White Gold

Caffeine|Issue 41

White Gold
It’s worth seeking out the best-quality white tea, says Mei Leaf’s Don Mei
Don Mei

All the old tales about white tea being picked by virgins for the emperors of China in ancient times are frilly myths. White tea was created in Fujian, southeastern China, in the late 18th century, making it a baby compared with its venerable siblings like green or Pu'er tea.

Tea type is defined not by the plant variety but by the method of processing leaves. The recipe for making white tea is simple: dry the fresh leaves. But as always with tea, there is a world of complexity within that simplicity.

As soon as the leaf is picked it begins to wilt, releasing compounds that mix with enzymes and air and commence oxidation, transforming the fresh taste of the leaves into stronger and sweeter brews. In white tea, the oxidation is stopped by drying the tea completely. The skill of the producer is to regulate this drying process: slow enough to allow for some warming oxidation but fast enough to maintain the desired freshness.

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Issue 41