White Tea

Photo: Bai Hao Yin Zhen White Tea

White Tea: A Tea That Requires Little Processing

It seems likely that white tea was the first tea to be drunk, as processing requires a minimum of human intervention: the tea more or less processes itself, under the watchful eye of the grower. To produce the finest-quality white teas, only the buds are picked, in spring over a very short period of two weeks when the weather is most favorable. Once picked, the tea is spread out on large bamboo racks in the shade and left like this for two or three days. This allows the tea to wither and a slow, natural enzymatic oxidation to take place, giving a gray-green color to the tea. The grower keeps a careful watch over the progress of this operation, which is extremely delicate: too much humidity in the air will cause the buds to rot; not enough humidity will make them dry out too quickly. This stage of the process is halted by drying. White tea is therefore one of the least processed and most tricky teas to produce because of its vulnerability to weather conditions.
The finest white teas come from the Fujian province in China. The rarity of white tea is therefore determined by the short harvesting period each year and by the finest of the plucking. The very finest white tea is Bai Hao Yin Zhen (White-Tipped Silver Needle). Only the buds are picked in spring. Other qualities are produced that contain leaves and buds, the most well known of which is Bai Mu Dan (White Peony). One hundred grams of Bai Hao Yin Zhen costs about $35, compared with $7 for the same quantity of Bai Mu Dan.

- p. 91, Alchemy of Tea in Tea: Aromas and Flavors Around the World by Lydia Gautier (2005)

White Tea

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