Currently there is no general accepted definition of white tea and very little international agreement. One source says that white tea is minimally processed tea (just drying, no fermentation or other procedures). Another says that "white tea is made from buds and young leaves, which are steamed or fired to inactivate polyphenol oxidase, and then dried."
The name "white tea" derives from the fine silvery-white hairs on the unopened buds of the tea plant, which gives the plant a whitish appearance. The beverage itself is not white or colourless but pale yellow, light to the taste, and is free shaped.
Scholars and tea merchants generally disagree as to when the first production of white tea (as it is understood in China today) began. What is today known as white tea may have come into creation in the last two centuries. White tea may have first appeared in English publication in 1876, where it was categorized as a black tea because it is not initially cooked like a green tea, to deactivate internal enzymes and external microbes.
White tea is often being sold as Silvery Tip Pekoe, a form of its traditional name, and now also under the simple designations China White and Fujian White.
Like black and green tea, white tea is also derived from Camellia sinensis. Thus, white tea shares many of the same chemical properties and health effects of tea. However, white tea contains the most antioxidants. The particular amount and ratio of the polyphenol compounds found in tea varies widely from one type of white tea to another, frequently overlapping with chemical compositions found in green tea. This is due both to the variation between strain of Camellia sinensis, as well as the preparation process itself.
The base process for manufacturing white tea is as follows:
- Fresh tea leaf → withering → drying (air drying, solar drying or mechanical drying) → white tea
White tea belongs to the group of tea that does not require panning, rolling or shaking. However, the selection of raw material in white tea manufacture is extremely stringent; only the plucking of young tea leaves with much fine hair can produce good-quality white tea of a high pekoe value.
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