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White tea comes from the buds and leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. The leaves and buds are allowed to wither and dry in natural sun.
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 and light to the taste.
For many years it was believed that white tea was discovered during the Song Dynasty (920-1269), however, even earlier references to white tea have been traced as far back as the Tang Dynasty (618-907). At that time in history, white tea preparation was a very different experience than it is today: early harvest white tea leaves appeared solely in compressed cakes and broken pieces were steeped in earthenware kettles.
Although white tea was popularized and widely revered in the Song Dynasty (960-1269), it was relatively unknown to the rest of the world until very recently. Only royals were allowed to consume white tea and it is rumored that it could only be served as a “tribute” to the emperor by virgins with white gloves as a symbol of honor and respect. One emperor, Hui Zong, became so enamored by white tea that it literally cost him most of his empire. During this time, ceremonial methods of preparing white tea were very similar to the traditional Japanese tea ceremony for matcha; typically in powder form and whisked in wide ceramic bowls.
It wasn’t until the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), that the Ming court ruled that only loose leaf white tea could be served as a tribute to the emperor, thus changing our understanding of white tea processing and its preparation forever.
White teas are best prepared with a milder water temperature of 175°-185° F. Water that is too hot can cause the leaves to overcook and become astringent. To capture the best flavor, we recommend steeping white teas for 1-3 minutes only. Although some white teas can be re-steeped, it is not generally recommended, as a second or third steeping may not yield as flavorful or fragrant a cup. It is suggested that you use about 1 Tbsp per 8oz cup for optimum results