White Tea’s emergence has evolved to a point where there is confusion within the Global Tea Industry as to its definition. In the absence international efforts to seek a common definition, and in an attempt to eliminate ambiguity, the Tea Association of the USA, Inc., offers the following point of view.
White Tea’s origins are found in the Fujian province of China around A.D. 1000. Even then it was considered to be amongst the rarest of teas and to possess the most delicate flavor. Until recently, only teas coming from this province were considered White Tea and then, only if its production followed very strict harvesting and processing requirements.
Those requirements include harvesting the unfurled leaf bud of the Camellia sinensis plant at the beginning of the first seasonal flush. The raw tea leaf is then steamed and dried with no rolling or fermentation (oxidation) taking place. The finished product takes on the look of silver needles, a name that has been used to describe this type of tea. Within the category of White Tea, Silver Needle was the first type to be created followed by Bai Mu Tan (White Peony), Gong Mei and Shou Mei. In all cases the resultant brew ranges in color from clear liquoring to “hay” tints, with virtually no green color in the cup.
Even today, Chinese traditionalists consider White Tea to be a national treasure and while acknowledging its production in other countries, the feeling is that quality does not match White Tea produced in Fujian Province.
Given the increasing number of tea producing countries that have begun to produce their versions of White Tea, definition for this type of tea is now required. While the absence of a revised definition will not stop these countries from producing White Tea, the lack of a common definition may lead to continued confusion.
Thus, the Tea Association of the U.S.A., Inc., proposes the following definition for White Tea:
White Tea should be produced in accordance with the strict harvesting and processing guidelines as originally established and followed in the Fujian Province of China. Only the hand-picked, unopened leaf bud, or the hand-picked, unopened leaf bud and first two leaves from the first seasonal flush of the Camellia sinensis plant should be harvested. The raw tea leaf should not be rolled or otherwise have its leaf/cellular structure ruptured.
Tea leaves may be dried and/or be steamed (or similar enzyme de-activation) and then dried. The finished tea should be packaged in such a way as to protect the physical and organoleptic quality of the tea that contribute to the uniqueness of this form.
This definition should be viewed as a starting point and it is recommended that these guidelines be used by producing countries to protect the quality, rarity, and unique aspects of White Tea.