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White Teas & Oolong Tea

Historical Context

The apotheosis of tea!

Modern day White teas can be traced to the 18th Century Qing Dynasty.

They differed from other teas because their processing did not incorporate any steaming orpan-firing (see below).

The resulting leaves were therefore thin, small and did not have much silvery-white hair.

It wasn't until 1885 that specific varietals of tea bushes were selected to make White teas.

The large, silvery-white leaves of the Silver Needle (Yin Zhen) came into being in 1891.

The production of White Peony (Pai Mu Tan) began 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.

With growing popularity there are also an increasing number of copycat products grown in India and elsewhere in China.


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.

Growing Regions

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 teas is not an authentic product if it is not grown in thisregion.

Taste Profile

Typically very light and clean: often with subtle, slightly sweeter notes.

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.

One serving of white tea can be brewed several times, with each steep revealing another element of flavour. However the key flavour is in the first cup so it is not best practice to re-use the leaves in a fine dining set up. 

Health Benefits

White teas are said to be higher in antioxidants than any other tea type.

Particularly revered for their anti-aging benefits.


Not to be confused with a black tea + milk!


Oolong Tea

Historical Context

Oolong teas are partially or semi-oxidised and therefore fall somewhere between Green and Black teas resembling either, depending on the way they are processed. (See below)

The method in which oolong tea is processed originated in the Wu Yi Mountains in the northern border of Fujian Province and Jiangxi province in China.

Later, when Taiwan began producing tea, it was called Formosa Oolong, after the name given to the island by Dutch explorers (‘Formosa’ meaning ‘beautiful’)


Lesser-known than green teas but interest in its health benefits has prompted numerous scientific studies and with them a growing awareness here in the UK.


There are two main types of oolong:

1.Darker open-leaf oolongs – made by withering the leaf, allowing some of the water to evaporate to start the oxidation process. At 70% oxidation the leaf is heated for 5-10 minutes to halt further oxidation and is then dried.
2.Greener ‘balled’ or ‘rolled’ oolongs – as with the darker oolongs, the first stage is the withering of the leaf to allow some of the water to evaporate and the oxidation process to start. But at 30% (as opposed to 70%) the leaf is heated for 5-10 minutes to halt further oxidation and then dried. The leaves are then left to rest overnight and the next day repeatedly rolled in cloth (between 40 – 60 times) until the leaves are tightly rolled into pellets.

Growing Regions

The two main growing regions for Oolong tea are China and Taiwan.

Two of the more famous examples of Oolong tea include Formosa Oolong and IronGoddess of Mercy (Ti Kuan Yin).

Taste Profile

Darker oolongs – soft, toasted character with honeyed notes.

Greener ‘balled’ oolongs  -  typically more fragrant and floral in character.

All Oolong teas vary greatly not only in taste, but in preparation time.

Dark Oolong teas are best prepared with boiling water, and steeped for 4-5 minutes.

Lighter Oolongs are best prepared with water that is cooler-than-boiling (80-85°) and steeped for 3-5 minutes.

Health Benefits

Oolong teas are revered for being an effective aid to indigestion and with helping to lower cholesterol.

Studies have also shown Oolong teas can help lower the plasma glucose levels of subjects who have type two diabetes.


Pouchongs cause some confusion; not strictly speaking an oolong (the leaf is oxidised for such a significantly shorter time) but not wholly green either (partially oxidised to 12-18%

The origin of Iron Goddess of Mercy Ti Kuan Yin

According to the legend, Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy presented tea as a gift to a devout farmer. Inside the temple of Kuan Yin, was an elegant iron statue of the Goddess to whom followers prayed for enlightenment. One day a devoted to farmer, who diligently maintained the temple, went inside the temple to pray for his family.

The weather had been particularly harsh and his crops had not yielded enough to sustainhis family’s livelihood.

Starving and desperate, the farmer prayed to Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, to grant his family good fortune so that they could sustain themselves - whereupon the iron statueappeared to come alive.

Shocked, the farmer fell to his knees and the goddess whispered:

“ The key for your future is just outside this temple. Nourish it with tenderness; it will support you and your family for generations to come”. Unable to contain his curiosity, he went outside and found a withered, straggly bush.

After much care, the bush grew rich and full, with thick green leaves.

Experimenting, the farmer dried the leaves in a stone wok. They soon turned a smoothrich black, just like the statue of Kuan Yin, and produced a delicious drink.

Thus, the magical Ti Kuan Yin  ‘Iron Goddess of Mercy’ tea- came into being.