White tea may refer to one of several styles of tea which generally feature young and/or minimally processed leaves. Currently there is no generally accepted definition of white tea and very little international agreement; some sources use the term to refer to tea which is merely dried with no additional processing, while others include tea buds and very young leaves which have been steamed or fired before drying. Most definitions agree, however, that white tea is not rolled or oxidized, resulting in a flavour which is characterized as "lighter" than green or traditional black teas.
It is harvested primarily in China, mostly in the Fujian province, but more recently it is produced in Eastern Nepal, Taiwan, Northern Thailand, Galle (Southern Sri Lanka) and India.
White tea comes from the buds and leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. The leaves and buds are allowed to wither and dry in natural sun.
The name "white tea" derives from the fine silvery-white hairs on the unopened buds of the tea plant, which gives the plant a whitish appearance. The beverage itself is not white or colourless but pale yellow and light to the taste.
Scholars and tea merchants generally disagree as to when the first production of white tea (as it is understood in China today) began. What is today known as white tea may have come into creation in the last two centuries. White tea may have first appeared in English publication in 1876, where it was categorized as a black tea because it is not initially cooked like a green tea, to deactivate internal enzymes and external microbes.
White tea is often being sold as Silvery Tip Pekoe, a form of its traditional name, and now also under the simple designations China White and Fujian White.
White tea (along with other teas) is derived from the Camellia sinensis plant and contains polyphenols, a phytonutrient that is thought to be responsible for the tea’s health benefits.
Like black and green tea, white tea is also derived from Camellia sinensis. Thus, white tea shares many of the same chemical properties and health effects of tea. However, white tea contains the most antioxidants. The particular amount and ratio of the polyphenol compounds found in tea varies widely from one type of white tea to another, frequently overlapping with chemical compositions found in green tea. This is due both to the variation between strain of Camellia sinensis, as well as the preparation process itself.
The base process for manufacturing white tea is as follows:
- Fresh tea leaf → withering → drying (air drying, solar drying or mechanical drying) → white tea
White tea belongs to the group of tea that does not require panning, rolling or shaking. However, the selection of raw material in white tea manufacture is extremely stringent; only the plucking of young tea leaves with much fine hair can produce good-quality white tea of a high pekoe(grading) value.