What’s Right About White
Andrea Graham - Maya Tea Company
During the Song dynasty in China, the ‘poet-Emperor’ Huizong declared that Bai-cha or white tea was the most superior of all teas. Centuries later, the western world has begun to take notice of the sweet, delicate, and healthy beverage that is white tea. With names like Silver Needles, White Peony, Golden Moon, and White Cloud it’s impossible not to be curious about this mysterious and romantic tea.
Like all real tea, the white variety comes from the plant Camilla Sinensis. It is, however, harvested and processed in a very special way. Harvested briefly in early spring, only young leaves and buds covered with fine white down are chosen for white tea. It is the least processed of all teas. After being picked, the leaves are very lightly processed with sunlight and low temperatures to stop the oxidation process. The result is a tea that is closest to the original leaf.
Big White, Narcissus, and Vegetable White are the three main types of plants that are harvested for white tea. The quality of the tea is dependent on the plant, which leaves were plucked, and the conditions under which the plant was harvested. The highest quality white teas are Silver Needles and White Peony. Silver Needles tea is made up of tender young buds carefully harvested from the Big White or Narcissus bush. White peony comes from the same bush, but includes a bud and two to three leaves. White tea bushes are indigenous to the high mountains of the Fujian province, but are now being grown in a variety of regions. Many tea connoisseurs maintain that only the tea coming from the proper region in Fujian Province is truly white tea. With the variety of white tea plants and processing comes diversity in flavor, but as a rule, white teas are mild, smooth and silky. They are the most gentle of all teas with a pale, yellow liquor. They are often lightly sweet and have a subtle floral aroma.
White tea is rare and delicious, and like its predecessors it has been found to be good for us. Perhaps, it is the best of the bunch. Recent research shows that white tea has less caffeine than other teas as well as the highest concentration of antioxidants. While new to most of us in the western world, the Chinese have been enjoying this wonderful tea for centuries. They consider white teas to be cooling, detoxifying, and refreshing, which is perfect for our dry desert climate.
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The first time I tried chai was in the kitchen of my parent’s house, and served by my younger sister. “You have to taste this—” she insisted, pushing a mug across the countertop to me. She refused to elaborate on its contents. The flavors, she said, would speak for themselves.
The quality of water affects the taste of your tea; this is beyond dispute. The relative quantities of mineral salts, oxygen and trace elements determine the relative "liveliness" or "flatness" of a particular cup. To that simple substance we add the basic flavor of the leaf itself or an herbal substitute.