Despite tea production and consumption being an art that may date back as many as 2000 years, there are remarkably few standard definitions in tea production.
For centuries the specifics of tea processing were carefully kept secrets. Consequently, new entrants into the field had to replicate the results of their predecessors using trial and error. They often developed different techniques to achieve similar seeming results.
Consequently, there are no hard and fast definitions of the different categories of tea. In general, producers agree that white teas are the least processed of all teas but there are significant differences in their handling, ranging from briefly sun-dried tea buds to lightly fermented and oven dried.
Some tea experts insist that white tea was not introduced in China until the mid-sixteenth century. This is probably not technically correct, as the very first dried tea consumed were very likely simply sun-dried with minimal processing. Arguably, white tea predates any other style of dried tea.
At Immortalitea we advocate a minimalist approach to white teas. Our white teas are all sun-dried, sometimes followed by a brief time in a temperature controlled withering room on bamboo trays. We do not roll, fire or ferment our white teas.
Because white tea receive minimal processing, the flavors, aroma and colors are all more subtle. Some tea aficionados consider them the most sophisticated of teas because of the more delicate flavors.
They are best brewed at low temperature. The unprocessed leaves will leave an unpleasant taste if brewed at high temperatures. The ideal temperature is about 75° - 80° C (165° - 175°). As the tea brews most white teas will float at the surface, then slowly sink.
Because the brewing temperature is low, the brewing times are necessarily a bit longer than most gourmet teas, 5- 10 minutes is pretty common. A good rule of thumb is when about half the leaves have sunk to the bottom, the tea is ready to drink.
The brewing vessel should be glass or porcelain. I find clay or metal pots tend to influence too much the delicate flavors of white tea. The color of brewed white tea (often called soup in China) varies from a pale yellow to a bright apricot color. The flavor of course depends on the type of white tea being brewed but most common are a nutty or honey flavor.
White teas are a new experience for many people and certainly a big change from the black teas most popular in North America. But if your looking for a more calming sophisticated tea experience, white teas may be for you.