What is White Tea?

by on Saturday, July 12, 2014 7:00:00 PM

At Shang Tea, we specialize in providing the highest quality, authentic Chinese teas, with a special emphasis on white tea. When we tell customers that we specialize in White Tea, the most common response that we get is "what is white tea?". Most people have heard of green tea and black tea, but white tea is less well known. In this article we're going to outline our definition of white tea and what makes a true, authentic, Chinese white tea.

In particular, we believe that it is important to look at three factors when examining a tea:

1. How was the tea processed?
2. What cultivar of the tea plant was used?
3. Where was the tea grown?

Let's take a look at all of these one at a time.

First, we must look at how a tea was processed. With white tea, the leaves are picked and then air dried to produce a light, clean tasting tea. Most white tea producers use a climate controlled room with rotating racks to slowly dry the tea over a couple of days. We still prefer to use the ancient method of sun drying on bamboo racks to produce our white in order to impart a cleaner, smoother, and slightly more complex flavor on the tea. Regardless of the  exact method, white tea is air dried at a low temperature.

Second we must look at what cultivar of the tea plant was used. Similar to apples (red delicious, pink lady, granny smith), tea has hundreds of different cultivars that taste and smell very different and have very different leaf structures. For true, authentic white tea production, only one cultivar of the tea plant is used called Da Bai, Da Hao. This plant has lots of little tiny white hairs that grow on the buds and leaves. Certainly other cultivars of the tea plant can be air dried similar to true white tea, but we like to refer to these as young leaf white tea because they must be picked at a very young age to have a similar appearance to true white tea. This is because other cultivars of the tea plant only have small white hairs when the leaves are very young.

Lastly, we must look to where the tea is grown. Authentic white tea is currently only grown in the Fujian province of China because the Da Bai, Da Hao cultivar has only been commercially successful in this region. Attempts to grow it elsewhere have proven to be unsuccessful so far as the cultivar grows very poorly in other regions and does not taste as good. Even if the Da Bai, Da Hao cultivar could be grown in other regions, it is important to know where it was grown as different soils produce teas that taste very different. 

To wrap things up a tea must be air dried, come from the da bai/da hao cultivar, and be produced in Fujian, China to be considered an authentic white tea. Thanks for reading and leave any comments/questions below.

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