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Guide to White Tea Types
White Tea is named after its characteristic delicate silver white hairs. It is made from young tea buds that are picked and slowly dried in the sun. White Tea produces a sweet, light, delicate liquor that is rapidly gaining popularity among tea aficionados in the West.
Growing and Production
- Varietals: Most White Teas are produced from two Camellia Sinensis varietals: Big White and Narcissus.
- Major growing areas: Zhenhe and Fuding in China’s Fujian Province are the main production areas of White Tea, although it is also produced in Hunan and Guangxi Provinces.
- Picking: Immature tea buds are hand-picked in early Spring. The timing of the harvest is critical to the quality of the tea.
- Processing: White Tea undergoes the least processing of any tea – it is simply picked and allowed to wither slowly before being baked dry at low temperature.
The first references to White Tea date back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907), although this was a compressed tea and the production method included steaming. White Tea was served at tea ceremonies at the Imperial Court during China's Song Dynasty (960-1279). The leaves were crushed into powder and whisked in bowls, in a manner similar to the much later Japanese Tea Ceremony. Song Emperor Hui Zong insisted that true White Tea could only be picked in the wild and dried in the sun.
The tea varietals that produce the modern White Teas we know today, Yin Zhen (Silver Needle) and Bai Mu Dan (White Peony), were introduced in 1891 and 1922 respectively.
White Tea Varieties
The two main varieties of white Tea are Silver Needle (Yin Zhen) and White Peony (Bai Mu Dan).
The most famous White Tea, Yin Zhen is made exclusively from young tea buds. It produces a very pale yellow/green liquor that is light initially, then sweet and delicate.
Bai Mu Dan is made from combining buds and young tea leaves. The liquor is darker and more full bodied than the flavoured Yin Zhen and is usually considered less desirable. However the best quality Bai Mu Dan can be superior to everyday Yin Zhen.
White Tea Health Benefits
Because it is so lightly processed, White Tea is one of the healthiest teas you can drink:
- White Tea is high in polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants.
- Chinese medical practitioners claim White Tea is good for the teeth, hair and skin.
- A US study at Pace University in 2004 showed that drinking White Tea can boost the natural immune system.
For full health benefits of drinking White Tea see our Health Benefits section.