By Bruce Richardson
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, often 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 Bai Hao Yin Zhen (only bud) or Bai Mu Dan (two leaves and a bud).
White Teas From Major Growing Regions
Bai Hao Yin Zhen Also called Silver Needle, this classic Chinese white tea consists 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 Bai Mu Dan, or 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 a very pale liquor. Many American tea purveyors blend this tea with fruit flavors.
Darjeeling White Tea First produced in 2000 and 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.