Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Why is my white tea so dark?

The very name "white tea" gives us the impression that it's light. It's not.

True, there are very light varieties of white tea. Most people in the West who are unfamiliar with white tea associate it with the Silver Needle variety (yin zhen bai hao, pictured in the middle) and incorrectly think that white tea is simply the very young part of the plant.

In fact, green and white tea both use very young parts of the tea plant, as do most other teas (oolong leaves are noteably more mature, but still young).

Green tea that uses the youngest leaves include jasmine pearl, which uses two leaves that are just a couple of days old; jade sword (cui jian), a leung jin style green tea using 5-day old leaves; and mao feng ("fur peak") style, which uses new leaves that are about two weeks old.

Using leaves that have had a chance to mature for a full week after opening allows the plant to work its miracle, converting the sunlight into rich plant polyphenols and flavor.

Note that the tea on left includes all the top leaves; the tea in the middle, the silver needle, will typically be pale and very mild. The tea that includes the full new leaves will be more flavorful, but also will get darker as you steep it more and the plant nutrients are released into the water.

These full-leaf natural white teas are the true taste of the tea plant, uncured and unfermented, in its purest form, grassy and leafy and sweet. Those of us who have come to love it look for this true flavor, full and robust.

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Mmmm, tea from the whole top!

Many people who have tried "white tea" in a bottle or mixed with a fruit flavor like those on the right. These products have no white tea flavor at all, nor should one expect benefits from old white tea powder, which is generally the only "tea" ingredient used in these products.

Beware of cheap tea; our comparative lab tests indicate cheap powdered teas contain pesticides, flouride, aluminum and lead. No kidding!