White tea is the rarest type of tea and is named after the tiny white or silver hairs on the tea bud as it develops at the tip of the shoot. Once the new buds have been plucked, they are dried in the fresh air.
Despite being briefly championed by Kate Moss and the Primrose Hill set in the early naughties via a "White Tea and Diamonds Party" at Claridges - The UK Tea Council really did get a bit starstruck with this one - white tea remains a fairly well kept, but ludicrously delicious, secret.
Originally the preserve of the Fujian province in China, white tea is now produced in other parts of the world using different tea plants.
The finest white teas - Yin Zen or Silver Needle - are made only from fleshy new leaf buds of the Da Bai tea bush varietal picked in late March or early April, before the Qing Ming festival. These buds are plucked early in the morning before they unfurl.
Other white teas are made from the new bud and two young open leaves - like our Bai Mu Dan which is also plucked from the Da Bai varietal - or just simply the young open leaves, meaning not all white teas look the same.
When brewed, white tea should produce a very pale liquor with a light, sweet flavour. White tea should never be prepared with boiling water but between 75°C and 90°C for between 3-6 minutes depending on the variety.
The liquor from Silver Needle tea exhibits an almost honeydew melon quality, whereas lower grade white teas tend to produce more floral, fruity notes. In addition, due to the lack of processing, the all-important antioxidant levels are said to be highest of all in white tea so it is also laden with health benefits.
This lack of processing also means that white tea, in its dry leaf form, contains the most caffeine of all. However, as we have previously covered in our post about caffeine content in tea, green and white tea is steeped at a lower temperature and for a shorter time meaning that the caffeine has less chance to dissolve into the water, meaning a cup of white tea will have lower caffeine content than a cup of black tea.