The history, the properties, infusion times of white tea Yin Zhen
"silver tips" and Pai Mu Tan "white peony"
Article added on September 1, 2006
In the 1990s, Green Tea was in
vogue. Since the beginning of the new millennium, White Tea has become the new
beverage to discover. It is even healthier than Green Tea, but was virtually
unknown in the West - with the exception of a few amateurs and specialists of
According to traditional but
unverifiable wisdom, White Tea has a history of some 1500 years in China. A
verified fact is that the early Song Emperors (960-1279 AD) highly appreciated
the benefits of White Tea. Zhao Ji, Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty,
described White Tea in his General Overview on Tea, written between
1107 and 1110 AD, as having buds "white like jade" and of "incomparable
quality". Until 1769, White Tea was only cultivated in the district Jianou
in the Chinese province of Fujian. Then, the Manchu Emperors of the Qing Dynasty
decided on the larger production of "silver needles" (Bai Hao Yin Zhen).
Originally, White Tea was the privilege of the Chinese Emperors and the higher
ranks of the Chinese nobility. In contrast to Green Tea, which found its way to
the West already in the 17th century, White Tea was first imported to Europe at
the end of the 19th century by the Parisian tea trading house Mariage Frères.
One of the reasons for the dominance of Black Tea was (European, last but not least
the British) taste. White Tea does not develop a strong flavor. It is a beverage
one may not appreciate at its first tasting, especially if one is used to the
consumption of fermented tea. In addition, White Tea is only produced in small
quantities and reaches the highest prices. Therefore, it will probably never
become a produce of the mass market, although it is by far the healthiest form
In China, even after the revolutions of 1912 and 1949, the knowledge of the Yin
Zhen - its history, cultivation, properties and production was never lost.
Whereas parts of the Communist elite still enjoyed White Tea, the rapidly
growing working class in China was fobbed off with cheap, mass produced tea. The
production concentrated not on the immense variety of subtle nuances of buds and
tea leaves from the different Chinese provinces and counties, but on an easily
reproducible, homogenous tea to satisfy the supposedly "uniform taste" of the
masses. This also holds for the West, where - last but not least in the
UK - "industrial" mass production and the tea bag - a crime for any tea lover -
White, Green and Black Tea all come from the same tea plant: Camellia Sinensis.
The difference is due to the different parts of the plant used and differences
in the production process.
White Tea can be divided into two families: Yin Zhen and Pai Mu Tan. Yin Zhen only
consists of the tender white bud, covered with fluffy white hairs. The Yin Zhen
is cultivated in specialized and small plantations with a long history in the
mountains of the south Chinese province of Fujian, situated on the Formosa or
Taiwan Strait. Yin Zhen ideally needs an infusion time of 15 minutes at 70°
yields a crystalline, pale mandarin
liquor with the subtle, fresh fragrance of the silvery buds. It is an ideal
summer drink, as an afternoon tea or after lunch tea.
The traditional Yin Zhen is only harvested as a result of the "imperial"
plucking - exclusively by hand - on a few days in March (First Flush), at five
in the morning, when dew still lies over the plantations. It is then withered for a few hours in the early morning sun on
bamboo trays with the help
of the natural wind until the tea is about 50% dehydrogenated. Afterwards,
the buds are tender enough not to
break while sun-dried a few more
hours, until they only contain some 5% of water.
White Tea is neither steamed like Green Tea nor oxidized like Black Tea. The
buds - for the Pai Mu Tan also the first leaves - are neither rolled nor
artificially dried. White Tea is only naturally withered and dried.
The second family of White Tea is the Pai Mu Tan or "white peony". Like the Yin
Zhen, it is partly grown in the provinces of Fujian and Anhui, but since the
1980s also in other regions such as the Indian Darjeeling and in Nepal. Both Yin
Zhen and Pai Mu Tan are made in the same way, but the "white peony", in addition
to the bud, also consists of the first tender leaves. Therefore, Pai Mu Tan is
produced in a much larger quantity and is much cheaper than the "silver tips".
Furthermore, the "white peony" needs an infusion time of only 7 minutes at 85°
If you don't like pure White Tea for its taste, you can try a perfumed one. At
the end of 2004, Mariage Frères launched a series of flavored Yin Zhen. Since
they are too delicate to be refined with the help of essences, they are perfumed
through simple blending. Tea buds are for instance mixed with orange, rose,
jasmine or lotus flowers and blossoms until the tea is impregnated by the
additional aromas. The perfumed Yin Zhen needs only 7 minutes of infusion time.
White Tea has not only become fashionable as a health and lifestyle beverage,
but it is also a component of cosmetics. In 2002, Origins (an Estée Lauder
brand) was the first company to launch cosmetics with Yin Zhen - the famous "A
Perfect World" products, which quickly became the brand's bestsellers.
The polyphenols contained in White Tea are powerful antioxidants against free
radicals, strengthen the immune system and enhance the cleansing of the body.
Polyphenols are also contained in the other forms of tea, but are partly lost in
the processing. A cup of White Tea contains roughly as many antioxidants as
three cups of Green Tea or twelve glasses of orange juice.
Because of its extraordinary qualities - as a beverage, a component of skin care
or of medicines, White Tea is likely to take a more prominent place in our
lives. The only question is whether supply can meet demand in the future since
Yin Zhen is of the highest quality and only produced in small quantities.
Yin Zhen T2301 from the Chinese province of Fujian. The famous "Silver Needles" are the most refined and
expensive form of White Tea. The
so-called 'imperial' plucking is done
exclusively by hand on just a few days in March (First Flush), when only
the finest young buds are selected. The
Yin Zhen buds resemble needles covered
by silvery tips, and yield crystalline, pale mandarin liquor with the
subtle, fresh fragrance of buds. Yin Zhen is best enjoyed during the day. The silver tips are the most natural and
the healthiest form of tea.
The ideal infusion time for the Yin Zhen T2301 from the oldest French
importer of tea, Mariage Frères, is 15
minutes at 70° Celsius.
Photo © Mariage Frères, Paris.
Pai Mu Tan Impérial
White Peony', from Fuding County in Fujian Province, is nobility itself. Its
fine, jade leaves have a high proportion of silver-needle tips, or Yin Zhen.
The flowery, crystalline liquor of Pai Mu Tan has a
lively aroma and a smooth taste, natural and slightly earthy. The Pai Mu Tan Impérial T2302 is an excellent afternoon tea.
This Chinese White Tea ideally has an infusion time of 7 minutes at 85° Celsius. Photo © Mariage Frères, Paris.
Thé des Mandarins Jasmin
This is a White Tea from Fujian
Precious buds called silver needles are
scented with tender jasmine flowers. The prerogative of
The jasmine blossom flavored Yin Zhen ideally has an infusion time of 7 minutes at
85° Celsius. It is an excellent evening beverage. Photo © Mariage Frères, Paris.
Perfumed White Teas.
Photos © Mariage Frères, Paris.