Aah White tea. In some ways White tea encapsulates what I love about tea - so simple and yet so complex.
Processing sounds ridiculously simple - pick leaves, put them out in the sun to dry (or air heaters if it's rainy) and voila you have White tea. But when a process is so simple there is no room for mistakes, no way to fix any shortcomings in extra layers of processing. Any errors will be easy to pick up to the trained palate. This is the Goldilocks of tea - a small aberration makes an obviously poorer quality tea - all conditions have to be 'just right'.
- The buds (in the case of Silver Needle) have to be picked when they are at their fullest - pick too early and the buds have not developed, pick too late and the buds have begun to turn into leaves. Either way the tea will lose flavour.
- The picking cannot be done on a wet or dewy day - the moisture makes it so much harder to dry in the right amount of time to ensure the right level of oxidation. So imagine the dilemna if the buds are in prime condition (see point 1) but the forecast is for 5 days of rain!
- The withering/drying/oxidation has to be even, so this means spreading all the buds in a perfect single layer.
- The ambient temperature and humidity during the wither has to be perfect otherwise the buds will dry too quickly (not oxidise enough) or too slowly (oxidise too much). Its very hard to make good White tea on a rainy day.
- The tea will continue to change after drying so it has to be stored perfectly away from humidity to stay young or left out to age.
These are a few reasons why White tea is not as simple as it appears and I haven't even started talking about the ways to brew White tea. Don’t let the lightness of the tea fool you. Whites may appear to be very delicate but they are potent brews with poise and power. If you are interested, I have made a couple of masterclasses on how to Choose Silver Needle and How to Brew White Tea.