White teas are highly prized by tea connoisseurs for their delicate and refreshing flavours. White teas were traditionally a speciality of Fujian Province but are now also cultivated in Darjeeling. Traditionally, white teas were exclusive to the emperor and high-ranking officials and produced in special harvests that lasted only a fortnight during spring.
White teas undergo minimal processing and the most prized harvests consist of only tea buds. The tea leaves used for white teas are dried naturally - generally in the sun or using fans - to remove some of their moisture. When brewed, the infusion is very pale and the flavour is delicate, fresh and floral. For the health enthusiast, white teas have lower levels of caffeine of teas and decent levels of antioxidants.
There are two main types of white teas, based on how they are processed:
- From downy buds: Silver Needle Tea or Yin Zhen;
- From a mixture of buds and leaves: Bai Mu Dan or Pai Mu Tan and Shou Mei.
Processing White Teas
- Withering: the tea leaves are spread out onto bamboo racks and either left to air dry for 12 - 24 hours, or sometimes fans are used to increase the circulation of warm air, so speeding up the drying. In larger scale facilities, a leaf-drying machine may be used.
- Sorting: broken leaves and undesirable physical material is removed, so that only the buds and leaves are left. For cheaper Mu Dan style, sometimes the stalks remain uncleaned out. Sorting may also be done using sieves of varying sizes, with branches then removed by hand.
- Firing: white teas should not be fired but some lower-quality Mu Dan teas are oxidised a little or use high-temperature drying, both of which changes their appearance and taste.