White tea gets its name from the fine white hairs on the unopened buds of the tea plant. These young shoots are only available for a very short period every year, making this the rarest and most precious variety of tea.
White tea has a very light, delicate sweet flavor that many prefer to the stronger, grassier and more bitter taste of green tea.
How to Prepare White Tea
This type of tea can be a little difficult to brew correctly, as the leaves are delicate and will scald if the water is too hot, making the resulting tea too bitter.
The method of brewing can vary quite a bit depending on the variety and on personal preference, so I will only give very general instructions here. For detailed instructions on each of the three highest quality varieties, please refer to the pages for individual teas given below.
These teas can be brewed in a teapot, but are best enjoyed when prepared in a traditional lidded brew cup known as a gaiwan.
In general, you’ll want to use about 2 grams of tea per 100ml of water (about 1 tsp per teacup). The water temperature should be between 70 and 90°C (158-194°F) and the steeping time should range from 1 to 8 minutes.
As a rule, for higher quality teas, you’ll use more tea leaves, a lower water temperature and a longer steeping time; lower quality teas will need fewer leaves, a higher temperature and shorter steeping times.
Most varieties will give you at least 3 quality infusions. As always, the specifics of brewing tea will vary quite a bit based on personal preference, so experiment until you get that perfect cup.
Varieties of White Tea
As these teas have grown in popularity outside of China, so has the number of different varieties available in tea shops and online, with countries like Taiwan, Thailand or India producing their own.
I will focus only on the two highest quality traditional varieties from China as well as a Jasmine scented version of one of the two:
White Hair Silver Needle Tea: the highest quality and most famous variety; expensive; very delicate, smooth, slightly sweet taste; made only from the silvery buds covered in white hairs
White Peony Tea: high quality tea; more affordable than Silver Needle; stronger taste and darker color than Silver Needle; made from a mixture of buds and new leaves, both covered in white hairs
Jasmine Silver Needle Tea: White Hair Silver Needle tea scented with Jasmine blossoms; the highest quality Jasmine Tea; expensive; combines the delicate mellow flavors of Silver Needle tea with the sweet floral aroma and taste of Jasmine; especially good for stress relief.