Green leaves are associated with freshness, energy and liveliness. But not everybody can handle the grassiness and freshness of green teas, some may experience upset stomach and dizziness after drinking green teas. From a traditional Chinese medicine point of view, green teas may be too cool for people with weaker stomachs and cold feet and hands.
If one would like to look for a tea that has refreshing notes but are more gentle to the stomach, white tea is the definite choice. Authentic white teas are from Fuding, Fujian province where they grow a highly versatile tea cultivar called Da Bai, the buds and leaves of which are used to produce green, white and red teas. Another noteworthy feature is that the buds or “needles” are covered in silvery white hair. Teas produced from these buds are called “bai hao yin zhen” in Chinese and “silver needle” in English. The white tea, however, is more commonly known as “shou mei”- “shou”meaning longevity and “mei”eyebrow. The name refers to the eyebrow of an elderly person and the needles do indeed resemble silvery white eyebrows.
In Chinese culinary philosophy, consuming a plant or a bit of an animal that resembles a part of the human body is believed to strengthen that particular feature. In this instance,shou meiis associated with living to a ripe old age and is popular among the seniors.
These silvery hairs serve a crucial purpose: needles bud during early spring, around March, and, since the region is at a high altitude, it can get very cold, so the hairs form a layer of insulation for the needle, like a fur coat. Secondly, moisture from dew drops can cause the needles to rot, but the hair prevents this from happening.
To produce white tea, buds and leaves are picked during the day and layered in wicker racks to be air-dried at 30-40 degrees Celsius in a temperature-controlled room for 24 hours. The buds will turn from fresh green to greyish white, after which they are collected and piled in heaps to allow them to oxidise for another 24 to 72 hours; the longer the time, the sweeter and more mellow the taste. The most expensive such teas are naturally withered under the sun, but this is risky as the weather during the spring can be unstable.
This light-oxidised tea will produce a light yellowish brew with a clean, smooth and soothing taste. White tea is prized for its anti-oxidising and anti-ageing effects. The gentleness of the white tea is so good that it fits all body types including children, pregnant and breastfeeding moms.
For discerning tea lovers, white tea is a great pair with fine dark chocolate. You will be amazed by the contrasting characters of the two but yet they blend so well together.
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