White tea has become a very popular drink in recent years. Though itís been grown at least as far back as the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), it is a new beverage to most people in the Western world.
Later, during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) the emperor Hui Zhong declared white tea to be the most elegant form of tea, and this declaration made white tea more popular and increased the number of tea gardens growing the variety. During this same dynasty, a new method of white tea preparation emerged, known as the Song method.
Prior to this, white tea leaves were processed into cakes and prepared by boiling pieces of the tea cake in kettles. During the Song Dynasty, white tea began being produced in powdered form. After the white tea leaves were steamed and dried, they were ground into a fine powder. This powder was whisked with hot water in wide bowls. This method of preparation produced a tea that was either emerald or iridescent white in color.
The most popular cultivars for white tea include Da Bai, Xiao Bai, Narcissus and Chaicha bushes. Based on the different standards of picking and selecting the white teas, they can be classified into different grades. Following is an overview of white tea grades.
Bai Hao Yinzhen Tea ñ This tea is produced mostly in the Fujian province of China, but is also produced in the Jiangxi Province, the Lin Yun Province and the Yunnan provinces of China, too. It is generally referred to as Silver Needle tea and is considered the highest grade of white tea.
The best Yinzhen white tea is picked between March 15 and April 10. It must be picked when the weather is dry and only unopened and undamaged buds are to be used for the best flavor. This tea is very low in caffeine. It is very pale in color when brewed, and has an extremely mild flavor. In fact, it is so mild that some people find it nearly tasteless. When brewed this tea will look pale yellow and there should be floating white hairs that reflect the light.
Bai Mu Dan Tea ñ This tea is known as Pai Mu Tan, White Peony or White Hairy Monkey Tea. It is grown primarily in the Fujian and Chongqing Provinces of China. This is a lower grade of Yinzhen tea that contains fewer buds and more leaves. It is picked only between March 15 and April 10 and only on days where there is no rain, no frost and no dew on the ground.
The stems must not have any purple buds and leaves must be completely undamaged and buds completely unopened. The best Bai Mu Dan uses the top two leaves and the unopened bud only. Once the leaves are dried they should appear green.
This white tea has a delicate floral fragrance and a mellow, fruity and sweet taste, but brews up slightly stronger than Bai Hao Yinzhen Tea. The liquor is shimmering and clear. The brew will have a very pale green or golden color. This tea is considered to be the second highest grade of white tea.
Shou Mei Tea ñ This tea is primarily grown in the Fujian and Guangxi Provinces of China. It is produced from naturally withered upper leaves and tips of the tea plant. It is plucked later than Bai Mu Dan, resulting in darker leaves. This white tea will have a stronger flavor than many other white teas, somewhat like oolong tea. The flavor is fruity, but can become bitter if over brewed. It is considered a fourth grade tea.
Darjeeling White Tea ñ This tea is grown in the Darjeeling region of India, where it is picked and rolled by hand and then withered in the sun. It must be grown at high altitudes with lots of rain to produce the right flavor. Darjeeling white brews to a very pale color and delicate aroma.
Ceylon White Tea ñ Ceylon tea is produced in Sri Lanka. It is harvested and rolled by hand and the leaves are withered in the sun. It has a very pale color when brewed and has a bit of a honey flavor. Ceylon white is a highly prized Sri Lankan tea.
Within these different categories of white tea, there are some grades based on the quality of leaf used. For example, in white teas in general, the highest grades use a higher proportion of bud to leaf. However, there are no internationally recognized standards for the grading of tea, so it can be quite difficult to determine the highest qualities in white and other varieties of tea.
In general, higher quality tea should be higher priced, but tea that is rare is also higher priced, so that can make it difficult to spot the best teas, too. First pluckings in white tea produce a higher quality of tea, so itís wise to shop for tea that is labeled such in order to get the best quality.
Finding the best white teas may be a bit difficult and may cost a bit of money, too. However, the best white teas are so very delicious that they are well worth the extra time and cost.