by Bruce Richardson (elmwoodinn.com)
Photography by Marcy Black Simpson
First produced in 11th-century China, this delicate and much-prized tea comes from young, unopened tea buds that are hand plucked, withered to remove some moisture, and gently dried. The curled buds have a silvery white appearance. Originally grown only in the Fujian mountains, white teas are now manufactured in other major tea-producing countries such as India, Kenya, Malawi, and Sri Lanka. The liquor is pale like Champagne. The flavor is soft and smooth with a hint of peach pit and the lingering sweetness of honey.
The growing popularity of white tea and the acknowledgement of its apparent health benefits have led to a proliferation of ready-to-drink white-tea beverages. As well, the number of cosmetic products containing white tea as an ingredient has increased.
According to the different standards of picking and manufacturing, most white teas can be classified as either Yin Zhen Bai Hao (only bud) or Bai Mu Dan (two leaves and a bud).
Spotlight on White
Yin Zhen Bai Hao (also called Silver Needle) is a classic Chinese white tea consisting only of stout buds covered with silvery hairs. The liquor is low in caffeine but high in healthy polyphenols. Silver Needle teas are very expensive but can be infused several times.
Bai Mu Dan (White Peony) is more abundant and is a less-expensive form of white tea. For this variation, the top two very young leaves are gently plucked along with the unopened bud. The pickings are sun dried to keep the tea in its purest form. The lightly oxidized tea produces very pale liquor. Many American tea purveyors blend this tea with fruit flavors.
Darjeeling white tea was first produced in 2000 and is available in limited quantities from several estates. These young spring teas resemble the Chinese Bai Mu Dan, but the taste is a bit deeper and nuttier than that of the Chinese productions.
White Tea Brewing Tips
White teas are best brewed in small teapots, using small quantities of dry tea with 165° to 175° water. The tea should be consumed without the addition of milk or sweetener. Multiple infusions are possible when using a gaiwan or yixing clay teapot.
- Fill the kettle with filtered cold water, and heat to much less than a boil, approximately 170°.
- Warm a small teapot with hot tap water. Discard the water in the teapot.
- Place 1 to 2 teaspoons of dry tea directly into the teapot. Allow the tea to float freely, or, in the case of Bai Mu Dan, use an infuser basket to keep the small bits of leaf from escaping through the spout.
- Cover with water directly from the kettle.
- Brew 2 to 3 minutes according to taste.
- White teas will yield multiple infusions. Simply pour in more hot water, and add 30 seconds to each steep time.