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White Tea Bái Chá
Early Spring Harvest > Fresh tea leaf > Withering > Drying = White Tea
White tea is a type of tea processing or crafting style, is it not a cultivar or variety of tea plant. Any tea cultivar can be made into white tea, though some cultivars lend better to the process. White tea refers to the pale color of the tea liquid and also the white appearance of the leaf. The leaf's whiteness is due to the fine silvery-white trichomes that cover the leaves, preserved because of the gentle processing. New tea shoots or first flush have a delicate nature and are typically chosen for white tea production further aiding in the formation of trichomes. These white trichomes resemble white hair from the naked eye and are referred to as bai'hao (Mandarin) in its' native origin, which was transliterated into "pekoe" from the Western mispronunciation of the Chinese Xia'Men dialects' word for white down/hair (pe?h-ho). New tea shoots (buds, leaf-sets) consist of an unopened set of 3 small leaves, one curled around the next that form on the tops of tea bushes. When shoots are dried they naturally form a small sword shape, hand rolling and forming can assist in this process typically referred to as Silver Needle. When shoots are combined with leaves lower on the bush, it is referred to as White Peony (Bai Mudan). There is little-to-no shaping involved in the crafting of this type of white tea, the leaves and buds are sun withered then dried to cease enzymatic oxidation. The character and flavor of white tea is the close to the original raw state of tea leaves because of the minimal processing as compared to other tea crafting styles (ie. green, jade, red, black, etc.) This light processing and the use vital new shoots enables the higher levels of catechins due to the lack of oxidization. Catechins are polyphenolic compounds in tea that are responsible for reducing carcinogens, reducing cholesterol, decreasing blood pressure, reducing the severity of cancer and diabetes and for the protection of skin from damage caused by UV light. Five Mountains' heirloom cultivar for white tea has one of the highest polyphenolic content of all tea cultivars when paired with its' white tea processing style, producing one of the healthiest teas available. White teas depending on cultivar tend to have flavor profiles that are herbaceous with notes of legumes, stone fruit and fungi.
White tea was first produced around 618-907 A.D it was hard to come then unless you were wealthy or lived where it was growing. At this time dried tea leaves were mostly compressed in shapes (discs, bricks, balls, etc.). The dried compressed tea would be stone ground using a pestle in a stone mortar. Hot water was added to the powdered teacake, or the powdered teacake was boiled in earthenware kettles then consumed as a hot beverage.. White tea became trendy around 960-1279, the leaves were steamed, dried and ground into a powder. A small scoop of this silvery green powder would be placed in a bowl in which water would be added, then quickly whisked into a froth. This style of tea making was the inspiration for the Japanese tea ceremony, Chado still practiced in Japan today but fell out of fashion in it's origin. The present style of white teas started in the 1796 during when loose whole teas steeped in teapots became popular. The cultivar used was a mixed variety bush known as Little White (Xiao Bai) with thin, small with scant silver trichomes. In 1857 select cultivars Large White (Da'Bai) and Narcissus (Shui Xian) were selected for white tea production because of the large buds and the white downy nature they produced. In 1891, Chinese exportation of white teas began. By 1891 white tea began being exported from China with the production of White Peony started around 1922 as did the use of the Da'Hao (Large Hair) cultivar. These cultivars are still used today, though now many new cultivars are used to make white tea, each yielding their own particular character.
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