THIS MONTH IT IS ALL ABOUT WHITE TEA
The last couple newsletters we featured green and oolong tea information. If you missed reading or wish to review those, you can find THE GREEN TEA NEWSLETTER HERE, and THE OOLONG TEA NEWSLETTER HERE. Make yourself a cup, and now let's discuss some info about white tea.
How is WHITE TEA different?
White tea is characterized as slightly fermented (meaning slightly oxidized), and both the leaves and brewed liquor are lightly colored. White tea brews a softly sweet drink, reminiscent of honey, slightly nutty, with slight hints of peach, cucumber or melon, and without any of the grassy flavors often found in green tea. White tea has the reputation as a simple production cycle, basically with the goal of "touching the leaf as little as possible”, and with the end appearance being a pile of dried leaves. There may be a minimum of steps, but it is still very difficult to master making white tea.
White tea is named for the luscious white down often covering the unfurled leaf bud, and to a lesser extent, the fresh new tea leaf. It originally came only from China, but as its popularity grew, other countries started producing similarly processed white tea. Historically, white tea was a powdered tea developed during the Song Dynasty (960–1279). During this time, the powdered white tea was sifted and placed at the bottom of a shallow bowl, where boiling water was added, and the tea whisked. As the tea was allowed to cool, the tea fell out of suspension, and the liquor was carefully consumed. The tea powder which settled to the bottom would not be consumed, but could be brewed again for the next cup. This method of consuming tea is what later inspired Japanese Matcha popularity.
Even in the best of years, white tea has a limited production. The weather conditions must be near perfect for plucking. It's picked in early spring (usually early April is best), before the buds open into leaves. The buds must be long and plump - not too thin, and not too long. Producing white tea in the traditional way takes a lot more skill, time, and floorspace than it seems. After plucking, fresh leaves and buds are wilted in the shade to lose moisture. Then they are moved outside into the sun for exposure to slight fermentation (oxidation) and drying with the aid of a breeze. Hence the skill and judgement of the tea master, manually regulating proper shade, breeze, and sun. It is difficult to mass produce white tea. When the sun is too strong, or moisture content is too high, or if it’s too cloudy and takes too long for the leaves to loose their moisture, the tea can be ruined. Finally, white tea leaves are often finished by baking dry with charcoal ash on bamboo trays, or leaves can also be dried by the sun when the sun is strong enough. Unlike the production of other tea types, white tea is not exposed to the enzyme-deactivation step (halts oxidation permanently) with high heat. Because of this, white tea can be aged similar to Puer.
Examples of white teas?
All true tea, including white teas, are produced from the leaves of the Camelia Sinensis plant. Many historic tea-growing regions will have a natural, indigenous varietal of Camelia Sinensis unique to that area, that serves as the foundation for making a certain type of tea for that area. White tea is very prominent in the north and east Fujian Province where the ‘DaBai varietal’ flourishes. One of China’s ten most famous teas is 'Bai Hao Yin Zhen', which means ‘White Hair Silver Needle’, and refers to the highest picking grade of white tea produced. Just as important as the grade, is where it's being grown and produced from specific locations. The very best Silver Needle has only two true origins, 'FuDing’ and ‘ZhengHe’, about a four hour drive apart in northern Fujian Province. FuDing ‘DaBai varietal’ white tea plants produce slightly lighter colored tea than ZhengHe DaBai plants. Silver Needle and other white tea from other locations are not as desirable. Generally speaking, the quality and the cost of tea is determined by a combination of the picking grade, the varietal of the tea plant used, and the terroir and location of the harvest/production. Usually the location of the harvest/production can be most influencing. Silver Needle from FuAn would sell for less than a 'Shou Mei' from FuDing.
- Bai Hao Yin Zhen (Silver Needle) - The highest white tea picking grade and most expensive. There are two tiers to consider. First, picking only the buds from the trees (can damage the trees over time), or picking buds with an attached leaf or two, then carefully sorting for only the buds (considered more authentic and sophisticated, and displays how much the tea maker cares for the trees). While we are nearly sold out of Silver Needle, we do have a Silver Needle used for an aged SILVER NEEDLE PUER CAKE.
- Bai Mu Dan (White Peony) - The second grade of white tea, consists of one (very fat) bud and two leaves. It’s not always second to Silver Needle. The best Bai Mu Dan is picked at the same time as Silver Needle and it is simply the tea maker’s choice whether or not to go through more steps to separate it into Silver Needle or to sell bud/leaf combined as White Peony. Even though White Peony has overlapping harvesting periods with Silver Needle, White Peony can continue even when making Silver Needle has ended. Therefore the later-harvested White Peony is considered inferior. As the season extends into summer, the buds become skinnier and the leaves become larger than the buds, and it’s not as tasty.
- Gong Mei - The third grade of white tea made mostly in the fall, is nowadays actually seldom made. It has skinnier buds in comparison to White Peony and the leaves are always longer than the buds. We have an excellent Gong Mei used for an aged GONG MEI PUER CAKE.
- Shou Mei - another lower grade of white tea with mostly leaves and very skinny or no buds, Shou Mei is often made in the very end of spring and early summer where the weather is becoming rapidly warmer and more humid. One signature characteristic of Shou Mei is its darker color due to the higher moisture content carried by the wind that blows from north to south. As white tea grade goes down, the flavor changes from bright to mellow. In rare cases (like the SHOU MEI we have at Trailhead Tea), a much higher quality Shou Mei might be picked right after Silver Needle due to poor weather interrupting the Bai Mu Dan and Gong Mei harvest.
