leaf ends up in a cup of green, black or oolong tea depends on what happens after it is picked. The differences are in the processing. Black tea gets its name from its dark color and full flavor resulting from a complex fermentation process. Crushed tea leaves are exposed to the air for a specified number of minutes before fermentation. Tea leaves destined to become green tea are not fermented at all. They are withered in hot air then quickly steamed to retain as much of their anti-oxidants as possible, resulting in a mellow tasting cup of tea. Oolong teas fall in the middle with just partial fermentation, giving them a distinct reddish color and a flowery flavor.
So where does white tea fit in to the tea picture? White tea is made from immature tea leaves that are picked just before the buds have fully opened. White tea takes its name from the silver fuzz that still covers the buds, which turn white when the tea is dried. The exact proportion of buds to leaves varies depending on the variety. Tea buds and leaves that are destined to become white tea undergo even less processing than green tea. Instead of air-drying, the unwithered leaves are merely steamed. The result is a pale tea with a sweet, silky flavor lacking the “grassy” aftertaste associated with green tea.
White tea requires great care and effort to produce. Special varieties of the tea bush are selected and tended for several years before yielding their first harvest. Climate, altitude, and soil must be just right. White teas are mostly produced in China and Japan. The Darjeeling region of India also produces some fine white teas. Early spring produces the best white tea. When the time is right, the tea workers carefully hand pick the silver buds and select leaves. There is no picking on rainy days or when frost is on the ground. White tea can only be picked for a short time each year making it rare and precious.
There are four main varieties of white tea: Silver Needle, White Peony, Long Life Eyebrow, and Tribute Eyebrow. Silver Needle is the finest and most famous of the white tea varieties. It is made only of silvery white buds. White peony is the next highest in quality and consists of buds and leaves. The best White Peony has both bud and leaf covered in silvery white hair. Lower in rank is Long Life Eyebrow, which is made from leaves left over after the Silver Needle and White Peony harvest. Tribute Eyebrow is another lesser white tea, which is made from a special tea bush and is processed in a slightly different way from the others. There are a number of other white tea varieties. Some are named after the region of origin and some for the special ingredients added to the leaves and buds. Fruits are a popular addition and add extra sweetness to the flavor.
Tea has been used as medicine for centuries. Today modern science has also recognized the added health benefits of drinking tea. While all teas are good for you, green tea is especially so due to the fact it is not fermented and the health benefits remain more intact. With green tea being healthier than black tea due to less processing, the even more delicate processing of white tea makes it the supreme cup of tea. White tea maintains the largest amount of health benefits from tea bush to teacup.
Tea contains antioxidants that protect the body from damage by free radicals by neutralizing them. Flavonoids, one antioxidant, inhibit the growth of cancer cells and prevent the development of new ones. Tea also lowers bad cholesterol and increases good cholesterol with another one of its antioxidants, catechins. Catechins help prevent hardening of the arteries and blockage of blood flow, preventing heart disease. Tea helps thin blood, lowering blood pressure. Tea adds to greater bone density and has beneficial effects for sufferers of arthritis and osteoporosis. Tea also contains small amounts of fluoride and other nutrients, which help keep teeth strong and healthy. White tea is especially a natural killer of bacteria and viruses with its abundant antioxidants, which are left intact during processing. White tea is the most delicate of teas, yet it is the strongest of tonics.