Royal New York

Brief Guide to White Tea

Background

White is the oldest form of tea processing, likely starting in the late Han or early Tang dynasties. The minimally processed leaves were pressed into cakes until the Ming dynasty. The popular White Peony and Silver Needle teas of today did not become popular in China until the mid 19th century.

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Most white tea is still produced in Fujian in Zhenghe, Jianyang, Songxi, and Fuding. White Peony is a white tea with leaves and buds. Silver Needle tea uses only the buds and Shou Mei uses only leaves. Da Bai is the more traditional cultivar, while Da Hao has been more recently developed and becoming increasingly common for its larger buds.

Processing

Most white tea will follow the same basic processing steps with the primary differences occuring in plucking and sorting.

White Peony

Plucking

Plucking or picking will generally occur in early spring. The buds and top leaves will be plucked in March or early April by hand, while they are still young and small.

Withering

Withering is the final drying step for white tea. It is generally done in the shade on bamboo mats or indoors with fans to increase air circulation. Mechanical dryers are also commonly used. The tea will dry for 12-24 hours and must be handled gently in order to avoid any bruising which would accelerate oxidation.

Tea withering on tables

Sorting

The dried tea will need to be sorted in order to remove any broken leaves or twigs. It is done typically with screens and may be done mechanically. Larger sticks are then removed by hand.

Brewing

White tea is less likely to become astringent compared to green tea, but it is more delicate than black teas. Using standard western brewing methods like tea infusers, bags, and pots, it should be brewed at 195°F-205°F for 3-5 minutes to achieve optimal extraction.

White tea can be brewed Grandpa Style. Brewing this way allows for the consumer to view the leaves and cup liquor more clearly. The tea is brewed in a large clear mug or cup, and as the tea is consumed, more water is added.

What you will need:
Large Glass Vessel
Kettle
0.25g/fl oz loose leaf tea
Water at 195°F – 205°F

Step 1: Add tea to glass
Step 2: Add hot water and stir
Step 3: Drink tea and admire leaf grade and cup liquor
Step 4: When the tea becomes too astringent or intense, add more water

Brewing white tea Gongfu style can reveal complex and nuanced flavors that may be less clear brewing western style. This style uses a stronger brew ratio and several shorter steeps to reveal what flavors are extracted at varying parts of the brew. Gongfu is less popular for white tea, but it is becoming moreso since the tea does not generally become astringent.

What you will need:
Gaiwan
Filtration device, optional
Small pitcher (Gong Dao Bei)
Tea tray (chachuan), optional
Scale
Kettle
Tea cups
1g/fl oz loose leaf tea
Water at 195°F – 205°F

Step 1: Add tea to gaiwan
Step 2: Rinse tea with hot water and immediately discard, this removes dust and preheats vessel
Step 3: Add water to gaiwan until full, and steep for 30 seconds
Step 4: Carefully shift the lid away from the gaiwan lip, creating a small space for water to pas. Pour the infusion through the filtration device into pitcher
Step 5: Decant first steep evenly into separate cups until pitcher is empty
Step 6: Repeat this process for 3-5 steeps, remarking on the change of flavor with each successive steep

Patrick McKeown

Patrick began his coffee journey on Long Island at a small coffee bar and roasting at home. Since then he has been a barista, manager, and craft roaster in NYC.