HANDCRAFTING WHITE TEA - FROM FARM TO CUP

Updated: Sep 19, 2020






In Chinese scientific treatise written by Tian Yiheng, "Zhuquan Xiaopin",  it was mentioned that green tea is only second to white tea since white tea has a natural taste, that is not influenced by smoke, water, or heat.

In the strictest sense, white tea does not only refer to the tea itself only but it also refers to the process of making tea







Remember that on the farm, tea is a plant. But once the leaves are harvested and steeped in water for drinking,  it becomes a beverage.


As a beverage, tea experts consider WHITE TEA as the closest to the natural state of the tea plant since the taste, aroma and overall quality of white tea is retained and not influenced by heat and oxidation such as that of green, yellow, black, wulong or fermented tea. In white tea, even the white, hair-y like structures on the leaves are retained. This is where it gets its name WHITE TEA.


Unlike other tea types that need to go through more intricate process, WHITE TEA is created by just carefully withering and drying the buds or leaves. It seems simple and easy but it is the most delicate process in creating teas.


Due to the minimal process involves in creating White tea, studies suggest that it may contain the most amount of polyphenols (the compounds that have the antioxidants)  compared to the other tea types.


Ultra high quality White Tea is made up of buds from early spring harvest but full leaf set, older leaves with twigs are also being used for lower quality white teas. White tea that is made up of pure buds is called Silver Needles White Tea.



CREATING HANDCRAFTED WHITE TEA

FROM FARM TO CUP


TEA FARMS


Altitude, soil fertility, weather, temperature, even angle of the sunlight are some of the important factors affecting the quality of yield. For higher polyphenolic content, preferred will be high altitude, slightly sloped mountains, colder weather, healthy herbivory. Climate changes affect the secondary metabolites in the tea plant.





Slighty sloped, ample sunshine, high elevation - suitable for tea plants

BRIEF HISTORY OF THE TEA PLANT


According to researches, the tea plant has three distinct lineages (China type tea, Chinese Assam type tea and Indian Assam type tea).


  • Chinese Camellia sinensis var sinensis

  • Chinese Camellia sinensis var assamica

  • Indian Camellia sinensis var assamica

Chinese Camellia sinensis var assamica has been found in the wild in Southern and Western Yunnan area. Tests revealed that the tree has been around since 22,000 years ago.


Tea trees are constantly cloned to improve yield and taste. However, there are tea farmers who preferred to harvest only from the original lineage. The White Tea Shop only buys from these ancient tea farms.


Unsurprisingly, the tea farmers who use handed-down information from generations to generations, got it right since modern science suggests that the Chinese Assam has the most amount of polyphenolic content among the different lineages. The three tea types underwent different breeding histories but since the Chinese Assam lineage is the most ancient lineage, experts think that conservation of Chinese Assam type tea is important for future breeding.


Chinese var sinesis is a smaller plant and smaller leaves and also has a very long history, however, there are no tea trees from this linease found in the wild.



PLUCKING


All tea processing starts from the harvesting of the leaves. The best harvest of the year for white tea is during the early spring (between March to April) when the buds are plump and ample.


Family tea garden on the mountains


Close to 100% of ultra high quality white teas are harvested by hand. Harvesting tea buds requires special skills that have been taught and passed on through many generations.


Seasonal farm workers are commissioned by tea farmers to help with plucking the tea buds. In order not to damage the tea buds and the leaf-sets, careful plucking techniques are used by the farm workers. Picking activity starts before sunrise when the buds are still supple and gently moistened by the morning dew.




WITHERING / WILTING THE TEA BUDS


The second step in creating white tea is WITHERING. This is a key step in white tea processing. The quality of the white tea will be dependent on the techniques and expertise applied during the withering process where physical changes to the buds take place.


Proper and even withering of tea buds are highly influenced by the standards of plucking and expertise of tea crafters as well as -- environmental conditions in the withering facilities; time; and temperature. Production of high quality white tea, really is a serious stuff!


The buds go through initial withering in a room with constant humidity and temperature. This takes about 7-8 hours. The buds naturally lose some water content slowly in order to retain polyphenolic contents. As moisture in the buds gradually disappears, they become darker (greener) and becomes flaccid. Losing water also makes the buds more concentrated with catechins and amino acids.


Experienced white tea crafters will continue on withering leaves by manually (by hand!) turning over the buds. They use a techique that has been passed on through generations.

White Tea also goes through very light fermentation (a tea process lingo which is basically natural oxidation or allowing oxygen to interact with the tea compounds). Because it is so lightly fermented, and it was done using natural light, white tea is sometimes classified as unfermented, although this is not 100% accurate.


So after the tea crafters are satisfied with the withering followed by very light fermentation which allowed the buds to become lightly mellow, the next step is- DRYING!


DRYING WHITE TEA


The final process in creating all teas is of course DRYING. There are 2 techniques: 1) slow drying under indirect sunlight and temperature; 2) rapid drying under direct sunlight and higher temperature.


White Tea processing facility in China


TEA SCREENING


Tea crafters will screen the buds for its quality, present them to tea masters for final tasting. The White Tea Shop prefers that the white teas are packed by the tea crafters themselves and they pay extra so that screening and packagin are done simultaneously to ensure freshness.

SO THERE YOU HAVE IT! This is how handcrafted white teas are created from the farm to your cup!





THERE ARE ONLY 4 MAJOR VARIATIONS OF WHITE TEAS - EASY SELECTIONS!

Although there are only 6 types of tea, there are thousands of tea variations.


