Nicole Wong • December 20, 2018

What is White Tea?

educationhow towhite tea

When you are thinking about buying white tea, many people are motivated for different reasons. Some seek it for its delicacy, nuance, and subtlety; Western markets have framed it as another health superfood, citing its high polyphenol content. However, this post is a dive deeper into this fascinating subset of the tea spectrum, covering its origins, definition, and our brewing specs. 

What is White Tea? 

White tea was originally created in Fujian province, China in the early 19th century. A relative infant in the span of tea history, a new production style was sought that was economical, as the region was in impoverished dearth. This style would eliminate pan-frying and rolling, while also reducing roasting. Typically plucked with the fuzzy, down-like young buds intact, the leaves are either left to dry via sunlight or carefully-monitored, low-temperature rooms. After, the leaves undergo a very light roasting process, sometimes through charcoal, but more commonly electric heaters.  

There are five basic cultivars of white tea: 

  • Fuding Da Bai (Fuding Big White)
  • Fuding Da Hao (Fuding Big Sprout) 
  • Zhenge Da Bai (Zhenghe Big White) 
  • Zhenge Da Hao (Zhenghe Big Sprout) 
  • Xiao Bai (Small White) 

Though some purists may argue that "true" white tea must hail from Da Hai Bao bushes in Fujian, this style has inspired other Chinese provinces and countries to create their own unique take on white tea. Yunnan, a region most famous for pu'er, has entered the market as a white tea producer; similarly, India and Nepal have exhibited white teas that reflect the terroir, as well as their respective cultural and historical production processes. As you explore similar teas of different regions, you might find that the definition of white tea is a lot more flexible than previously thought. 

What are the styles of White Tea? 

white tea, bai hao yin zhen, silver needle

Bai Hao Yin Zhen, also known as White Hair Silver Needle. This soft, downy-like tea is considered one of China's "famous teas." Amongst white teas, this is the most expensive variety and the most prized, as only top buds (leaf shoots) of the camelia sinensis plant are used to produce the tea. 

white peony, bai mu dan, white tea

Bai Mu Dan, also known as White Peony. This tea is consists of one leaf shoot and two immediate young leaves of the camelia sinensis plant.

How do you make White Tea?

We recommend this steeping method as an introduction to the gentle, plush liquor white tea brews. Of course, experimenting with dose, time, and temperature can produce wildly different results. (Which is to say: not a bad thing at all.) 

Dose  2 tablespoons for leafy tea such as White Peony
2 tablespoons for bud tea such as Silver Needle White Tea 
Temperature 180 degrees Fahrenheit
Time 2 minutes, three total infusions 

One element that we find particularly interesting about white tea is its soft mouthfeel. It can range from very airy and light, to a pleasant astringency. The flavor profile can be sweet like vanilla frosting, earthy like mulch or hay, or woody like an oak cask.