White tea is the rarest of all teas and is produced in very small quantities in China (originally in Fujian Province). It out rivals all other teas for its delicate, mild and pure taste. It is the healthiest of all teas because of its high anti-oxidant content and it is also very low in caffeine. After harvesting, white tea undergoes the least processing of all tea, thereby retaining the most health giving properties.
White tea is referred to as ‘non-fermented’ and when brewed, makes a pale, straw-coloured infusion that has a velvety, smooth taste with a fine aroma. Once opened, this tea should be used within three months.
Pai Mu Tan Imperial (also called Bai Mu Dan, Balmudan or White Peony) is made from small, unopened leaves of the Camelia Sinensis plant, which are plucked in early spring, just before the leaves open. The buds are carefully picked by hand, with great care taken not to damage them. They are placed immediately on bamboo trays in thin layers and taken to dry in the sun. The warm air circulating around them allows the moisture to evaporate and natural withering to occur. This natural drying is the only process white tea undergoes. The tea is finally sorted and blended and it is at this stage that flowers and fruits can be added for different flavours and aromas.
Yin Zhen (Yinfeng or Silver Needles) is made from tender, new, unopened buds which have a coating of white down. This gives them a silvery appearance and they are also known as ‘Silver Tip Pekoe’ and ‘China White’. This tea is picked on two particular days in the year and processed by hand. Like the Pai Mu Tan, Yin Zhen is left to dry naturally in the sun. The dried tea’s appearance is of tiny, white blossoms amongst small, delicate, silver-green leaves.
To make White tea boil water and leave to cool for around 2 minutes or use water at 185F –85C.
Take care not to pour boiling water on to the leaves as this will scald the leaves and prevent them from opening and releasing all their delicate flavours and aromas. It is important to use good fresh filtered water and to allow time for the leaves to infuse and open releasing their fragrance and flavour. Do not let the tea over infuse as this can make the taste too strong and slightly bitter. Do not let the leaves stew in any remaining water, drain off all water and reuse the leaves by pouring new fresh hot water for a second brew, this brew can have different characteristics in taste and flavours. The Chinese have often regarded the second brew as the best!
As a guide infuse 1-2 teaspoons of White Tea per cup for up to 4 minutes depending on the strength you enjoy.
There are two good methods for brewing tea; one is called ‘the two tea pots method’ and the second ‘the warm cup method’
Use the first teapot to brew the tea and when it has brew for the required time pour into a second warmed tea pot using a tea strainer so there will be no tea leaves. This leaves all the leaves in the first pot and ready to make a second brew.
The warm cup method is as follows pour fresh boiled water into a teapot without any tea leaves in this pot and from the teapot pour into the required number of cups, then place the tea in the empty but warmed teapot, finally pour back the water from the cups and let the tea brew, not only do you have the exact amount of water needed but it is at the perfect temperature!
Whilst it is not essential to use porcelain cups for drinking tea it helps! It can be no coincidence that the Chinese produced the earliest, finest and most delicate porcelain and tea of outstanding quality, both are still held in high regard and combining the two does justice to both. So it is recommended to use porcelain cups or mugs to drink these fine white teas from, and brew in a porcelain teapot that way you get the full potential both in flavours and aromas.