White tea is the apotheosis of tea; in short it is tea in its purest and rarest possible form.
Other tea types involve differing amounts of processing and heat treatments which develop a wide range of differing flavours, but white tea is defined by its almost complete lack of processing. The youngest, tender leaf and bud are handpicked in the garden each harvest and then separated at the point of processing.
There is no steaming or pan-firing involved; the leaves are simply gathered and dried naturally.
This produces the finest, purest cup of tea possible.
Authentic white tea is produced on a very limited scale, picked for only a few weeks each year in the Fujian province of China.
Just like Champagne, White tea is not an authentic product if it is not grown in this region.
Modern day White teas can be traced to the 18th Century Qing Dynasty when natural processing methods were introduced to the Fujian province in creating tea from the indigenous plants in the region. They differed from other teas because their processing did not incorporate any steaming or pan-firing. Processing leaves naturally from these varietals resulted in leaves that were thin, small and did not have much silvery-white hair.
It wasn't until 1885 that specific varietals of tea bushes were selected and introduced to Fujian especially to make white teas; and some of the most popular varietals emerged after this such as the large, silvery-white leaves of the Silver Needle (Yin Zhen) in 1891 and White Peony (Pai Mu Tan) in around 1922 and from here,
many others followed.
Its exclusivity and unfamiliarity, coupled with a gentle, altogether more subtle taste profile means white tea is only really just beginning to make a significant impact in the UK. However, it has massive scope for growth for a number of reasons.
The fact that it is pure and refined with naturally high levels of antioxidants make it an ideal drink for the health conscious, whilst also retaining its luxurious image at the top of the tea range; truly fit for connoisseurs.
With growing popularity there are also an increasing number of copycat products grown in India and elsewhere in China. Tea Palace white teas will only ever originate from Fujian – so you can be sure of the genuine article.
Typically very light and clean: often with subtle, slightly sweeter notes – usually with a light, clear liquor (some varieties can be almost completely clear) and sweet aromas.
Beware though; their delicate nature will be destroyed by water that is too hot - burning the delicate leaves for an astringent cup. The ideal water temperature is about 80-85° and steeped for 2-3 minutes.
The key flavour for white tea is in the very first cup so it is not best practice to re-use the leaves in a fine dining set up.