White tea has been treasured by Chinese tea drinkers since the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279). However, it’s only in the last few decades that it’s delicate flavour and bountiful health benefits have become known in the West. Produced mainly in China and primarily in Fujian Province, white tea is made usually from a particular type of tea plant known as the Da Bai Hao tea bush.
Unlike other teas, white tea comes from the immature tea leaves that are plucked shortly before the buds have fully opened. The tea itself takes its name from the downy, silver hairs that still covers the buds, which turns white once the tea is dried.
While the leaves of green teas are heated at high temperatures, white tea is dried naturally, in a process known as whithering – and it’s this that helps to preserve the tea polyphenols, the powerful anti-oxidant that fights and kills cancer-causing cells, as well as lowering cholesterol, reducing blood pressure and fighting fatigue.
After natural drying, the white tea is very lightly roasted. The result of this processing is a tea with a fresh and natural fruity silkiness with none of the bitter tannins found in black teas or the grassy aftertaste often associated with green tea.
During the late 19th century, particular types of Chinese tea plants were selected to make white tea. The buds and leaves from two strains, Shui Xian (Narcissus) and Da Bai (Big White), are now generally used for white teas. The best quality white teas are Silver Needle (Yin Zhen) and White Peony (Bai Mu Dan). Silver Needles is made entirely from downy buds picked within a two day period in early Spring, while White Peony contains the top two leaves with every bud.
All of this may sound like you’re drinking something really special, and indeed you are! Considered one of the healthiest tea varieties, in olden days it was, in fact, reserved only for the emperor and his cohorts. Now millions of people get to feel like royalty in the comfort of their own kitchen just by sipping this light, sweet-flavoured brew!
To get the best benefits and taste from it, ensure you’re brewing the tea correctly, though. Use filtered or spring water to help release the full flavour. The ideal water temperature is well below boiling, about 170-180 degrees Fahrenheit, though quality tea such as Silver Needle will benefit from even cooler water. Don’t be shy of adding a generous amount of leaves too – 1 tablespoon per cup should do the trick. In addition steep it for at least 3 to 5 minutes and be aware that, somewhat similar to oolong, white tea can be steeped several times.