White tea has caught the imagination of many western tea drinkers due to its unique and delicate flavor and organic image. The organic image is derived from white tea being one of the least processed teas, there being only two simple steps in white tea production - ‘withering’ and ‘dehydrating’. The processes used in production of Green, Oolong, Black tea are typically extensions or additions of this primary process to include ‘rubbing’, ‘shaping’ or ‘baking’. The almost ‘unprocessed’ nature of White Tea minimises the breakdown of the enzymes and oxidization.
By reason of its simpler and common production process, some tea historians believe that White Tea was one of the very original Chinese teas, its use dating back at least two thousand years. The simple process of White Tea production has been honed into an art form over time practiced by skilled and experienced exponents.
White tea’s production is almost exclusive to the FuJian province of of Southern China. Its natural environment being particularly suited to White Tea production. Production is focused in areas such as FuDing, ZhengHe, JianYang and SongQi, characterized by a hilly terrain, mild temperature and abundant regular rain. FuDing, for example, has a year average temperature of 18oC and rain fall 1660mm. The soil in these areas is predominately a red or yellow colour.
All teas (excluding herbal teas) are made from the same plant called “Camellia sinensis”. A few species of this genius are specially cultivated for the production of FuJian white tea, such as FuDing Big White Tea, FuDing Da Hao (Big Fur), ZhengHe Big White and FuAn Big White. Premium White Tea leaves have fuller/stronger bodies compared to their closest sibling green tea. The leaf tips are typically covered by rich silvery white fur , which forms the ‘silver’ appearance of the final product such as Silver Needle.The FuJian province of Southern China is traditional tea country, famous for Oolong and some other Green Teas – in addition to its White Tea Production. Despite the Chinese tendency to preserve trade secrets, over two thousand years of tea production and export to other lands has resulted in leakage of skills and knowledge required for processing many Chinese teas. For example the processing knowledge for green and black teas has eventually been exported to foreign countries. The specialist skills associated with White Tea production have so far remained in the Fujian region.Imitation products are sold on the market as White Teas. The plants used in these imititation ‘White Teas’ are color-lightened (whitened) tea plants. The manufacture is also different to traditional White Tea. A process step ‘Sha Qing – traditionally used in green tea production is added instead of the ‘withering’ step – the distinctive process in making traditional premium White Tea.
White Tea is not as widely consumed in China as other tea types such as green and Oolong teas – due to the highly localized production. This rarity has contributed to its value. Premium silver needle is particularly treasured and associated with gift giving. Outside of China, and amongst Chinese expatriates, White Tea popularity is growing.
EnJie is the owner of Valley Green Tea : a site promoting premium grade Chinese tea. En Jie grew up in the Fujian Province of China where white tea is produced.