Contemporary White tea, Modern Cultivars
Whereas previously white teas were produced almost solely for export, it is now an increasingly important part of the domestic tea market. Production is centered around two main areas, both located in Fujian: Zhenghe and Fuding. There are sufficient differences in climatic conditions, local terroir, production techniques and cultivars used, to talk of two different styles of white teas: Northern and Eastern.
Northern-style teas are centered around the county of Zhenghe, a highly-forested mountain region that rests on the borders of two mountain chains, one of which is connected to Wuyi Mountain. Eastern-style white teas are located closer to the sea, amidst a different mountain chain, which surrounds the town of Fuding on its northern, southern and western sides, to the east the land drops to sea level, creating a distinctive, horseshoe-shaped landscape. Unlike the inland climate of Zhenghe, with very cold winters and hot summers, Fuding experiences a milder, wetter maritime-influenced climate, with a less extreme temperature range.
Traditionally, tea-makers in Zhenghe favour the use of indoor withering and shaded drying (followed by relatively low temperature baking). Whereas in Fuding the "interval method" of withering is often used, during which, long periods of indoor withering are punctuated by short bursts of open air sun-drying. Fuding is also known for its continuing experimentation in production, adding rolling, shaking and higher baking temperatures to create 'New Concept' white tea.Currently, Fuding accounts for around two-thirds of China's white tea, whereas Zhenghe represents around one-fifth.
White teas from Fuding are known for the sparkling, white leaves which result from the thicker, denser coating of fine, silver hairs, or down, found on premium grades. Liquors are slightly thinner than those of Zhenghe, which, in turn, appear greener with a less emphatic silver gloss, but are prized for thicker 'mouthfeel' and better infusion rates.
There are notable physical and chemical differences between the two main cultivars used in Zhenghe and Fuding. The traditional cultivar for Zhenghe White teas are larger, contain higher levels of polyphenols than those of Fuding (which helps to explain the thicker mouthfeel); whereas, the longer, thicker white down of cultivars used in Fuding, possess notably higher volumes of amino acids, contributing to the pronounced briskness and 'downy' aroma of Fuding white teas.
Below are the six main cultivars used to make White Teas:
1.Zhenghe Big White 政和大白 or 政和大 (Traditional Cultivar for Zhenghe teas)
2.Fu'an Big White 福安大白
3.Fuding Big White 福鼎大白 (Traditional Cultivar for Fuding teas)
4.Fuding Large Down 福鼎大毫
5.Fuyun No. 6 福云六号
6.Shui Xian White or White Narcissus 水仙白