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White Tea
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 the trade.

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 of tea.

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 - became dominant.

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° Celsius. It
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° Celsius.

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 products 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 T2302. This 'Imperial 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 T8302. This is a White Tea from Fujian Province.
Precious buds called silver needles are scented with tender jasmine flowers. The prerogative of Mandarins. 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.

Deutsch Politik Geschichte Kunst Film Musik Lebensart Reisen
English Politics History Art Film Music Lifestyle Travel
Français Politique Histoire Arts Film Musique Artdevivre Voyages

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© Copyright www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.