Declared to be the “culmination of all that is elegant” by the emperors of the ancient Song Dynasty over 1000 years ago, white tea remains a prized favourite among tea lovers. But what makes for an ‘authentic’ white tea? It is the unique combination of geography, tea bush varietal, harvest and production method, complemented with a healthy dose of experience and history.
While some Indian and Sri Lankan manufacturers claim to make white tea, genuine white tea is made only in the northern areas of Fujian Province, China, from specific tea bush sub-varieties that are indigenous to that region. Named for the silver, downy hair that covers the buds and leaves of these bushes, white tea is harvested once a year in early spring. There are two main types of white tea: Silver Needles, made solely from the bud, and White Peony (also known as Bai Mudan), made from one bud and two adjacent leaves.
Once picked, white tea undergoes just two processes: withering (during which some natural oxidisation occurs) and bake-drying. It is never rolled or shaped. While this may seem simple enough, getting the temperatures, times and humidity levels just right to reveal the tea’s best flavours is a sophisticated artisan skill. White teas have a pale liquor, a delicate aroma and flavour, no bitterness, and a slight nutty undertone, reminiscent of a quality Darjeeling.