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The Origin of White Tea

Did you know that historically, white tea was a powdered tea developed during the Song Dynasty (960-1279)? During this time, the powdered #whitetea was sifted and placed at the bottom of a shallow bowl, where boiling water was added, and the tea whisked. As the tea was allowed to cool, the tea fell out of suspension and was carefully consumed. The tea powder which settled to the bottom would not be ingested but could be used again for the next cup. This method of drinking tea is what inspired Japanese Zen monks, who were studying in Chinese monasteries, to create Chanoyu, the Japanese tea ceremony.

green tea growing plantation

Tea’s popularity grew during this time, thanks to Emperor Hui Zhing (1101-1125). He became known as the “Tea Emperor” and wrote a treatise consisting of twenty parts. These parts covered everything from cultivation to preparation. His fascination with white tea can be seen throughout his treatise.

“White tea is different from all others and deemed the finest. The product is very sparse, however, and there is nothing one can do about it. Both shoots and leaves are small; steaming and firing them is rather difficult, for if the temperature is not exactly right, it will taste like ordinary tea. Thus, a high order of skill is needed and the drying must be carefully done.”

The origin of what we call white tea today started in the late 1700s. Tea producers in the Northern Fujian province experimented with a new drying process by placing tea leaves in the sun for several days and then briefly applying heat to remove any residual moisture. Though the tea wasn’t the greatest, tea producers from Zheng He, Fuding, and Song Xi, continued to produce this tea with what material was available.

In the late 1800s, Da Bai Hao (Big White) bushes were introduced. These bushes grew the plumb downy buds, signifying white tea as we know it today. During this time, only

Yin Zhen Bai Hao (Silver Needles) was produced. This bud-only tea was very time consuming to harvest; over 3,500 buds were needed to create a single pound. White tea was also made from Shui Hsien (Water Sprite) and Shao Bai Hao (Small White).

In the 1920s, Bai Mu Dan (White Peony) was developed, it included the unfurled leaf bud and the first two leaves. This tea was processed similarly to Silver Needles. White Peony is commonly used in blends and flavored loose and sachet white teas today. These buds have a silvery colored down, with green leaves with some gray and brown edges, or spots, with some down on them. The quality of the leaf material is highly prized.

Try a White Peony straight form Zhenghe town in Fujian Province with this one from Rishi Tea and Botanicals. Pure white tea with mellow-sweet notes of fresh hay and accents of honey and nectar.

In the late 1960s, another white tea, Shou Mei (Longevity Eyebrow), was created in China. This tea typically uses the older leaves lower on the branch. These white tea leaves are allowed to oxidize naturally for several hours.

Tea masters consider this a white tea because there is no de-enzyming step, as in green teas, with the application of heat or steam.

This process produces a slightly darker brew with more body and oolong-like flavors. Shou Mei is commonly used in blends and flavored iced teas today. The leaves of this tea are more coarse than other white teas, and come from later flushes after Silver Needles and White Peony have been harvested..

Try this 2017 Shou Mei Tea Cake for a lovely example of Longevity Eyebrow from Tea Source. This Shou Mei was made by Mr. Huang Hai Qiang on April 20, 2017. It consists of a 1 bud, 1-2 leaf pluck of the Fuding Da Bai cultivar (probably the most famous white tea cultivar) from Panxi town, Fuding city, Fujian province.

In today’s ever-expanding tea market, white tea processing can be found in countries other than China. These non-traditional white tea producing countries produce teas following traditional Chinese processing methods. White teas can be found in Sri Lanka, India, Taiwan, Nepal, Kenya, USA, Bangladesh, Malawi, etc. Though similar in processing, these teas produce aromatics, tastes, and flavors unique to each location and not totally the same as those grown in China. When first introduced, these teas often received harsh reviews from tea industry purists, but they have found a home among the world’s white teas over time. Whether you accept them or not, these teas produce a unique taste profile worth exploring.

Try any of these white teas from Satema. The Antler 108 is hand-selected and can be steeped up to seven times with notes of natural lychee and frangipani aromas, which #Satema suggests serving chilled in champagne flutes!

Thirsty for more?

The #teaexperts at Hula Consulting can help with sourcing white teas, flavorings, and ingredients for your tea line as well as tea education courses to give you and your team the tools to be better cuppers, blenders, and purchasers of teas and tea ingredients. Email to or call 561.600.7025 to get started today!

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