Pretty Fly for a White Tea

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I honestly tried to figure out a better “White Tea” pun for this post title, but when it came down to it, this is where it’s at!

Before I started learning about tea properly, all I knew about white tea was what I learned from that one commercial by Lipton years ago. It was advertising their bottled white tea. They talked about how it’s so special because it’s made from only the fresh young leaf bud to achieve a nice mild flavor.

Seriously, does anyone else remember that commercial, or am I crazy?

In any case, I have to admit I was a little surprised to discover that this vague memory of a brief commercial really did help me on the road to understanding white tea more clearly. While not all white tea today is made with purely the unopened leaf bud, that is how it was first made and only in more recent years (okay, the 1920’s… but that’s recent for tea!) were slightly open-leafed varieties created.

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White tea has been primarily made in China (Fujian Province most particularly), but is now also being produced in some areas of India and Sri Lanka as well. Of all the types of tea, it probably has the least variety within the category. The production is quite simple for white tea, so the options are more limited. (Don’t get me wrong. There is still great variety in flavor based on the individual bush, the location of it, when it’s plucked, etc., which all have an impact on the tea – just as with any tea.)

The most well-known white tea is Bai Hao Yin Zhen – or Silver Needle white tea. The English name is an accurate description of the appearance of the leaf. Silver Needle tea created from only the unfurled buds of the tea plant and therefore has a narrow, needle-like appearance. Depending on the cultivar of the bush it’s plucked from, these buds can be quite short or up to an inch in length. They’re referred to as “silver” because it should have a soft layer of white/silvery downy hairs.

The other main type of white tea is Bai Mudan – or White Peony. Instead of plucking just the bud, White Peony tea is made from the bud and one or two of the fresh, young recently unfurled leaves just below the bud. Sometimes it is even made without the bud at all. With how young the leaves are, they will still have the same soft downy hairs that distinguish the white tea from others.

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But wait! There’s more! From here, the story differs from the other varieties. White tea is the least processed of all teas. Once it is plucked, it is laid out in the sun to wither and dry.

That’s it.

Depending on the weather, the leaves could be helped along with the drying by applying heat at a very low temperature. But it still is a relatively simple process (especially compared with how some of the other types of tea are made!).

Now here’s the twist… even though white tea is the simplest to explain the production of, it can have some of the most complex flavors! What I’ve come to love most about white tea in my recent experiences with it is the crystal clarity of the flavor and how it effects the mind. While white tea strictly speaking will have some of the lowest actual quantities of caffeine among teas, I’ve found that I don’t get the “brain perk” with any other tea the way I do with white tea. The closest comparison for me personally is when I drink “too much” (no such thing!) pu-erh tea.

It’s not a caffeine-craze like you’d get from coffee. It’s a more subtle jolt to the brain that seems to break away any haze of the day that could be clouding your judgment.

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But I digress… I was going to talk about the flavors! White tea has a beautiful clear flavor that can be sweet and floral, or may have a bit more body to it. It isn’t grassy or herbaceous the way green or oolong teas are. It’s not earthy the way pu-erh and black teas are. It’s just… light and clear.

I highly recommend trying some proper white teas someday. Maybe even tell me what flavors you find and we can create a more thorough description together!

Oh yeah… you thought I’d forget didn’t you? Ever since you read the title of the post, all you wanted to do was listen to this:

Sources
1 The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook: A Guide to Enjoying the World’s Best Teas by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J Heiss.
2 The New Tea Companion by Jane Pettigrew and Bruce Richardson
3 http://www.teaclass.com/

Photos by Briana Morrison

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Comments

  1. First off, great blog title. I’m envious that I didn’t think of it first, and I’m starting the New Year doing a series of blogs on white tea, myself.

    Secondly, you are correct: White tea USED to mean just the young leaves or buds of the tea plant (i.e. anything that still had fur on them), but that definition has broadened to include tea leaves in general. The big definitive is that the leaves never go through a “kill green” process or oxidation. They’re plucked, they’re dried. Done.

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