White Tea Types
The simple and natural process used to produce white tea makes for a light and delegate taste.
White teas come in a number of different grades and styles to suit different tastes and budgets.
In this white tea facts section we aim to introduce some of the key characteristics that produce this sometimes misunderstood category of teas.
White tea production process is the simplest of all teas and although white tea does undergo oxidisation unlike green tea. However the process does not include any rolling nor, traditionally a final drying 'bake' to halt the oxidisation process.
The key steps include;
Wei Tiao 萎凋 - Withering
Shai Qing 晒青 - Sun drying
Hong Bei 烘焙 - Finishing bake (low temperature)
Traditionally the FuJian late spring sun is sufficient to halt the oxidisation process and dry the leaf without the final finishing HongBei process. However in some cases when the weather is not sufficiently hot, an artificial heat may be used to ensure quality and that the tea can be safely packed and stored without risk of damage due to moisture.
The majority of famous white teas originate from FuJian, though the ZheJiang province county of AnJi produces AnJi Bai Cha, which in fact a green tea based on it's processing technique. Many other green teas are sold as Yin Zhen or silver needles, a title often mistaken to mean that it is a white tea.
FuJian white tea has three primary types;
Shou Mei - ShouMei white tea is made from only tea leaves. There are no buds or tips included.
Bai Mu Dan - BaiMuDan white tea is made from a mix of leaf and buds.
Bai Hao Yin Zhen 白毫银针 - BaiHao YinZhen white tea is produced just from the top tips or buds of the tea plant. This makes for a very fine tea and correspondingly a delicate taste and aroma.
BaiHao YinZhen (White Hair Silver Needle)
Freshly plucked tender tea tips are processed in factory immediately after picking. Bai Hao Yin Zhen processing is only made up of two simple steps; sunbathing (wilting) and baking (drying). These steps mean the silver tips change slowly, making for a tea with a fresh, delegate, sweet taste.
The plucking season for high grade BaiHao YinZhen is relatively short and is very weather dependent.
Bai Mu Dan (PaiMu Dan)
The key process to make Bai Mu Dan white tea is frying. It takes skill and experience to able adjust the heat and duration according to the weather. Bai Mu Dan is usually a single season tea, with leaves being harvested in the spring. The picking standard is traditionally one tip with 2 leaves.
Bai Mu Dan white tea is characterized by natural leaves and white hairy tips ranging from light pastels to dark green, with a tea liquor that is orange yellow or apricot yellow, yielding a taste is mellow and fresh.
When making Yin Zhen silver needle it is common for farmers to pick leaves in a Bai Mu Dan style, then remove the silver tips. The remaining 2 leaves, are then used to make Gong Mei.
The Gong Mei dried leaves are typically a mix of greens. The tea liquor is bright and of a orange or dark yellow colour along with a mellow and sweet taste.
ShouMei and BaiMuDan white teas can be stored in a similar way to black teas, as with all tea they should be stored out of direct sunlight, steady temperature and away from strong smells. However partial exposure to air will help age.
BaiHao YinZhen white tea is more suited to an air free sealed. In the very early periods after after harvesting people often store in fridges and freezers to maintain the spring, fresh tastes. Nonetheless, BaiHao YinZhen also is an excellent tea to age. Many FuJian people suggesting that after 2-3 years the tea reaches it's optimum taste.
By only picking the freshest part of the tea plant white tea captures the purest flavours and much of the fresh spring energy the tea plant releases. For this reason and combined with the light processing technique means that white teas are often shown to contain some of the highest levels of antioxidants found in tea.
Storage and preparation of BaiHao YinZhen white tea is critical. Storage should be air tight container, ideally in a freezer with a temperature of around -5 to -1 degree(s) centigrade for the first 6 months. Water should be off the boil (for between 2-4 minutes), to give a temperature of around 70-80 degrees centigrade.
Experiment with even lower water temperatures, 50-60 degrees centigrade work well though infusion times may need to be varied. Water too is critical, if you live in a hard water area or somewhere with strong flavoured water we highly recommend buying a good quality (not necessarily brand name) mineral water.
Once the tea has been aged for more than a year then these teas can be brewed with hot and even boiling water.