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Discovering white teas

30 September 2011

white tea leaves

Bai Hao Yin Zhen, composed entirely of buds (top) and
Bai Mu Dan composed of buds and the first leaves (bottom).

Long ago in China, white tea was considered so precious it was reserved exclusively for the Emperor. It’s easy to see why. With the small scale production of the time, and such fine plucking of just the silvery down bud of each shoot during a very short period in spring (legend has it, by young virgin women with silver scissors!). This tea was worth its weight in gold! … Today, there is a much larger scale of production to match the growing demand for this type of tea.

White teas are now available in varying grades and qualities (some at prices far more accessible than the days when the imperial courtesans quenched their thirst with small sips of this nectar!). And though white tea was unique to China for hundreds of years, tea gardens of India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and various African countries, among others, are now experimenting with white teas with some very interesting and varied results.

Of all styles of tea, White tea undergoes the least manipulation during its transformation. Using the greatest care after harvesting, the buds (and first leaves in some grades) will undergo only a single withering before a final drying. This avoids the step of rolling, which would break the tender silver tips and release the aromatic compounds. Thus the leaves do not undergo oxidation on their surface, thus retaining more of their delicate herbaceous and floral aromas.

white tea buds during the withering stage

Buds during the withering stage.

Near the city of Fuding in the province Fujian (legend has it that it is the birthplace of white tea in China), on the well exposed slopes of Tai Mu Mountain, at an altitude of 400-680 meters, Mr. Zhang has produced White teas for us for the past eight years. A kind, lively and passionate spirit, he is also one of our most loyal artisans. ‘Fuding Da Bai’ is the cultivar used to produce Bai Hao Yin Zhen and Bai Mu Dan Wang (in late March and early April, respectively). China’s national certification organization OTRDC (Organic Tea Research and Development Center) has certified these teas are cultivated without the use of chemicals or soluble fertilizers. Mr. Zhang also produces several other teas from our catalogue.

Mr. Zhang during a visit to one of his gardens

Mr. Zhang during a visit to one of his gardens

The character of White tea is usually delicate and fragrant. Clover honey, edible flowers, fresh walnuts, freshly cut prairie grass, are some of the aromas evoked in the sweet nuances and velvety smooth texture of the liquor. Traditionally consumed in summer by the Chinese for its refreshing aspect, it can be enjoyed at any time of the day in any season. A tea to enjoy peacefully, without food, so as to focus on its finer subtleties and its soothing effect.

  1. eric benoit wrote:

    I enjoyed reading this post regarding white teas. I am particularly fond of white teas, which greatly pleased a tea master who I took tea with in Hangzhou last year -also having a preference for white tea. I was fortunate enough to sample some of her aged white tea, of which the memory of still lingers. She spoke highly of aging the tea, through my guide/translator. Upon return I notice there is little discussion of the aging of teas outside of pu’er and oolong, though I have since noted an aged green cake from Hunan out there for sale.

    I wondered if you had any thoughts about the aging of white teas, as I have also come across an aged white cake from Fujian once online.

  2. Kevin wrote:

    There are Pu er made purely of buds that have gone through regular mao cha manufacture ie.a long open air withering..pretty much the same way most white teas are made. I have never seen a loose leaf version as yet but most tea stores in the Yunnan will carry one or 2 cakes of pure buds ie.aged white tea.
    The resulting liquors are sweet and of slightly more viscous without the harshness of matured leaves.
    The best I have tasted so far was a 2001 from Lincang.

 
 

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