3 Common Varieties of White Tea

Cup of white teaOf the six categories of tea, white tea is the least processed of all teas gaining notoriety for its purported health benefits over other teas, but I’ll talk about the health benefits of tea in a later blog post.  White tea is not to be mistaken for black tea with milk and in fact, some cafes in different parts of the world will ask their customers what white tea they were expecting just to avoid confusion when the tea is presented to them.

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Back to the least processed of all teas: white tea.  There are three varieties of white tea that come to mind when one discovers white tea:

  • Silver Needle or to use its Chinese name: Baihao Yinzhen.  The Chinese translation of this name is white hair silver needle and is so called because if you look at the tea, there appears to be white hairs that appear on each tea leaf. This tea is the crème de la crème of white teas where only the unopened leaf (the bud) is plucked between March and April.  Once the buds are plucked, they are left to wilt for a specified period, before they are dried.  That is all that is involved in the processing.  As Silver Needle is the highest grade of white tea, it commands an equally high price.  It is very delicate in the cup and has a sweet, fresh, floral note to it.
  • Bai Mu Dan (Chinese Name: White Peony), also spelled Pai Mu Tan.  The name is said to have been derived because the tea leaves are reminiscent of peony flowers although with the power of suggestion some tea lovers suggest that the tea in the cup has a floral peony note to it too.  This tea consists of unopened buds (like the Silver Needle) plus the two young leaves underneath the bud.  Some tea drinkers prefer this tea to Silver Needle as it has a fuller robust flavor in the cup with the addition of the young leaves.  The processing is similar to that described in Silver Needle:  the bud and two leaves are plucked, left to wilt for a given period and then dried.  The flavor of this tea is reminiscent of peony flowers with a slight fresh and mellow, sweet taste.
  • Shou Mei (Chinese Name: Longevity Eyebrows), also spelled Sow Mee.  Chinese teas often have poetic names and are often derived because the look of the tea represents its poetic name.  In this case, the long wiry look of the tea leaves give rise to its poetic name.  Whereas Silver Needle, the buds are picked, Bai Mu Dan, a bud and two leaves, Shou Mei often has three leaves plucked and this also gives rise to the robustness in the cup.  The flavor and aroma of this tea is reminiscent of a lighter oolong tea.  This tea is less expensive to the other teas.

With all white teas, when making the tea, use a lower temperature i.e. 158°F to 176°F (70°C to 80°C).  I recommend experimenting with certain varieties of white tea to figure out which you enjoy the most. Cheers!

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