White Tea 101 | The History & Processing Methods

The Origin Story

     White tea originated in China during the Chinese Imperial Dynasties (600-1300). Tea drinking was a vital part of Chinese culture during this time. Every year, citizens were required to make a yearly tribute to the Emperor, and it was often done in the form of presenting tea. The tea offered had to be one that was both rare and fine. The most “rare and fine” tea was white tea because it grew from the youngest and most delicate tea plant buds. Secret Imperial Gardens would harvest these rare and honoring teas.

     The white tea used during Imperial tea tributes was not like the teas used today. During the Song Dynasty (960-1297), the young tea buds would be picked, meticulously rinsed, and ground into a white powder. This technique produced the most elegant cup of tea available in China and was only affordable to the Emperor.

     The white tea we know today was cultivated in the 1700s from the original white tea bushes of the Fujian province in China. At first, loose leaf white tea was rarely available outside of the Fujian Province. Due to the minimal processing and delicate nature of the tea, it could quickly spoil without proper storage. Once improved production and storage methods were developed, harvesting white tea became accessible to many other world regions.

White Tea Processing Method

     White tea is one of the lightest and most delicate teas because it is the most minimally processed. The white tea bushes are harvested for only a few weeks in the spring and are handpicked between mid-March and early April. When picked, the plant leaves barely open. The buds are covered by fine, white hairs that look like silver needles. After picking, they are left to wither and dry air in the sun or a controlled indoor environment. The withering process is limited to no more than 72 hours to prevent over oxidization. The longer the tea is exposed to oxygen, the darker its leaves will be. Minimal processing and oxidation produce tea that is delicate and fresh in both texture and flavor. China and many other outside countries are cultivating many unique types of white tea. These are some of the most popular white teas available:

Tea Types (From China):

Bai Hao Yin Zhen (Silver Needle): Silver Needles comes from the original variety of tea plants in Fujian, China. The tea buds are full and covered in fine, white hairs that give it a silver appearance, hence the name. This tea is highly sought-after for its delicate and delicious aroma and flavor.

Bai Mudan (White Peony): White Peony originated in China but can also be cultivated in different countries around the world. Although newer to the white tea family, White Peony is one of the more popular white teas. The buds are blended with unfurled young tea leaves, which gives it a fresh and sweet flavor.

Darjeeling White Tea: This tea plant is one of the few white teas that did not originate in China. Instead, it was harvested in the Darjeeling region of India. Although the processing techniques are similar, the tea has a nuttier and bolder mouthfeel.

Da Bai Cha (Fujian New Craft): This is one of the newest white tea varieties, as it was harvested in the 1960’s. Like most white teas, it was cultivated in the Fujian province. Fujian New Craft tea is rolled after the withering process and dried longer than most white teas. This method gives the tea a darker appearance. It is less delicate, and while the fragrance is subtle, the flavor is perhaps the most robust of the white tea family.

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