White Tea was originally a tribute to members of the Chinese high court due to its unique qualities and high value. Downy shoots and leaves are the parts of Camellia Sinensis used to make these delicate teas, and brings out a smooth mouth feel with a fresh and botanical aroma. The process in making white tea is unique due to its simplicity and reliance on a natural process to take care of the tea, a philosophy rooted in Chinese Daoism. Preparing white tea does not involve heat nor rolling, but simply utilizes withering and drying (in many cases sun drying). Top tier white tea is considered to solely come from Fujian region in China using ancient techniques of ventilation rooms and exposure to the sun in mild temperatures. The most highly regarded white tea involves only the tea shoots and is aptly called Silver Needles. Outside of China, white tea is slowly become more popular to cultivate. Most note-worthy are white teas originating from Kenya, typically called Silverback, and from southern Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
When preparing white tea, it is recommended to use glass or porcelain due to clay and metal retaining too much heat during the brewing process. Warm water of 165-175F is the general guidelines used when preparing white tea however, in recent tea circles, some individuals are using much hotter water when brewing broad leafed white tea (Bai Mu Dan). Due to the lack of coercing during the drying process, white tea has been known to hold on to many essential oils and aroma without prolonged steeping. While some individuals will steep white tea for 2mins for a delicate nectar-like aroma, prolonged steeping of 5-10mins may allow you to experience all the flavors a white tea contains.
When discussing white tea, there are two general teas we are discussing. Silver Needle, using an unopened leaf shoot hails from Tai Lao, which harbors many mountainous tea plantations. The sub tropical climate provides the plants with high humidity and abundant precipitation allowing the tea plants to flourish. Silver Needles counterpart is White Peony (Bai Mu Dan). White peony uses the shoot with the addition of two open leaves. Some tea drinkers prefer this tea over Silver Needle due to its heavier flavor tones.
Fun Fact: Silver Needle harvests were originally set aside for the Emperor of China as a tribute and wished for his prosperity and longevity.