By Katherine Burnett
What? Wait… White?
White tea. How can tea be white?
The camellia sinensis is an evergreen plant whose countries of origin are China and India. This plant has many faces and these are recognizable by the processing methods that dictate their type. It can get complicated, but I choose to think in pretty simple terms on this theme of tea types.
White tea is one of six tea types. It gets its name from the fine downy hairs on the unopened buds of the plant, which give the plant a silver-white appearance.
In the white tea category, to keep it simple, there are two types:
White teas once were rare and expensive, originally coming from a varietal cultivar grown only in certain regions of south-east China. But now there are more options and availability because white tea can include any tea leaves or buds that undergo minimal processing. White teas are no longer exclusive to South-east China.
What puts white tea in its own category is minimal processing. This means the leaves are plucked, withered and dried. Further steps of rolling, oxidizing and firing are left out. Of course, the moment a leaf is plucked, it starts oxidizing, so depending on the strength of sun, some mechanical drying may be required, Drying may take place out or indoors and as quickly as possible. Timing is everything!
Pai Mu Tan, is a combination of the lower open two leaves that are irregular in size and some of the unfurled leaf tips. It is produced in China in much higher volumes than the Silver Needle. Because it is more common and not considered rare, it is less expensive. In Lady Baker’s Pai Mu Tan, you will see some buds and leaves, some of which are broken. But you can tell they are dried leaves, different from more processed teas like greens, oolongs and blacks.
Our Pai Mu Tan or White Peony is naturally withered and dried in small batches and hand sorted. It has a very high antioxidant level, is low in caffeine and approved for Kosher, vegetarian and vegan diets.
Silver Needle is made of just the unopened buds and they are very regular, straight and cylindrical with a downy covering. Meticulously plucked in early spring, the day before buds open, they are steamed and dried. The finished product looks like a pile of silver needles!
It takes some skill and care to air-dry the leaves. Buds must be hand-picked when the weather is dry and warm. A tea master must decide on amount of sun or mechanized low heat to use to prevent oxidation.
Our Silver Needle is one called Elephant Tusk Silver Needle (there are no elephant tusks in this tea!) and is considered rare, exceptional, Fair Trade and Ethical Tea Partnership certified. It is a product of Malawi, Africa which has been, for several years now, developing its tea production to a very high standard. I encourage you to read from their website to see the wonderful job they are doing in supporting the small tea farms and estate owned farms. It is so encouraging!
Like the Pai Mu Tan, our Silver Needle has a very high antioxidant level, low in caffeine and suitable for Kosher, vegetarian and vegan diets.
White teas are also healthy digestifs so serving after a meal is a good idea. Not only aiding in digestion, they taste so good on their own or with a delicate dessert. The mouth-feel is velvety and the taste of light floral sweetness is incredibly satisfying. There is no astringency nor bitterness. One may pick up on a hint of peachiness, so I would definitely recommend a peach cobbler or a custard topped with peaches if you are inclined to produce a dessert after dinner! You could also unwrap a white or milk chocolate bar that has a fruit base. A little bite of chocolate and a little sip of tea…I’m starting to drool!!
The Pai Mu Tan liquor is a bit stronger and darker than the Silver Needle. Both are a soft golden hue. Neither need milk, sugar nor lemon.
Brewing temperature should be less than boiling at about 85C. Brewing time recommended is 1-2 minutes. It is a matter of preference, so you may find you prefer the taste if brewed longer. We provide brewing instructions on our packaging.
We have one of our own blends, called Heaven on Earth in which we toss Pai Mu Tan leaves into the mix of teas produced from many countries. It is quite ‘heavenly’ to the palate and if you think you may prefer a different taste profile than the Pai Mu Tan by itself, I suggest you try it.
Like green and black teas, white tea (Pai Mu Tan) in particular, may also be flavoured or scented. You may choose to introduce yourself to white tea via added natural flavours. Lady Baker’s Tea has one such tea called Watermelon Twist.
We think of this blend as a seasonal taste attraction for our summer’s iced tea menu. Any hot day, wherever you are, a glass of iced Watermelon Twist with a chunk of watermelon floating on top is super refreshing. At this moment on Prince Edward Island, surrounded by snow, I can’t wait for those warm days!
Watermelon Twist Iced Tea
- 2 cups water
- 3 tablespoons Lady Baker's Watermelon Twist Tea
- 3 cups watermelon, pureed
- 3 cups ice
- Fresh mint, if desired
Brew Watermelon Twist tea in less than boiling water. Let steep for 10 minutes before discarding leaves. Set aside in fridge to cool.
Puree your watermelon in a blender, straining into a pitcher with the ice. Pour tea over watermelon and ice and stir.
Serve in a tall glass with a sprig of fresh mint for garnish. Enjoy!
I do hope I have enlightened you a little on the White Tea category. It has gone mostly unnoticed in our Canadian Atlantic tea experience. But I guarantee it will take a place of honour on your tea shelf should you give it a try!