What is White Tea?

What is White Tea?

Soft, delicate, fuzzy little buds

If you are seeking only the most delicate, sublime, and ethereal cups of tea then white tea is your aim! White tea is an incredible member of the camellia sinensis or “true tea” family. White teas offer up a diverse range of flavours and aromas, all of which exude an exquisite and graceful beauty. As its name suggests, white tea is the lightest and elegant of true teas. 

White tea origins

Like many other superb tea origins, the origins of white tea go back to imperial China. During the Tang and Song eras, an annual tea tax sought out the rarest and finest teas from across the land for the emperor to enjoy. The search for the rarest and most luxurious tea developed to the point where people started to harvest leaves found only at certain times of the year. Like, the very tender, young, and silvery-downed buds and leaves of tea plants just starting to unfurl from the winter’s snow. These super fine, soft buds would be rinsed, ground into a matcha-like powder and served to the emperor himself. 

White tea processing

Fujian province is the de facto home and capital of white tea. In fact, for a long time, it was the only province that produced white tea until improved storage technology was introduced to the region. 

White tea’s processing method is very telling because unlike other tea types in the camellia sinensis family, white tea is steamed or fried almost as soon as the leaves and buds are picked. White tea is often collected from the softest and newest tea leaves from the plant. Harvesting times may take place in late winter or very early in the spring. 

White tea is so exquisite and somewhat rare because of the limited time that its leaves and buds can be feasibly collected. Some readers may be wondering what “silver needle” white tea is. Great question! The silver needle refers to white tea prepared from tea buds. The buds are still so new that they retain their silvery-white down that remains even after the buds are fired, dried, and ready for packaging. 

White tea flavour profiles

There is always something new to discover with white tea. While all teas in the camellia sinensis family can exhibit some truly diverse flavour and aroma palettes depending on all the different variables that go into their cultivation, white tea exhibits some of the most by far. 

White tea can come from Thailand, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and some other tea producing regions. But the most coveted by far comes from southern China, Fujian province in particular. White tea can be fruity, exhibiting flavours of apricot, peach, and melon. It can be herbaceous having grassy or flavours. It can also be exceptionally sweet with some honey and even chocolate hints and notes. Needless to say, white tea is a real carousel of potential flavours, hints, notes, and aromas!

Enjoying white tea

When brewing up some white tea, keep in mind that it is delicate. So try not to use boiling water as one would with black tea for example. However, it can be steeped for up to 5 minutes. This will unlock and expose lots of the subtle and superb flavours white tea can offer up. 

One final note, for those conscientious of their caffeine consumption, don’t believe the rumours that white tea is the “weakest” tea in the true tea family. While generally speaking white teas are a bit lower in caffeine content than their cousins like black tea, some white teas, especially from Fujian can actually be a little bit higher in caffeine content. 

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