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White Teas

A study published in Science News on April 15, 2000, revealed that white tea may be up to five times more protective against cancers than even green tea. Here is a general look at this remarkable tea.

In our exploration of the world of tea, we found it difficult to obtain a consistent definition for white tea. White teas often look like green teas, but there is a difference. White teas are the least processed of all teas and are not rolled prior to drying. They are traditionally air dried only, but now are increasingly dried with very hot air to speed up the process. Green teas are picked, withered, rolled, and then fired to stop further oxidation. Rolling is the process by which the cellular structure of the picked leaves is slightly broken to release essential oils and promote oxidation.

White teas

White teas are mostly grown in China's Fujian Province. Other provinces that produce white teas are: Hunan and Guangxi, both in south-central China. With flavors that are close to the heart of the tea plant, white teas were the favorite of Emperor Hui Tsung. He was the famous tea emperor in the 1100s who was so preoccupied with his love of tea, and his pursuit of the perfect cup of tea, that he lost his empire to invading Manchurians. Hui Tsung abdicated in 1125 when his attempts to buy off the advancing Jurchens failed. The Jurchens were Manchurians and 1126 the Northern Sung capital at Kaifeng was overrun by the Jurchens and Hui Tsung was captured to and taken to Manchuria, where he died in captivity. The Mongol campaigns against the Jurchens (Chin Dynasty), led by Chingis Khan's, began after 1206.

Sri Lanka makes a small amount of silver tips white tea from a different varietal and they are making other styles of white tea in Darjeeling.

White teas are often picked when the buds are tightly enclosed in new leaves. These leaves maintain the silky white hairs that denote new growth. Since they have such little processing these hairs are often intact in the final product. Many believe that the more downy the leaves, the better quality and more delicate tea. White teas are the closest to the fresh taste of pure tea leaves. The tastes can range significantly and is based on the varietal of tea plant used to grow the leaves. Some teas like White Peony (Bai Mudan) have a light amber color (similar to an oolong!) and a sweet flavor. Delicious hot, it also makes a surprisingly refreshing and hearty iced tea.

Yinzhen Silver Needles are perhaps the best example of the tight leaves enclosing buds. This is the style of white tea that is most famous in the US, and is well worth that reputation. Yinzhen Silver Needles have a marvelous cup aroma of nuts; the taste is round and richly vegetative. 

How to Brew White Teas

White tea is best brewed with warm water, ranging from 170-185 F. Carefully remove the top to your kettle and when tiny bubbles are forming on the heating element or rise from the bottom is when you have achieved this temperature. Generally these teas are extremely light weight and you have to be sure to add enough leaf to the cup or pot. Taste the tea after infusing for two minutes and steep longer if you want a richer flavor. White teas are enjoyable on their own or with meals. Avoid drinking the Yinzhen Bai Hao after eating spiced foods, as much of the delicacy of the taste will be lost. They are also an alternative for people who want to drink green teas for their health benefits, but find the taste of some greens too strong for their palates.

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