Introduced to the West by The Republic of Tea in 2002, the history of 100% white tea is a long and fascinating tale that extends to Ancient China.
Today’s tea lovers are best acquainted with modern tea bags and full-leaf loose teas that come in multiple varieties. However, these did not exist until the drinking of tea was already fairly well established. With the history of tea dating back as far as 2737BC, the production of tea evolved from the simple boiling of leaves, to cake teas. Unlike the full-leaf loose teas and tea bags we are most familiar with today, for thousands of years it was common for leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant to be picked, steamed, dried and then compressed and formed into tight cakes or bricks. These cake teas tended to be sturdy and made for good storage and shipping, but the flavor was all but lost and often described as bitter and rancid. Production of tea in this manner was incredibly time consuming and very labor intensive for tea farmers.
Tea production drastically changed during the rule of the Ming Dynasty. Taizu Zhu Yuanzhang, The Ming Dynasty’s first emperor, had been raised in a lower class society and was familiar with the work of tea laborers and sensitive to their plight. He believed that forming tea into bricks called for an unnecessary amount of effort that resulted in an unsatisfactory product. In 1391, he issued an edict to abolish the production of cake tea and bricks which encouraged the cultivation of full-leaf loose teas.
In addition to doing away with cake teas, Emperor Taizu Zhu Yuanzhang set up many policies regarding tea production, grading and export. It was under the Ming Dynasty, that different styles of harvesting and processing began to develop and a wide variety of teas, including 100% white tea, were henceforth introduced.
While the beverage itself is usually described as pale yellow in color, white tea gets its name from the silvery white hairs on unopened buds that grow on the Camellia sinensis plant. Picked in early spring before leaves have a chance to unfurl, the downy white buds are then left to dry in natural sunlight before any oxidization is allowed to occur. This very precise procedure must be closely supervised in order to prevent over processing. 100% white tea only come from Fujian Province in China, much like Champagne only comes from the Champagne region of France.
Care must also be taken while steeping 100% white tea. In order to avoid scalding the fragile leaves, water should be removed from the heat just before coming to a boil. Time for infusing this delicate tea is short: 30-60 seconds if preparing white tea bags and two to three minutes if steeping white full-leaf loose tea.
The resulting infusion will deliver a cup of smooth, mellow tea with a light, sweet flavor and delicate aromas. Low in caffeine, 100% white tea has long been thought to offer many health benefits and is sure to soothe the soul and bring peace of mind. This is tea drinking at its finest.
Since the introduction of 100% white tea, popularity of the once rare tea has quickly spread. We thank Emperor Taizu Zhu Yuanzhang and the Ming Dynasty for unlocking the gates and opening the door to the vast array of teas available today, especially the extraordinary 100% white!