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White tea originated in China during the Chinese Imperial Dynasties (600-1300). Tea drinking was a vital part of Chinese culture during this time. Every year, citizens were required to make a yearly tribute to the current Emperor, and it was often done in the form of tea, much like a tea tax. The tea presented could not just be any tea, it specifically had to be one that was both rare and fine. The most “rare and fine” tea at that time was white tea because it was formed from the youngest and most delicate tea plant buds. Secret Imperial Gardens were developed to harvest these rare and honoring teas.
The white tea we know today was cultivated in the 1700s from the original white tea bushes of the Fujian province in China. These tea bushes created large and beautiful tea buds where loose leaf tea varieties were developed. At first, loose leaf white tea was rarely available outside of the Fujian Province. Due to the minimal processing and delicate nature of the tea, without proper storage, it could quickly spoil. Once improved production and storage methods were developed, harvesting white tea became accessible to many other regions of the world.
Produced mostly in China’s Fujian province, white tea is the least processed of all teas. It is considered one of the healthiest teas, as it contains antioxidants, such as catechines and polyphenols, concentrated in the bud that help strengthen the immune system. It has a delicate flavor and is naturally low in caffeine.
Harvested once a year, usually in Spring, only the youngest, finest leaves and buds are painstakingly plucked, before being gently dried in the sun.
White tea gets its name from the white fuzz on the young leaves that helps protect the tea plant's new growth from insects. Because it is hand-harvested for a short period each year, white tea tends to be more expensive than other teas.
To make a white tea, the leaves are only withered and lightly rolled. As a result, the beverage is extremely light, pale-colored or blush-toned and characterized by mellow floral-fruity flavors.
Most high-grade white teas are made from young, unopened buds and first leaf of a tea plant. Plucking for white tea is carried out early in the flush when a tea plant is at its prime growth stage.
Withering refers to the process of allowing the leaves to wilt for a specified period of time. To make white tea, freshly plucked buds (with/without a leaf) are spread out on withering pans and left to wilt for up to 72 hours.
Extended periods of withering draw out much of the moisture from the tea leaves. However, to ensure the white tea is shelf-stable, the buds/leaves are fired or dried in an oven at around 110°C. Drying brings down the moisture content in the tea to a little less than 1%.