A Brief Introduction to White Tea

White tea production is said to have been developed by the Xiao family in northern Fujian province China during the late 18th century. Xiao family was economically motivated to eliminate the costly and time consuming processes of pan-firing, shaping, and roasting to produce a greater volume tea at a faster pace. The result was white tea.
When looking at white tea leaves, one might notice that the tea looks green, not white. The name white tea is said to be so due to the fuzzy white hairs covering the leaf. Another explanation offered is the color quality of the brewed tea liquor. White tea liquor tends to be rather clear, with a subtle tincture of light green.

White Tea Production

White tea is uniquely produced in a fashion that omits the rolling and oxidation processes, common in the orthodox tea production method, and also deeply limits any roasting or firing performed. The white tea production process is composed of only plucking, withering, and minimal roasting, if any at all.

Plucking

White tea leaves are plucked selectively and within a short window of time every spring. To produce white tea,  workers will harvest only closed buds along with the top two leaves of new growth on each shoot of the plant. Finer quality white tea is composed of only buds.

Withering

The withering is the most delicate process in white tea production. It requires a skill level that is as much technical as it is an art-form. Just after harvesting, white tea is withered and dried naturally in the sun for as long as 3 days, unlike green tea which is withered for just a few hours. Natural sun withering is ideal, however this process may take place indoors depending on atmospheric conditions or the business practices of the producer.
Each leaf is unique; as a result, some leaves will oxidize at a faster rate than others during the withering process. This is why white tea is composed of leaves of differing color, ranging from pale green to light brown.
Though the withering process of white tea is vastly longer than that of green tea, the process must be approached in such a way that the tea is minimally oxidized. Oxidization occurs when the cellular walls within the leaf are ruptured, allowing enzymes to become exposed to atmospheric oxygen. Leaves intended to become white tea need to be handled delicately with extreme care not to cause any bending, folding, or crumpling that would initiate the oxidation process. This helps to preserve the leaves’ polyphenols.

Firing

Any firing, or roasting, performed in producing white tea is deeply limited. Idealy, white tea is dried outdoors, naturally in the sun, when weather permits. Outdoor white tea drying is preferred and results in a slightly toasted flavor that is iconic of Funding white tea. If the weather does not allow for a natural drying process, ovens are used to reduce moisture to 3%-5%.

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