For many years it was believed that white tea was discovered during the Song Dynasty (920-1269), however, even earlier references to white tea have been traced as far back as the Tang Dynasty (618-907). At that time in history, white tea preparation was a very different experience than it is today: early harvest white tea leaves appeared solely in compressed cakes and broken pieces were steeped in earthenware kettles.
Although white tea was popularized and widely revered in the Song Dynasty (960-1269), it was relatively unknown to the rest of the world until very recently. Only royals were allowed to consume white tea and it is rumored that it could only be served as a “tribute” to the emperor by virgins with white gloves as a symbol of honor and respect. One emperor, Hui Zong, became so enamored by white tea that it literally cost him most of his empire. During this time, ceremonial methods of preparing white tea were very similar to the traditional Japanese tea ceremony for matcha; typically in powder form and whisked in wide ceramic bowls.
It wasn’t until the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), that the Ming court ruled that only loose leaf white tea could be served as a tribute to the emperor, thus changing our understanding of white tea processing and its preparation forever.
White Tea Types & Variants
Modern day harvesting and preparation of white tea is quite minimal and includes drying and withering of the leaves in one of several methods. These methods include heated vents, wind drying chambers or natural sunlight almost immediately after picking, preventing oxidization. Because of the minimalistic processing involved, many people refer to white tea as a “raw” tea and it is believed to have a higher amount of beneficial properties than green or black teas . The tea withering processes vary from region to region in Fujian, and are very much influenced by the environment, both in terms of climate and local traditions.
White teas can be classified into five different types: Yi Zhen Bai Hao (Silver Needle), Bai Mu Dan (White Peony), Gongmei (Tribute Eyebrow), Shou Mei (Noble, Long Life Eyebrow) and Fujian New Craft (DaBaiCha or DaHoaCha).
Of the five, Silver Needle and White Peony are the most superior in quality and are the only white tea types carried here at Art of Tea. Our prized white teas are hand-picked under strict standards passed down from the Qing Dynasty (1796) and deliver fresh, mellow and sweet golden infusions, completely devoid of astringency.
Of course, we believe that every varietal has something unique to offer, and we encourage you to experiment and find your own favorites; whether it’s a single source white tea like one of the teas mentioned here or one of our signature white tea blends.
Here is a brief overview of the five varietals:
Silver Needle is a premium quality tea and the most sought after white tea. The shape should be uniform with no stems or leaves and should have long, needle-like silvery tips. This tea has a pale golden flush with a sweet floral aroma and a light woodsy body.