Behind The Leaf: White Tea

white

My lovely tea friends, I know you’ve had lots of black and green teas, but how much do you know about white tea? I find white teas to be quite surprising. The brewed tea ranges in color and the flavors are not always as light as you’d expect. The flavors can be quite nuanced. These teas are subtle and smooth, but so much more!

All tea comes from the camellia sinensis plant. The main differences are in terroir, plant varietal, and of course processing. White teas are produced mainly in China’s Fujian province, and they are the least processed of all teas.

You are probably thinking, ‘Tippy, tea leaves are green, aren’t they? Why is this called white tea?’ Well, white tea gets its name from the silvery-white fuzzy buds that are often used. The buds are very young, and they haven’t had a chance to go from fuzzy and silvery to the green you’re used to seeing. They don’t have that bright green chlorophyll-laden color of more mature leaves. This also means the leaves are more tender than older ones. I do love those fuzzy buds, but they tend to tickle when Kat brews tea straight in my cup!

To create white tea the young leaves are plucked in early spring, withered and then dried but barely oxidized. After drying they are sorted and heated again. The withering process is long, and can take up to 2 days. Because the leaves are minimally processed they have a lovely crisp freshness. They are even lighter than green teas. White teas have notes of grass, honey, fruit, vanilla, chocolate, even citrus flavors.

There are two common types of white teas:

Silver Needles (Hao Yin Zhen)- These leaves are the highest quality. They are comprised of all silvery, fuzzy buds and no other leaves. The brew is pale yellow and the flavor is subtle, smooth, and sweet. I find the flavor of this tea mellow and relaxing, but please note, because the leaves are young and the tea is minimally processed, it has a good amount of caffeine. The taste is subtle, but it’ll definitely give you a bit of energy.

White Peony (Bai Mu Dan)- This tea is delicious but considered lower quality because it has both silver buds and young leaves. The brew is a little bit darker and has more robust notes of fruit and honey. Kat sometimes has this white tea in the morning, because it has bit more flavor and wakes her right up.

Because these teas are tender and minimally processed, you don’t want to use boiling water to steep them. Refer to the directions for exact temperatures, but you’ll usually want to use temps around 180. I love to watch those downy needles dance while they brew, so we usually use a small glass teapot to brew the leaves. A gaiwan would also work well to extract as much of the delicate flavor as possible.

pomwhite

Kat has a few different white teas in her cupboard, and right now she’s been enjoying a pomegranate white tea from Private Selection. The earthy, grassy white tea pairs nicely with sweet pomegranate and tangy lemongrass. This tea steeps up to a beautiful red color that is perfect for this festive time of year. She enjoys this tea all on its own as an afternoon escape. It has so much flavor that she doesn’t need to add sweetener. The strong pomegranate and lemongrass flavors do not mask the white tea. It is mellow yet refreshing. Kat recently had this tea at a family holiday gathering. Her aunt served it in beautiful little glass cups, so everyone could enjoy the pinkish red color. A few days later she saw the tea in her grocery store, and she happily brought a box home with her.

So what do you think, my tea lovelies? If you haven’t tried a white tea before, are you curious? I do hope you seek out a few white teas to try, they are quite a unique experience.

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