If you are a tea drinker, you probably had black tea and green tea before. You can easily find a cup of English breakfast tea or matcha latte in most coffee shops. What you probably have not had (unless you are an enthusiast who's always looking for exotic teas) is white tea.
White Tea – An Introduction
White tea is considered to be one of the finest varieties of tea, owing to its delicate texture created as a result of minimal processing. Its name is derived from the method of harvesting, i.e., before the plant’s leaves open completely and the youthful buds are covered in fine white hairs. The freshly unfurled leaves and buds are handpicked and carefully dried to prevent the oxidation of leaves. Low oxidation and minimal processing create some of the most fresh and delicate tea available.
The History of Chinese White Tea
White tea was first popularized in the early Chinese era of the imperial dynasties, somewhere between 600 and 1300. The phenomenon of tea culture and tea drinking was at its peak during that time across the country. According to Chinese customs, citizens were supposed to present a yearly tribute to their emperor comprising fine and rare teas, like a tea tax. This tribute was specially prepared from the newest and most subtle buds extracted from the best tea plants in the country. To ensure the quality of these rare tea plants, imperial tea gardens were cultivated and developed in secret. Chinese white tea was even used in poetic literature, where poets referred to these teas as “white like the clouds, green like a dream, pure like snow, and as aromatic as an orchid.”
Though imperial tea tributes are the earliest known forms of white tea, they are not like the white tea that we are acquainted with in recent times. During the rule of Emperor Huizong of the Song dynasty, young buds were plucked during spring, stripped of their exterior leaf and steamed. This was then carefully rinsed with the spring water, air-dried, and transformed into a white silvery form of powder. The powder was then stirred in hot water and presented to the Emperor, the only person in the kingdom who could afford it.
Chinese white tea is primarily produced in Songxi, Fuding, and Jianyang counties of the Fujian Province. These hilly terrains have the climate best suited for the growth of white tea. The regions have a yearlong mild climate with ample rainfall. Taiwan is also known to produce a considerable amount of white tea.
Popular Types of White Tea
Silver Needle and White Peony are the most popular kinds of white tea available for tea lovers. White Peony is prepared from the first and second tip of a tea stem. Silver Needle, on the other hand, is the most expensive form of white tea available. It is mainly prepared from the single tip of a tea stem, which is then dried and takes the appearance of small silver needles. The tea has a subtle silver hue with an extremely refreshing aroma and taste.
The Chinese Tea Ceremony
Drinking and appreciating the flavors of tea is a form of lifestyle for most. However, this transforms into a full-fledged ceremony for the Chinese masses, known as the Chinese Tea Ceremony. Enriched with the wisdom of rich oriental philosophy, the ceremony reflects the central idea of Buddhism, Confucian and Taoism. It is a perfect blend of both lifestyle and philosophy. The core spirit of this ceremony is represented by Taoism and forms the foundation of the tea culture. The ceremony proceeds through several processes like preparing, smelling, appreciating, and enjoying the flavors of tea. The value of friendship is enhanced, traditional virtues learned, and new virtues cultivated. It becomes a mode of clearing worrying thoughts and refreshing the mind.
Modern Day White Tea
While traditional methods of packaging and distributing remains for majority of white teas in China, modern processes also took traction in the recent years. Alternative brewing methods are especially prevalent in cultures and societies outside of Asia and tea producers have quickly adapted to the demand by incorporating techniques such as instant-teabags, powders, or capsules (for example, Nespresso pods or Keurigs K-Cup capsules ). If you have a Keurig machine and would like to try out some niche new flavors, Thimblety Chinese White Tea K-Cups will sure deliver high quality and convenient experience!
Next time, we will look a little deeper into the potential health benefits of white teas. Stay tuned!