Posted in Kafevend Blog

Regular visitors to the blog will be accustomed to the frequent appearances of tea, be it a look at a tea company or a particular blend. One type of tea that does seem to have escaped our notice to date, however, is white tea. Let's see if we can redress the balance then.

It's perhaps no surprise that we've overlooked white tea thus far; both black and green teas are far more prevalent on the supermarket shelves and cheaper too. All tea is derived from the Camellia sinensis plant, but the particular variety of the plant and the way it's processed account for whether it will end up as black, white, green or oolong. White tea is the rarest and most expensive of teas. It's also the least oxidised. Basically the longer the oxidation time, the darker the tea leaves become, hence white tea requires minimal exposure to oxygen. This also has the effect of producing a far more delicate flavour profile. Despite its name, it's worth noting that white tea results in a pale yellow brew.

There's more to white tea than just the oxidation process, however. In the case of Bai Hao Yin Zhen, known in the west as Silver Needle Tea, only the buds are harvested, carefully handpicked while still covered in downy white hairs on only a few days each spring. Silver Needle is considered the finest of all white teas. Grown in the motherland of white tea, the high mountains of Fujian Province in China, it's best when brewed with water below boiling point. Enthusiasts advocate infusing it in a glass teapot so that you can view the silvery needles floating and falling through the water.    

While Silver Needle is the white tea supremo, there are plenty of others to choose from. Bai Mu Dan, or White Peony Tea is made from not just the bud, but the two young leaves immediately below, resulting in a fuller, less subtle flavour. A less delicate white tea still is Shou Mei, or Long Life Eyebrow. Made from the larger leaves after the Silver Needle and White Peony harvests are over, its flavour is reminiscent of a lightly fermented oolong. The equally wonderfully named Monkey Picked White Tea is so called because legend has it that Buddhist monks trained monkeys to pick tea from high up in the trees where they couldn't reach themselves. These days tea plants are pruned for ease of harvesting, so the 'monkey picked' part of the name refers merely to the premium quality of the tea.

Historically, white tea was exclusive to a few counties within China's Fujian Province, but in more recent times its cultivation has extended to include parts of India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Taiwan. India's Darjeeling and Assam tea will be familiar to most of us, but were you aware that there are white versions of both? White Assam retains its malty notes, while White Darjeeling is compared favourably with Silver Needle by tea tasters who know their nuances rather more thoroughly than us! Similarly, Sri Lanka is home to a White Ceylon.

So what are the qualities associated with white tea? It contains less caffeine, which doubtless makes it more appealing to those who suffer adversely from its effects. The minimal processing involved in its production means that it retains a high level of antioxidants, which are generally held to be beneficial to health. Its greatest quality though is really its taste. You'll need to slip into a different gear to fully appreciate the subtle delicacies, which are a world away from the boldness of black tea, but you'll surely be glad you did!

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