We’ve learned about Black, Green and the Oolongs between, but today we’re turning our attention to white tea. White tea is rapidly gaining popularity in the tea world because of its potential health benefits and its mild flavor, which appeals to a variety of palates. These qualities come from the type of leaves used and from the tea’s minimal processing.
White tea is made of mostly ‘buds’, or baby leaves just beginning to emerge. Baby leaves are more delicate than full grown leaves, so they need extra defenses to protect them from the sun, moisture loss and insects. The first of these defenses is the soft downy fuzz reminiscent of pussy willows that covers the leaves. You can see these trichomes, as their called, on our Silver Needle white tea. It is from this silvery downy covering that white tea gets its name. The second of these defenses is contained within the leaves themselves. Polyphenols act like a natural sunscreen for the baby leaves, but they are also fantastic antioxidants for humans. Tea buds produce a milder, sweeter tea than the older leaves so the ratio of buds to leaves impacts the tea’s final flavor. This is evident when you compare the Silver Needle tea with our White Peony tea, which contains a mix of buds and young leaves and tastes closer to a green tea than its bud-only counterpart.
After the buds and leaves have been picked, they are left to wither. This reduces the moisture content of the leaves and makes them soft and pliable so they can be shaped (if desired) before the final drying process. At this point, some white teas are simply dried and packaged for sale. When dried quickly, there is no need to fix the leaves and destroy the enzymes responsible for turning the leaves brown. You may recall from our earlier posts about Green, Black and Oolong tea, that that these enzymes react with oxygen and produce flavonoids, which gives Black and Oolong tea their distinct colors and flavors. This process, called oxidation, is initiated when the tea leaves are cracked or bruised during the rolling process and release their enzymes to react the air. This is why white tea is not rolled and normally not fixed. Some white teas will be lightly fixed by steaming or pan searing based on the desired flavor. If you recall from our post about Green tea, the method used for fixing produces new flavors in the tea.
White tea is the least processed of any of the teas from the Camellia sinensis plant. If you want to taste tea in its purest form, try a white tea. The Silver Needle tea is white tea at its finest, but I’m personally a fan of our White Peony. I find that the White Peony is more forgiving while brewing. Because of its delicate nature, white teas should be brewed at approximately 175 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 to 3 minutes; if the water is too hot, it will scorch the tea. Some newer electric tea kettles can be set for a specific temperature, but a small kitchen thermometer does the job just as well. Don’t let this intimidate you from trying White tea. If you’re looking for a little more pizazz, the Pomegranate Splash White tea is great fruity and refreshing option for the summer. Both the White Peony and the Pomegranate Splash are available in loose leaf and tea bags.