White tea is a fresh favorite of many. But is the name accurate? Is white tea actually tea?
The Short Answer:
Yes, white tea is actually tea.
The Long Answer:
There are only four varieties of actual tea. They are green, black, white, and oolong. What makes them tea over something like rooibos or chamomile? They come from the Camellia sinensis plant, more commonly referred to as the tea bush.
But if all four of these teas come from the same plant, why are they so different? That comes from the fermentation process, which occurs after harvesting.
White tea is minimally processed, making it one of the most delicate teas in existence. Camellia sinensis leaves are harvested before the plant’s leaves open to make white tea. At that time, the buds are still covered by little white hairs, which is where this tea gets its name.
Once these buds are handpicked, they are dried out so that the leaves can’t oxidize. That’s what adds to the delicate nature and freshness of white tea. Oxidation is one of the biggest variables when it comes to different types of tea. It occurs when the tea leaves are exposed to oxygen following their harvest. Some tea masters will roll or fire their teas to aid in oxidation, but white tea receives none of that.
The leaves dry out in a controlled atmosphere and are never exposed to any kind of artificial heat.
The origin of white tea can be traced back to ancient China, where young tea buds were picked, steamed, and stripped of their outer leaf. After being rinsed in water from a natural spring and air dried, they were ground into a powder, similar to matcha. That powder was then whisked into hot water to create an extremely fresh and fine tea. The only person in China wealthy enough to afford such a tea was the emperor himself.