Drinking white tea is the newest trend for many of today’s tea drinkers. Drinking white tea, however, is not really new. The Chinese have been drinking white tea since at least the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.). It gained greater popularity in China during the Song Dynasty when the emperor Hui Zhong declared white tea to be the most elegant form of tea.
However, even today, white tea is much rarer than black and green tea, which is part of the reason that fewer people know about it. In addition, because it’s so rare 茶葉送禮, it’s also the most expensive of teas. Growing white tea takes special care and a special kind of harvesting, so far less of it is grown than black and green tea.
White tea is different from black and green tea in two important ways; the maturity of the leaves at harvest and the actual tea processing. It’s the ability to harvest white tea at exactly the right time and the ability to process the tea properly that makes a quality white tea. The best white tea gardens have this delicate harvesting and process down to a science, protecting the delicate flavor that is so important in white tea.
White tea is harvested much earlier than other teas, before the leaves are fully open. At this point in the growing process, the tea buds are still covered by fine white hair, hence the name white tea. For the very best tea, only the completely unopened and undamaged buds, and sometimes the first two leaves, are used. It’s critical that the buds remain undamaged as they’re being plucked.
It is also critical that the weather be perfect when white tea is grown and harvested. The very best white tea buds are harvested in March and April. In fact these are typically the only months out of the year that tea farmers will harvest white tea, which is another reason it is so rare.
White tea was once reserved for only the most elegant affairs in China. In fact five years ago most Americans had never even heard of white tea. Today, however, white tea is rapidly gaining popularity in the US. White tea is much milder and sweeter than black tea and lacks the grassy flavor of many green teas.
White tea is the healthiest of all teas and has the lowest caffeine content as well. White tea brews to a pale color and has a very delicate aroma.
One of the finest white teas available is a blend called white licorice tea. This tea is a delicious blend of the finest white tea with the addition of sweet and bold licorice flavor from the use of star anise.
All white teas come from the camellia sinensis plant. What separates white teas from black and green teas is the time of harvest and the method of processing. White tea is harvested just once each year, in the spring before the buds have opened and while they retain a fine white hair. White tea is simply steamed and dried, often right in the fields, without going through any oxidation process.
This not only means that white tea has a much more delicate and sweet flavor than other teas, but also means that white tea retains more anti-oxidants in their natural state than green or black tea.
The anti-oxidants in white tea have been shown to fight cancer, heart disease and high cholesterol. White tea has also been shown to improve the immune system, too. In particular, white tea seems to have the ability fight off bacteria and viruses. White tea is also high in fluoride, making it great for preventing tooth decay and inhibiting the formation of plaque.