What is the deal with White Tea?

Date:19 Aug, 2016

What is the deal with White Tea?

Although all tea is made from the same plant (camellia sinensis) all white tea is made by the same process but using, different standards of picking from these bushes. White tea is divided into four commercially distinct teas:

Bai Hao Yin Zhen ( Silver Needle)
Bai Mu Dan (White Peony)
Shou Mei (Longevity Eyebrow)
Gong Mei (Tribute Eyebrow)

Silver Needle tea

Bai Hao Yin Shen (Silver Needle), the hightest grade of white tea, is harvested in the spring and should haveWhite-Tea41.jpg long, fat, hairy buds (the hair visible over all sides of the bud), that when infused will turn green. The smell of the dry buds will have a fresh fragrance that becomes slightly floral when brewed. Thin, short leaves that impart a yellowish color when brewed indicate a lower quality white tea.

Silver Needle Tea

Silver Needle Tea

The best tea comes from the first flush – or first harvest – that takes place between late March and early April, sometimes taking up just two days out of the year. This is called the imperial harvest.

Processing Silver Needle tea

What distinguishes white teas from all other types of tea is the minimal oxidation that this tea undergoes. It is in fact considered an unoxidized tea.

Oxidation takes place when tea leaves are broken so great care is needed when making white tea so that the buds remain undamaged. Let’s take a look at how this tea is processed once it has been harvested from then tea bush.


The Silver Needle buds are laid carefully in shallow baskets to wilt under the sun for a period that can take as long as 3 days.

The best tea is still made this way, but as the weather may ruin a batch of tea, sometimes this process is done indoors with artificial warmth.


Finally the buds are bake-dried at a low temperature and that’s it, the tea is ready to be packaged and shipped.

Bai Mu Dan (White Peony)

This white tea was first produced in the Chinese Fuding and Zhenghe counties in the Fujian Province and it is the second finest white, only after Silver Needle Tea. It is also known as Bai Mu Dan or Pai Mu Tan, which basically means “white peony” in Chinese.

A good quality Bai Mu Dan (White Peony) will have a picking standard of two leaves to one bud. The longer and plumper the bud indicates it was harvested in the early part of the season. The leaves should be largely unbroken with hair being visible on the underside of the leaf, which gently unfold in your tea pot, resembling the petals of a peony blossom, hence its name.

Like other teas, this tea also comes from the tea plant camellia sinensis. It comes from two specific tea bushes called Da Bai (Large White) and Narcissus tea bush.

Grades of White Peony Tea

In China, the highest grades of Bai Mu Dan offer you leaves covered with a fine, silvery white down, a sweet taste and a light color.

High grades tend to be hard to find, but lower grades are likely to be more common, offering you a nutty and smoky flavor, as well as having a darker color when infused.

So if you happen to come across a higher grade, do not miss the opportunity to taste it.

What makes a great White Peony tea is its processing method, a careful set of steps that ensure that this tea undergoes as little oxidation as possible and is kept as natural as possible.


The tea bud and next two tea leaves are plucked in early spring, before fully opened. The leaves retain a light green-gray color due to the feathery down that covers them.

The young leaves are carefully handpicked so that they suffer minimal crushing as it is when the tissue cells break that oxidation occurs and white tea stops being white tea.


Then they are simply withered, for about 1 to 3 days in the sun, which is quite long considering that weather conditions have to be just right throughout the whole period.

After withering the tea leaves are piled for a very short period of time for minimal oxidation. This is so residual, that white tea is considered generally unoxidized.


The final stage of processing before packaging is a careful selection of the tea leaves to be bake dried, resulting in a full bodied tea with greater potency.

Bai-Mu-Dan (White Peony)

Shou Mei Tea

This Chinese white tea was first created in the Fuding county in the Fujian province in China and today is it also grown in the Guangxi province.

Shou Mei is also known as Long Noble Life Eyebrow, due to its thin and crescent-shaped leaves that resemble eyebrows.

It can also be found under other names or different spellings such as Shu Mee, Sow Mei, Shou Mei Wang, Cha Wang Shou Mei, Longevity Eyebrow or Longevity Eyebrow King.

Once the tea leaves are harvested they are set to naturally wither under the sun. This tea undergoes almost no oxidation, just a slight natural process that gives it its dark color and bold flavor.

Finally tea leaves are dried and packaged careful so as not to damage the leaves unnecessarily.

Grading Shou Mei Tea

This tea is considered a low grade white tea as it uses only a few buds and 2-3 leaves that are plucked after those for White Peony (Bai Mu Dan), thus resulting in darker tea, though with greater strength.

What seems to define the similarity of this tea to that of oolong teas is the result of this late harvesting of the tea leaves.

Using large, more mature, with full fine hair on the surface, multicolored whole leaves make this a lower grade tea, certainly less expensive than the more refined and rare Silver Needle tea.

Shou Mei

Gong Mei Tea

The ironcally named lowest grade of white tea, Gong Mei (Tribute Eyebrow), is mostly brown broken leaves with very few buds. This is a common white tea found in Southern Chinese restaurants. Gong Mei is made of the Da Bai subvarietal of Camellia sinensis. It is grown mainly in the provinces of Fujian and Guangxi in China. Because this tea is harvested later than Bai Mu Dan it’s liquor is slightly darker in color and stronger in taste. The infusion is golden yellow and thus darker than other white teas. Gong Mei is sometimes also referred as Shou Mei although the latter is considered as fourth grade quality while Gong Mei is a third quality grade tea.

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