The Unique Nature of Chinese White Tea

loose leaf tea subscriptions has caught the imagination of several western tea drinkers because of its unique and delicate flavour and organic image.

The organic image comes from it being among the least processed teas, there being only two simple steps in its production – ‘withering’ and ‘dehydrating’. The processes found in production of Green, Oolong, Black tea are typically extensions or additions of this primary process to include ‘rubbing’, ‘shaping’ or ‘baking’. The almost ‘unprocessed’ nature minimises the break down of the enzymes and oxidization.

By reason of its simpler and common production process, some historians think that White Tea was one of the very original Chinese teas, its use dating back to at least two thousand years. The easy process of its production has been honed into an art form as time passes practiced by skilled and experienced exponents.

White tea’s production is nearly exclusive to the FuJian province of Southern China, its environment being particularly suited for the plants’ cultivation. Production is targeted in areas such as for example FuDing and ZhengHe, seen as a a hilly terrain, mild temperature and abundant regular rain. FuDing, for example, has a year average temperature of 18oC and rain fall 1660mm. The soil in these areas is predominately a red or yellow colour.

All teas (excluding herbals) are produced from exactly the same plant called “Camellia sinensis”. There are some premium species that are cultivated specially to make premium white tea, for instance, FuDing Da Hao (Big Fur), ZhengHe and FuAn Big White. Premium tea leaves have fuller/stronger bodies in comparison to their closest sibling green tea. The leaf tips are usually included in rich silvery white fur, which forms the ‘silver’ appearance of the final product such as Silver Needle.

The FuJian province of Southern China is a traditional tea country, well-known for Oolong and some Green Teas – along with its White Tea Production. Despite the Chinese tendency to preserve trade secrets, over two thousand years of tea production and export to other lands has resulted in leakage of skills and knowledge required for processing many Chinese teas. For example the processing knowledge for green and black teas has eventually been exported to foreign countries. The specialist skills connected with White Tea production have so far remained in the Fujian region.

Imitation products are sold on the market. The plants found in these imitated products are color-lightened (whitened). The manufacture can be different. A processing step ‘Sha Qing – traditionally found in green tea production is added rather than the ‘withering’ step – the distinctive process to make authentic premium White Tea.

White Tea isn’t as widely consumed in China as other styles because of the highly localized production. This rarity has contributed to its value. Premium silver needle is particularly treasured and connected with gift giving. Beyond China, and amongst Chinese expatriates, White Tea popularity is growing.