh, and pure taste with a sweet, bright finish. Keywords for Bai Hao Yin Zhen are "clear" and "refreshing".
White Peony Tea
Authentic White Peony tea leaves are multi-colored, similar to the beautiful autumn leaves. Furthermore, they are abundant in silvery-white "peach fuzz". In Chinese, we call this tea Bai Mudan (白牡丹). The brew of this craft tea is a light golden color, reminiscent of a good Silver Needle White Tea, but more rich and nutty in flavor.
Tea Taste: Smooth, sharp, with a rich and fresh floral fragrance, sweet and mellow taste. Keywords are "fresh", "sweet" and "pure".
This white tea category got redefined with the coming into effect of the "GB/T22291-2017" White Tea National Standard 3.3. It says Gong Mei is the white tea from the young shoots of the local Qun Ti Zhong (群体中) tea tree variety. Due to this standardization, white tea from other cultivars cannot be called Gong Mei. In addition, most of the Gong Mei in the market today have large, thick leaves and thin buds, so they can't go by this name anymore. Now, only tea from "tender shoots" can be called Gong Mei. The native breed Qun Ti Zhong has a lower yield compared to more popular cultivars used today. This standardization helps preserve the traditional varieties and plant diversity in the region.
Tea Taste: Smaller buds and leaves, with occurring silver hair buds. Rich, pure, and mellow taste with a hint of sweetness and red dates fragrance. Keywords are "pure" and "mellow".
Shou Mei Tea
Shou Mei White Tea originated in the birthplace of white tea — Fujian Province. The name Shou Mei comes from the shape of the loose tea leaves, which resemble the long eyebrows of the god of longevity, Shou Xing. Tea connoisseurs believe that tea is only the beginning of the journey in its basic form. However, with age, it transforms into medicine. Indeed, aged white tea has been a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Aged bai cha often comes in pressed tea cakes or bricks, similar to pu-erh tea.
Tea Taste: Mellow, full-bodied, and sweet with a long-lasting finish and a pronounced sweet aroma. Keywords are "thick" and "mellow".
Specialty tea: Yunnan-produced white tea
There is also a craft tea, considered white and pu-erh at the same time. Yue Guang Bai Cha (月光白茶) is a kind of tea produced in Yunnan. However, it employs the production process used in Fujian. So, does it belong to the pu'erh or white tea category?
Yue Guang Bai Cha. Origin
Moonlight White Tea is a new category of tea developed by Yunnan tea makers in recent years. There is a fable saying that beautiful maidens of Yunnan come out at night to pick the tea leaves. They then spread and whither them under the bright moonlight and put them indoors to dry further before the sunrise. According to the fable, the processing of the leaves must finish within one day. Therefore they never see the sunlight, hence the name. Another name of this tea is Yue Guang Mei Ren (月光美人) or "Moonlight Beauty". It refers to the beautiful girls picking the leaves.
Yue Guang Bai Cha production process
There is an ongoing debate whether this specialty tea belongs to the pu-erh or white tea category. Yue Guang Bai Cha's production area is Simao (ex-Pu-erh city). The best Yue Guang Bai Cha originates from Jing Mai Shan. Farmers use the Da Ye Zhong 大叶种 cultivar to make this tea. So, according to tea cultivar and leaves' characteristics, it can be considered a pu-erh tea. However, judging by the production process and the degree of oxidation, it falls within the white tea category. Its production uses neither "Kill Green" (杀青) nor rolling "Rou Nian" (揉捻). It preserves the tea in its most natural form.
Ye Guang Bai Cha features
Moonlight white has a specific shape. Tea farmers pick one bud and one to two leaves to produce it. The front side of the leaves is black, while white fuzz covers the backside. It makes the leaves look like a crescent moon in the night sky, creating another legend for this craft tea's lovely name. The tea soup color changes from green-yellow to dark yellow. The soft and sweet taste lingers on the cheek and teeth, filling the nose and throat with a ripe and warm aroma. It carries both the fragrance of oolong and the mellowness of Pu-erh tea. A unique feature of Moonlight White is the misty aroma of honey, further transforming into a delicate fruity or elegant floral fragrance.
Tea high: Yue Guang Bai Cha unique composition
Tea high (茶醉 – Cha Zui) refers to a state of being alert and focused, concentrated and relaxed simultaneously. Amino acids are among the compounds in tea, producing this unique state of mind. They gently regulate the action of caffeine. They also increase the formation of brain waves called alpha waves, associated with promoting alert relaxation.
The overall content of amino acids depends on several factors. One of the most important is the amount of sunlight. Tea trees growing in areas with less direct sunlight accumulate more amino acids in their leaves. Therefore, they are sweeter and more fresh in taste. The unique production process of Yue Guang Bai Cha ensures it doesn't get in contact with direct sunlight. It's no wonder this specialty tea is reputedly the one with the highest amino acids content. According to some sources, it can reach between 6% and 9%. The Moonlight White, produced in Jing Mai Shan, reaches a staggering 11.4%. That's up to 2-3 times the amount found in ordinary green tea. The consumption of amino acids is also associated with beautiful skin, as they are a valuable component in high-end cosmetics.
Does White Tea Have Caffeine?
Like any other tea from the camellia sinensis tea plant, white tea has caffeine. However, the caffeine content of this tea will depend on many factors, not just the tea type alone.
For example, Bai Hao Yin Zhen, which farmers make exclusively from the tea buds, has a higher caffeine content when compared to other teas. On the other hand, aged white teas tend to have a lower caffeine content as it goes down with age.
Is White Tea Acidic?
Many people watching their health are concerned about the acidity of tea. Every type has a different tea pH level. For example, while the acidity level of Hong Cha (Black Tea) is around 5, that of Bai Cha will range from 7-10. Overall, loose leaf tea is not acidic and is more on the alkaline side.
Does White Tea Go Bad?
Can tea go bad? Yes, nothing lasts forever! However, it won't spoil in the same way that food goes bad. Your tea won't grow mold or give you food poisoning. However, keeping tea leaves past their prime will result in a bland brew with a dull taste and zero tea benefits.
The good news is, unlike Green Tea, we can store Bai Cha for multiple years and even age it for decades!
How To Make Bai Cha
Bai cha is usually less bitter than other tea types and can be more forgiving of infusion times and water temperatures than green teas.
We recommend brewing your bai cha according to the ways of Gong Fu Cha. Since this tea usually has a delicate taste, we suggest sticking with porcelain or glass teaware that isn't porous and won't absorb the intense flavors of other teas.
Most white teas taste best when we brew them at a water temperature of around 185ºF (85ºC).