Choosing between “orthodox” or flavored WHITE TEA?
Flavored or scented white teas have one or more blended ingredients included that modifies the taste and aroma (and sometimes appearance). Since white tea is light and subtle in flavor, the flavorings blended with white tea also tend to be lighter.
As a general rule, “orthodox” natural unflavored/unscented tea is usually a higher quality choice since the taste/aroma/appearance must stand on its own (but there are exceptions). Another definition when referring to orthodox tea: tea that is processed in the traditional and complex manner that includes hand plucking, withering, roiling, oxidation, and firing. The opposite of orthodox is CTC (crush, tear, curl) which is a modern mechanized way of producing large volumes of lower quality tea.
What’s the caffeine level for WHITE TEA?
Generally white tea caffeine is considered a ‘lessor amount' for tea. An 8oz cup of white tea yields only about 1/4 caffeine than that of an 8oz cup of coffee. This measurement can vary depending on how long the tea is steeped. The longer the steep time at first, the higher the caffeine content will be. Caffeine content will lessen each time tea is re-steeped. In the case of white teas, the caffeine content lessens by about 1/3 with each steeping. The 4th infusion or later is close to almost no caffeine, but will still have great flavor.
How to brew WHITE TEA properly?
The true aroma, taste, and quality of white tea can be enjoyed through correct brewing. Many tea types have their own unique flavor that prefers a unique way of brewing. For ‘WESTERN’ style brewing, use a heaping teaspoon of leaves for every 8oz of 195°F water. Brewing time is around three minutes.
'GongFu style' uses about 5 grams of tea in a 100 ml gaiwan (this is about twice the leaves and half the water then western brewing). The first quick steep is a rinse to open up the loose leaf tea leaves. As the rinse is very light and relatively bland, it is often poured over a tea pet. Because white teas do not get bitter, the next steep of white teas can be unhurried and relaxed, with 195°F water brewing in the leaves for about 5-7 seconds. With each subsequent steep, increase brewing time for one to three seconds, adjusting to taste. White tea leaves can stand up to 6 or more infusions.
How is WHITE TEA healthy?
Green tea gets most of the press, but white tea is also healthy due to some of the essential components found in White tea: Tannins, Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG) and other Catechins, Polyphenols, Theaflavins (TFs), Thearubigins (TRs), and Antioxidants.
- Can Reduce Inflammation: White tea is considered as a necessary food that not only reduces inflammation but combats symptoms that cause inflammation in your body, thanks to the catechins found in the leaves of white tea. Many studies also suggest that if consumed regularly, white tea can greatly decrease the risk of chronic inflammation mainly caused by diabetes, cancer, etc. The catechins are also known to reduce muscle inflammation.
- Can Help Kidneys: According to a recent study, white tea has enough potential to fight adverse effects associated with the environment. This environmental pollution causes daunting health problems which impact the human body including kidney related disorders. This is why consuming white tea is suggested because it is organic and free from harsh chemicals.
- Can Help Liver: Many have heard about hepatitis and its vaccinations. It is one of the daunting health problems that spread rapidly. Scientists have carried out many studies in this regard to find whether white tea is effective enough to provide relief to hepatitis patients. It is suggested that the catechins in the tea leaves can treat the hepatitis B infection, but there is no evidence found that consuming white tea can eliminate hepatitis entirely.
- Can Assist Oral Health: Most oral problems become apparent when gums start bleeding. However, oral health problems are less dangerous and can be treated effectively by consuming white tea. It's surprising to learn that the leaves of white tea contain flavonoids which are considered a necessary component when it comes to treating oral problems. It is known to prevent plague and bacterial growth. There are fewer tannins present in white tea as well, which means unlike other teas; white tea does not leave a yellowish tint on teeth.
- Promotes Proper Digestion: For frequent indigestion, consuming white tea twice a day could be beneficial. It not only regulates bowel movements, but white tea is a great source to provide instant relief from stomach acidity, cramps and even from nausea.
- Can Be Anti-Aging: Fine lines and sagged skin are signs of aging, and regular consumption of white tea can delay the aging process. The antioxidants found in white tea fight free radicals effectively. Free radicals aren’t skin-friendly, and if not treated, they affect your skin adversely. White tea is loaded with polyphenols that rejuvenate dead skin and cells. These nutrients are essential to help keep skin smooth and wrinkle-free.
- Can Assist Cognitive Health: Aging doesn’t only affect skin, but it greatly influences psychological health. White tea is an option for consuming catechins that are known to improve memory and other cognitive functions.
- Can Assist Reproductive Health: Infertility is one of the daunting health problems that can easily put anyone under severe stress. According to a recent study, men can improve their reproductive health by consuming at least a cup of white tea daily. It is noteworthy that the studies haven’t proved any fertility benefits for women who consume white tea.
- Can Assist Cardiovascular Health: White tea contains properties that are effective to lower high blood pressure levels. Moreover, narrow blood vessels and blood clotting in the arteries are symptoms that can dangerously affect the heart. Studies have suggested that consuming white tea can help in broadening narrow blood vessels and eliminating clotting in the arteries. This way, blood flow is improved.
- Helps Keep You Active: With the help of white tea, you can keep yourself active throughout the day. It is a safe and healthy option as compared to processed and chemical-filled energy drinks. Tea contains the highest amount of L-theanine that is known to boost energy levels in the body. It is also a good source to keep hydrated.