Before the modern white tea cultivars
Before there were the Dai Bai cultivars for making the different white teas as we know them today, older forms of the tea category had been made for centuries. In the past when fuel was precious and time was cheap, the simple process of sun-withering and sun-drying might have been the only way for less privileged folks to afford tea.
Dai Bai cultivars began only in 1857, so what was the kind of tea bush they had used before that?
Bastards of teas
Indigenous tea plants cross amongst themselves and with farm bled ones in all tea regions. It is just whether such “bastards” are put to productive use. The dancong — i.e. single bush — in Phoenix, and famous bushes in Wuyi ( such as Tie Luo Han ) are examples of when such sexually propagated tea plants which have been isolated for production. They are hailed as ‘thoroughbreds’ and are renowned for their individualistic characters.
Before the end of 19th century, cai cha — a generic name for these “bastards” — was widely used for production purposes in many regions. Each area might have their own chosen cultivars of such genetically mixed but closely related plants of camellia sinensis. The predecessor form of white peony, the original Sau Mei — i.e. longevity eyebrow — was produced using the leaves of cai cha plants native to the regions they were produced in — from the east of Wuyi across the northern part of Fujian to Fuding on the east coast. Each individual area had their own style because of the difference in the chemistry of the leaves and the local style of processing.
From ‘New Technique’ to Premodern
Sadly such “Eyebrow” teas evolved in the past century to have become “new technique” white tea — mass produced teas that skipped most of the time consuming processes. The original taste is hardly found today, though the old name is used.
Yet such cai cha plants are still flourishing. In Wuyi, they are isolated to have become various xiaozhong ( small leaf type ) to make such famous teas as Lapsang Souchong. In Zhenghe, they are used to produce Zhenghe Gongfu black tea. Yet there are also those plants that are more ancient and let grow wild. We have worked with our Zhenghe farmer to test make in the old “nan lu mudan” style — southern style White Peony. There is longer sunning, and a stage of piled withering much longer than that in Fuding — what we think would be the old tribunal quality old style Sau Mei — Gong Mei.
Presenting Tea Hong’s Premodern Peony, the predecessor to White Peony, re-made in the most genuine way we think possible. We like the taste very well anyway, and find it a lot more neutral in TCM character and therefore friendlier to the sensitive stomach. Definitely the white tea most suitable for drinking throughout the day for anyone.