Tea - Wonderful in White

It’s curious that we start with a green leaf and end up with “white tea”, but that is exactly the name that we give to the slightly-oxidized, lightly-processed tea product. Where does this odd name come from? Read on!

Whither white?

The “white” name comes not from the color of the leaf, as one may suppose, but rather from the fine white hairs that cover the unopened buds of the tea plant. (Fun fact: the unopened buds of the tea plant are known collectively as “pekoe”; this plays an important part in grading tea for sale. This is where the term “orange pekoe” comes from.)

Although it may sound odd, the small white hairs which are integral to the naming of white tea are sought after in the brewed beverage; it is taken as a sign that the tea has not been overprocessed, and that the tea is actually a good quality white tea, made from the youngest leaves and buds of the tea plant. Often, lesser-quality green or yellow teas are added to the white tea in order to bulk up the leaves; the flavour is noticeably stronger and not as delicate.

Easy does it

With such delicate-sounding names as Silver Needle and White Peony, this tea needs a delicate touch while brewing. Water between 170 and 180 degrees Fahrenheit is best; water that is too hot will make a bitter-tasting brew instead of a sweet, delicate brew. You’ll notice that the leaves and buds in a batch of white tea are a lot less dense than other tea types, due to their minimal handling; to get a proper tasting cup, use about 50% more leaves than you normally would for green or oolong tea.

It also takes more time to extract the delicate aroma from the white tea leaves; eight to ten minutes is the recommended steeping time, to start. As you get used to the subtle taste and experience of white tea, you can adjust the brewing time to suit. However, since white tea can be brewed for a long time without imparting a grassy flavor to the tea, it’s also great for a second infusion; give the second batch of tea about twice as long — 15 minutes or so — to steep before drinking. Enjoy!

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