Myths about White Teas

Myths about White Teas
May 7, 2022 Leo Kwan
In Nature of Things, Tea Log

White tea has seen increased popularity in recent years. Authentic varieties, such as White Peony, aka Bai Mudan, is a classic one. Its softer taste profile is ideal for casual and all day drinking. It is also a favourite amongst new tea enthusiasts.

What is a White tea?

Closeup of the leaves of White Peony Classic Long to reveal the downy nature of the cultivar

Closeup of the leaves of White Peony Classic Long to reveal the downy nature of the cultivar, yet also the oxidised parts of the leaves showing brown and deep brown colours.

White tea is a categoric name for the group of teas that are produced using a white tea processing method. Although the name did originate from tea cultivars with downy white hair, not all white teas look white.

Compare a White Peony from Fuding and one from Zhenghe. Both of these are the earliest origins of the category. Both have developed their own cultivars for the category. While the style in Fuding is shorter withering for a whiter appearance and a lighter body, that in Zhenghe takes a much longer withering process that results in a deeper colour and a fuller body. Yet both are an oxidised tea and not a green one.

White teas are oxidised teas

Key steps in white tea processing

The major steps in white tea processing. Sun-withering, also called sunning, is a key step that results in an integral part of the finesse of the taste profile of a good product. The two subsequent withering may last between 24 to 60 hours, depending on the tea variety and style of processing. Some other white teas, such as the teahouse classic Shoumei and the beautiful Hong Yu Deep White, are lightly rolled and rested before drying.

Some other white teas made in the same flatbed withering technique, but with even lengthier oxidation time can be much darker in colour. One example is Hong Yu Deep White, a deep oxidation white tea made from the Hong Yu cultivar in Taiwan.

White teas are better matured

Five different white teas

Five white teas that taste different and look different: from left: Silver Needles Supreme, Premodern Peony, King Silver, Hong Yu Deep White, and White Peony Classic Long

Properly processed, a white tea can be matured and are actually better when matured. Varieties that is lightly oxidised and low temperature dried, such as a Silver Needle from Fuding, is considered cold in TCM nature and can easily topple the energy balance of the body. This is similar to a shengcha pu’er. Maturing tones this down and yields a deeper aroma and a smoother body.

Myths and the agenda behind

It saddens me on seeing quite a number of publicity materials in the West about using 70°C water to brew this lovely tea. It reflects either a general lack of understanding of the tea or a broad infiltration of the market by green tea imitating as the renowned white tea, or both. I have been trying to bring better understanding of fine tea to the market for over 20 years now and yet still cannot win the big muscle of some groups who sell mass produced imitation products at the price of premium ones. 

White teas produced improperly, mostly hairy buds taken from harvest quite immediately to drying, usually skip the sunning and withering process, or undergo a skimmed version of it. This saves the producer a lot of processing resources and the mastery and the risks needed. Improper or non-timely turning of the withering pile, for example, can result in unwanted bio-thermo damages of the leaves that gives you a sour or bad smell tea.

A white looking tea may not be a white tea

Skipping key steps not only allows for a much higher profit margins, but the products would look whiter because they have not gone through the lengthy oxidative changes. Yet these are not white teas. By their nature, they are raw green teas dried under very low temperature. ( They cannot be dried with higher temperature in order to retain the fluffy appearance ). Not only are they extremely cold in TCM nature but also their aroma fragile and the taste grassy. To minimise the unpleasant aspects in the infusion, using a lower temperature with shorter infusion time is the usual trick. 

That is why you see those myths propagating.

Myth is cheap, yet it is the real thing that is worth your hard-earned dollar. 

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