Forget What You Know About White Tea
White tea is difficult to describe objectively. It is minimally processed, yet can have widely varying outcomes. All white tea goes through an unusually long withering process which gives it that pervasive light sweetness at its core. For a more thorough description, click here, but it’s primarily a long time withering and a short time drying. There are some producers who break rules and incorporate oolong techniques like shaking and rolling their white tea. You could make an argument that that isn’t white tea, but to quote the great Kris Kristofferson, “If it sounds like country music, man, that’s what it is...”
Not Your Grandfather’s Tea
White tea is still little understood or consumed in America, but its popularity is growing in China. Young people there often view white tea as healthy and hip – not the tea their grandfather’s drink. Traditionally, making white tea is a “hands-off” process. This means the leaves will retain more of their natural shape, making it bulky and voluminous when compared with other tea. But white tea is now commonly pressed into cakes (similar to puer), which makes it convenient for storing, aging, and the compressed leaf is much easier to handle in western steeping gear (and cool looking). Whether loose leaf or pressed, one isn’t necessarily better than the other, it depends on what kind of tea it is, and more importantly, what you’re looking for.
White Tea is Not Delicate
Though others may say otherwise, steep white tea however you see fit. You can boil it, steep it too long, and swear at it. Well-made white tea will still have a light sweetness and usually lack astringency. If you want to turn the temperature down, go for it. If you want to crank everything up to “11”, try it out. If you want more specific recommendations, we’re happy to help. It’s worth stating the obvious that white tea is often not white in appearance. The process typically turns the leaves into a varying mix of silver/gray and greens. But since there is no kill-green step, sometimes incidental oxidation/fermentation can occur, which will turn the leaves darker through that long withering process. The more the leaf is handled during withering, the more oxidation is likely to happen. The aging process will darken the leaves as well. At five years white tea can go through quite a bit of transformation, which is much quicker than most puer.