It was customary between (600 CE and 1300 CE) for a tribute to be paid to the Emperors of the imperial dynasty in the form of white tea. In its earliest avatar, it was plucked in the height of spring, washed in the clearest waters of the river, air dried and then pounded - the making of tea was an event in itself. So rare and fine was the taste that only the richest could afford it.
However, white tea as we understand it grew in the Fujian region of China in the 17th century. Since they were minimally processed, there was no way it could be made available outside of the region, for it would simply spoil. With the advent of industrialisation however, the world began to realise just why white tea is what it is.
The freshness of new growth
Harvested before the tea plant's leaves open fully, at a time the buds are covered by little white hairs, the tea is appropriately named for what it represents: subtle notes, freshness and delicacy.
Like all other teas—green, black and oolong—white tea is a product of the Camellia Sinensis plant—an evergreen bush that is found in both India and China. While numerous hybrids have evolved from the tea in different parts of the world, it is ultimately a combination of the variety of tea plant and how the plant's leaves are processed that differentiates the taste of the teas.
Minimal interference; maximum freshness
Handpicked and hand processed, it's the least artificially treated. Unlike others that are exposed to oxygen post harvesting, darkening their colour and deepening their flavour, this tea is spared the artificial heat. Neither is it rolled, crushed, steamed, fired or roasted. Instead, this new growth is simply picked out and left to dry naturally. Sure enough, some oxidation happens naturally, but since nothing has been done to actively bring it on, this tea retains the freshness and delicacy of the gardens.
Combined with the varied sweet notes of melon, peach, lychee, pomegranate, honeysuckle, even citrusy fruits like lemon and orange and blended with floral aromas like jasmine and rose, a good white tea is akin to all the sights and smells of paradise in your cuppa.
Goodness in a teacup
Nutritionally speaking, it has thrice as many antioxidants as compared to other teas. The caffeine content is also considerably less—just 15 to 20 mg per serving, compared to green tea at 20-30mg, black tea at 50-80mg, and coffee at 100-200mg. "Like other teas it contains anti-ageing substances and is a good anti-bacterial agent which is why it is used in soap, and cosmetics," says Pune-based tea dealer and expert, Roshan Chaube. "It also has less caffeine as compared to other teas and coffees, and thus, is not addictive or harmful.”
"White tea in addition to a clean diet may help with weight loss-provided it is consumed sans a sweetener. Minimal processing is always a good thing, but make sure it is organic, freshly packaged and bought from a noted company," says Manisha Singh, who is pursuing a Masters' in nutrition. "An important tip to note is to ensure the tea is stored in clean, airtight containers, far way from condiments like spices and beverages like coffee whose flavours and aroma may affect the tea leaves."
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