Tea lovers all-round the globe vote for their favourite beverage for many reasons. First of all, tea is a wonderful way to keep oneself thoroughly hydrated throughout the day. There are many who are repelled by the very thought of drinking a glassful of water at a time because they find it utterly boring. For such people, tea is perhaps the most appropriate drink. It’s also a healthier option to other bottled beverages, considering that diseases like diabetes or hypertension are preying on our society severely. Tea, on the other hand, can prove to be a very healthy drink which at the same time tastes really awesome, without the extra calories!
If you want to know which tea among all the major Tea types proves to be the most beneficial for your health by far, then you must know that it is none other than White Tea. While varieties like Green tea, Black tea, Oolong tea, Yellow tea and Pu-erh tea are very popular, it is the health boosting attributes of White tea, along with its characteristic delicate and sweet flavour that makes this tea stand apart.
Research proves that the nutrient rich White tea has the highest amount of Antioxidants when compared to all other tea forms. In other words, it beats even the popular Green tea in terms of its net antioxidant content and thus can totally reverse the damaging effects of the harmful free radicals on the human body, keeping all the fatal diseases at bay!
Now why is it so that the ‘antioxidants’ content is the highest in White Tea? So much so that fitness freaks all across the world are ready to spend a fortune on this most expensive tea type? If you want an answer to that, you’ll have to understand the production and processing of White Tea.
White Tea: The tea that served the Chinese royalty needs special care during production
White tea production & processing process is quite fascinating. The production process of white tea, much unlike the other common teas, excludes the crucial heating plus rolling stages. The tea workers simply allow Nature to play its part in the White tea production process.
When White tea was popularized in China during the rule of the Tang Dynasty; i.e. approximately somewhere around 6th century, it was a brew that was greatly favoured in the Chinese royal court and only the rich and affluent royal court members could indulge in it. Therefore, obviously special treatment was received by this special tea in the course of its entire Production process and the same practice follows till date.
To put it in other words its production was governed by a set of stringent and strict requirements to make sure that only premium quality tea could be made available to the members of the Chinese royal family. The production process of White tea appears to be the simplest apparently, but demands utmost skill and care. Major tea suppliers from all across the globe trading in white tea pay special heed to the production process of this tea so that they can meet the expectations of the white tea fans most efficiently.
These days apart from China, White tea is being produced in many other Southeast Asian countries like Nepal, Kenya, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India. Indian White tea especially Darjeeling white tea is world-famed for its unique blend of floral and fruity notes and you can even get some awesome blends if you are looking for White Darjeeling tea bags.
White tea production process is unique in itself
The production process of White tea is starkly contrasted to that of Black tea, Green tea or Oolong tea. It involves almost zero or minimal heating. The freshly plucked young tea leaves and buds are never made to go through the fixation process, which is actually a process during which the leaves are generally subjected to intense high heat with the purpose of halting the complex chemical reactions of enzymatic compounds within the leaves so that oxidation or fermentation can be stopped immediately.
The tea leaves selected for white tea are not even rolled post fixation to give them their typical shapes. The process of white tea production is actually initiated with the cultivation of a suitable tea crop. It is already a known fact that all forms of tea come from the one common Camellia Sinensis bush, but what make each form different from each other are the unique production methods for each specific tea form. With the evolution of agricultural patterns special tea cultivars are being farmed to yield exceptional quality white tea.
Let’s now take a look at the different stages of White tea production:
- Selection of appropriate Tea Cultivar: Good quality white tea can only be made out of young thick leaves and fat pulpy unopened buds that are coated with a huge amount of fuzzy silvery hair. Since this tea is uncommon and rare, special attention is being paid to increasing the cultivation of special varietal plantations of the tea crop like Fuan Dabai or Big White, Fuding Dahao or Big Hair, Fujian Shuixian or Water Sprite that produce buds and leaves ideal for making white tea. Even Chaicha or Narcissus tea bushes are one variety that can yield good quality white tea. Thus, the cultivation of these bushes is being done on a large scale to meet the increasing demands of white tea worldwide. The first step in white tea production is selecting the right plantation from where the fresh young buds and leaves can be plucked.
- Selection of the appropriate young buds & leaves: The second step is obviously the proper selection of the buds and leaves. There are different categories of white tea and the production of each category depends on the kind of leaf or bud that is being processed. The higher is the number of buds and the younger are the shoots of the tea plants plucked the better will be the quality of White tea made from the shoots and buds. The best White tea is the Silver Needle tea made from one silvery bud plus one unfurled young leaf. Then comes White Peony made out of one silvery bud plus two young unfurled leaves. Other inferior varieties are Tribute Eyebrow, Long live Eyebrow and so on.
- Harvesting stage: After the buds & leaves have been selected, they have to be harvested skilfully. So that’s the third step and Springtime is the ideal time for harvesting of white tea buds and leaves though its harvested in summer as well as autumn too. The best quality buds & leaves can be obtained in the spring season because it is during the springtime only that fresh young buds and shoots sprout on a tea bush. The shoots and buds obtained during the spring are the fattest and sweetest of all times. Since white tea quality is influenced much by the harvesting season, the plucking of the young leaves and buds is almost prohibited during the rainy season or during the season when wet dew drops collect on plants & trees in the early morning hours.
- Withering stage: Next comes the withering stage and this is where the tea workers have to put to use their real skill. The withering of white tea leaves is a natural withering process during which the freshly picked leaves and buds are left in a dormant state for a maximum of 3 days so as to have them dried up thoroughly. This is indeed a heavy withering process quite unlike that of Green tea withering in the case of which the withering duration is few hours only. The typical colour of white tea, shape of the leaf and sweet fragrance of the silvery hair that coats the young leaves & buds is actually created during this withering stage. The withering may be allowed to take place out in the sun or indoors. The withering stage has a lot to do with the extremely sweet taste of white tea. If the exact conditions are created during the withering of white tea leaves, the enzymes in the tea leaves can induce optimum production of theanine and sugars in the leaves. Nowadays, to boost supply and hasten production, the withering of white tea is being done mechanically in factories. But workmen have to constantly keep monitoring light, humidity, temperature and air-flow to get the desired results.
- Drying stage: The last & final stage in the production of White tea is drying. The leaves are not pan-fried as in the case of the other tea types but they are oven-baked. This oven-baking has to be done quite a number of times so that the moisture content comes down to as less as only 5%. Drying of white tea leaves does not take as much time as withering. It can be completed within an hour time. If natural sun can be used for the final drying, white tea can get the most exotic toasted aromas. In the Zhenghe provinces of China the same practice is followed still.
Thus, it is clearly evident that the production of White tea is tremendously influenced by the weather conditions at the time of its production & processing. The experienced tea workers can make necessary adjustments to the processes of withering and bake drying by interpreting what impact the weather might have on these processes. The environmental humidity and temperature will help them decide the timing as well as correct procedure of white tea leaves withering plus bake drying. If the weather conditions are too hot the white tea leaves become withered and they’ll turn reddish. Similarly, leaves will turn blackish if they are withered with the outside temperatures being chilly cold.
Therefore, an appropriate environmental temperature is of utmost importance, and is of the biggest reasons why White tea is rare and expensive.
Something you didn’t know?
White tea is produced from yet another species of tea bush called Camellia Assamica and even from Cambod tea shrubs. If good quality white tea is to be produced, tea workers avoid plucking the buds that have turned purple because purple buds tend to be bitter. Secondly, when the ground is frosty, plucking of white tea leaves is again avoided because leaves and buds will not be sweet enough.
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