Black, Green and Wulong tea types will have hundreds of variations but white tea only 4 kinds and it is basically defined by "picking grade" or the parts of plants used :

​​

1st Grade

Yin Zhen (Silver Needles) - made from pure buds only

2nd  Grade

Bai Mu Dan ( White Peony) - made from the complete leaf-set (1 bud and 2 leaflets)

3rd Grade

Gong Mei made from some buds but mostly mature leaves with longer stems

4th Grade

Shou Mei (Longevity Eyebrow) - made from mature leaves and twigs.


IS WHITE TEA RARE?

You must have heard that white tea is "special", "rare", or "expensive".  The tea industry has given white tea those "labels" perhaps due to many myths that surround the tea culture.  According to legend, buds from the first annual spring harvests were delicately dried and served only to the Chinese emperors and dignitaries. More mature leaves and even twigs were drunk by the peasants. These accounts may have given white tea its "rare tea" label.  The truth is, white tea is not really rare, but spring harvest white tea can be considered vintage (the highest quality from a particular harvest season).

There were also accounts that the techniques in making white tea were first created in Fujian province, where white tea was first commercialized.  However, there are also accounts that Yunnan white tea is the most authentic since the tea plant has originated in Yunnan areas.  Other tea estates such as in India, Sri Lanka, and Azerbaijan also have their own techniques and therefore, they considered their white teas authentic.

WHITE TEA AND SCIENCE

Polyphenols are the highest on the buds and top young leaves of the plant.  White tea made from pure buds of the plant (Silver Needles) and the full young leaf-set White peony are considered the healthiest since plant polyphenols are the highest in the topmost part of the plants. The delicate process of creating white tea allows it to retain the compounds in the leaves found in the polyphenols that can be helpful n managing, preventing, or delaying human metabolic illnesses. 

BENEFITS OF WHITE TEA

White tea is an ample source of non-nutritive antioxidants and amino acids. These powerful compounds have been studied by the scientific community for their possible health benefits. Here are some of the benefits of white tea

  • The taste is mild, slightly sweet and this makes it an easy-to-drink true tea

  • May help in weight loss 

  • May help delay aging, and skin damage

  • Helps in managing stress

  • May help in managing, preventing, or delaying lifestyle diseases (diabetes, hypertension, blood cholesterol, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, Alzheimer, Parkinson, etc)

  • May help boost your immune system

  • L-Theanine found in white tea can increase your body's ability to fight upper respiratory illnesses

  • White tea is an effective skin toner

  •  Studies suggest that it also has antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral activities.

  •  It is an aromatic drink that is yummy and refreshing!

References:

TEA TAXONOMY

Mondal T. K., Bhattacharya A., Laxmikumaran M., Ahuja P. S. (2004). Recent advances in tea (Camellia sinensis) biotechnology. Plant Cell Tiss. Org. 76, 195–254. 10.1023/B:TICU.0000009254.87882.71 [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]


AMOUNT OF POLYPHENOLS IN TEA LINEAGES

Chen, J., Wang, P., Xia, Y. et al. Genetic diversity and differentiation of Camellia sinensis L. (cultivated tea) and its wild relatives in Yunnan province of China, revealed by morphology, biochemistry and allozyme studies. Genet Resour Crop Evol52, 41–52 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10722-005-0285-1

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10722-005-0285-1


6 Types of Teas:

Health Functions and Related Molecular Mechanisms of Tea Components: An Update Review.

Tang GY, Meng X, Gan RY, Zhao CN, Liu Q, Feng YB, Li S, Wei XL, Atanasov AG, Corke H, Li HB.Int J Mol Sci. 2019 Dec 8;20(24):6196. doi: 10.3390/ijms20246196.PMID: 31817990


Effects of Tea Polyphenols

Zhang M, Zhang X, Ho CT, Huang Q. Chemistry and Health Effect of Tea Polyphenol (-)-Epigallocatechin 3- O-(3- O-Methyl)gallate. J Agric Food Chem. 2019;67(19):5374-5378. doi:10.1021/acs.jafc.8b04837


INFLUENCES FOR THE AROMA OF TEA

Wang RJ, Gao XF, Kong XR, Yang J. An efficient identification strategy of clonal tea cultivars using long-core motif SSR markers. Springerplus. 2016;5(1):1152. Published 2016 Jul 22. doi:10.1186/s40064-016-2835-8


WHITE TEA

Pan J, Jiang Y, Lv Y, Li M, Zhang S, Liu J, Zhu Y, Zhang H. Comparison of the main compounds in Fuding white tea infusions from various tea types. Food Sci Biotechnol. 2018 May 23;27(5):1311-1318. doi: 10.1007/s10068-018-0384-3. PMID: 30319839; PMCID: PMC6170294.


Benefits of White Tea -

Nunes AR, Alves MG, Tomás GD, et al. Daily consumption of white tea (Camellia sinensis (L.)) improves the cerebral cortex metabolic and oxidative profile in prediabetic Wistar rats. Br J Nutr. 2015;113(5):832-842. doi:10.1017/S0007114514004395


Wang Y, Kan Z, Thompson HJ, et al. Impact of Six Typical Processing Methods on the Chemical Composition of Tea Leaves Using a Single Camellia sinensis Cultivar, Longjing 43. J Agric Food Chem. 2019;67(19):5423-5436. doi:10.1021/acs.jafc.8b05140


WEIGHTLOSS

Söhle J, Knott A, Holtzmann U, et al. White Tea extract induces lipolytic activity and inhibits adipogenesis in human subcutaneous (pre)-adipocytes. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2009;6:20. Published 2009 May 1. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-6-20


DELAYS SKIN AGING

Lee KO, Kim SN, Kim YC. Anti-wrinkle Effects of Water Extracts of Teas in Hairless Mouse. Toxicol Res. 2014;30(4):283-289. doi:10.5487/TR.2014.30.4.283



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