I had some white tea today. Nowadays it is almost a fad — “white tea is great for you!”. People all talk about it and how it has all these antioxidants, and how it is even better than green tea, blah blah… well, it is indeed rather nice and warm, but it lacks variety.
So what exactly is white tea? From what I know, it is basically unprocessed tea leaves, dried. It is not fired like green tea is, but instead dried either in a dry room or under the sun or through some other means. A lot of times you can see how the tea is basically withered leaves, keeping more or less its original shape. It does, however, often have MORE fermentation than green tea. I suppose that’s because whereas green tea is quickly dried over heat and thus formed into shape immediately and thus fixed, white tea is allowed to dry over slightly longer period of time, and between the time it was picked and the time it actually is fixed, the tea ferments a bit. That’s why if you brew white tea the liquor is actually a little darker than the brew from green tea.
The one I got is from my usual supplier in Hong Kong, called “The Best Tea House” (yes, terrible name!). They have a good supply of different kinds of tea, and are very generous in letting you sample the stuff, which is a must. They also have a nice sales staff that is rather friendly, and more importantly, does not discriminate young people, as a lot of places tend to do. This white tea is one of their better ones, although by no means the best. Although white teas don’t taste that different from good to bad quality — they are all similar in taste.
I’ve been told that when going to a Chinese restaurant that lets you pick your own tea (as a place should) you should always order white teas, which is usually Shou Mei. The reason for that is because white teas need to be kept well or they become tasteless very quickly — because of the way the tea is processed (or lack thereof) you have to seal it well for the flavour to be preserved. That means that a big restaurant needs to keep it in some container and not leave it out. On the other hand, Puerh is often just left out in some dirty storage, and will taste ok anyway. You can have rat droppings on it and you won’t know the difference.
Like green tea, white tea needs to be brewed at a lower temperature too, since the leaves are tender, although in my experience they actually take a little more abuse than green tea can. Anyway, it is a nice, warm tea that isn’t too heavy for the days when you are tired of drinking the more strongly flavoured stuff, like today :).