WHAT IS WHITE TEA?
Like so many concepts in a universe as broad as that of tea, many people disagree about some of the fine details that allow us to categorize a tea as 'white'.
Some commonalities among most definitions of 'white tea':
- Not rolled
- Not steamed or pan-fired (but air-dried, with or without sunshine)
Leaves for White Moonlight tea, in Jingu, Yunnan (2012)
Picking standards are the more controversial topic:
- Many people accept only tea buds (as in 'silver needles'), one bud and one leaf (some 'bai mudan'), or buds and young leaves.
- We also know some folks in Taiwan who produce 'white tea' with larger, sun-dried leaves; some of our tea friends in China flinch at such idea... but the tea is actually very tasty.
Freshly picked tea buds and finished tea in Jingu, Yunnan. This tea is called Silver Needles, or sometimes White Moonlight Buds.
A noteable commonality among most white teas is the use of cultivars that have a significant amount of 'down' on the buds (and therefore, on the backside of young leaves). This is quite important.
The down protects young buds from oxidizing (hence they look white). As the young leaves dry slowly, the inner part will oxidize (taking on a dark brown colour) and the outer part, covered with down, will remain white.
We encountered an exception in eastern Kyushu Island:
Miyazaki Akira is an exceptional, organic farmer who specializes in kamairi (pan-fired) tea. He also produces a small amount of 白茶 (called 'haku cha', locally), using local, non-fuzzy tea cultivars.
These old trees near Chiang Rai (Thailand) are used to craft a tea that is very similar to White Moonlight, with some characteristics highly reminiscent of raw Pu Er; we call it 'Thai Moonlight'.
ORIGINS OF WHITE TEA
Perhaps the most celebrated (and ancient) origin for white tea is Fuding, in Fujian Province.
Taiwanese people have historical links to Fujianese, and also have a rich tradition of handcrafting white tea. More recently, the style has become popular in far-away lands, including Darjeeling and the Kanchenjunga region in Nepal, where local cultivars and terroir add an interesting spiciness to many of the teas we've tried.
In the latter part of the 20th century, white tea began to be produced in Yunnan Province, the 'cradle of tea'. It is extremely interesting to experience these minimally processed teas crafted with leaves from assamica trees that can be several hundred years old!
This is Gao Feng in Ba Da Shan, very close to the Old Tree White Moonlight tea trees. Fun fact... that massive tea beside him is a tea tree!
IS YOUNG OR OLD BETTER?
We only started hearing about aged white tea about 10 years ago.
In the early 200s, in China, most of our friends suggested that fresh white tea, just like green tea, is much better. The same was true of our Western 'tea expert' friends.
These days, however, aged white tea is trending all over China.
"I haven't yet learned of any ancient traditions of aging white tea; in my personal opinion, some folks probably stumbled upon long forgotten stashes of white tea and discovered that (in a very different way), they create a delicious brew!"
- Pedro Villalon
SHOULD YOU AGE YOUR WHITE TEA?
It really depends on what you like. Young, fresh tea will have lighter floral notes; older tea will be less aromatic but have richer, complex mouthfeel.
If you are sensitive to the energy in your drinks, you may find that old tea is much more grounding and stabilizing, whereas young tea may be more enlivening.
Having never tried White Moonlight that is older than 15 years, we're very excited to keep a personal stash destined to be shared in perhaps 20 or 25 years. The plan is to taste a very small portion every year.
WHITE TEA KOMBUCHA?
If you're looking for a bright, bubbly brew with hints of peaches, please give it a shot! We've included our recipe below:
To prepare 1 litre of White Tea Kombucha (or any kombucha, for that matter), you will need:
- 8g tea
- 80g sugar
- Coffee filter / paper towel / fine mesh cloth
Step 1: Brew your tea
Steep your tea according to recommended brewing guidelines.
This comes down to personal preference, but I personally will steep my tea just slightly longer so that the flavour is strong enough to really shine. It is important that you don't over-steep your tea to the point that it becomes bitter, though, because this will impact your final product!
Step 2: Add your sugar
While your tea is still hot, add in your sugar and stir until completely dissolved.
If you know you want a final product that is very dry, you can go as low as 60g per litre, but don't use any less than that or your kombucha may not ferment properly.
IMPORTANT: Before proceeding to step 3, it is important that you let your tea cool completely to room temperature.
Step 3: Add your SCOBY!
Surely this is the aspect of brewing kombucha that freaks most people out -- handling the SCOBY. Depending on how comfortable you are, you can transfer your SCOBY into your brewing jar using your bare hands, tongs, chopsticks -- whatever you prefer. But whatever you choose, make sure it's clean!
Once your SCOBY is in, cover your brew with a coffee filter and secure firmly with a rubber band. Fruit flies think kombucha is delicious too, so if you leave it uncovered, it will very likely become infested with those guys.
Step 4: Wait patiently
As soon as you've introduced your SCOBY, the bacteria and yeast will start eating away at the sugar in your tea and in turn will produce acetic acid (among other things).
The longer you ferment your brew, the less sweet and more acidic it will become.
So, how do you know when it's ready?
Determining when your kombucha is done comes down to personal preference. If you like your kombucha on the sweeter side, give it a taste after 3-4 days. If you like it semi-sweet, try 6-7 days. If you like a dry kombucha, you might be looking at something like 8-10 days.
PRO TIP: When taste-testing your kombucha for readiness, don't taste it right off the top! Typically your SCOBY will float at the top, and this is where the highest concentration of acetic acid will be. Gently stir your kombucha first, then taste.
If it's still a little sweeter than you'd like, leave to ferment for another day or two and try again.
Step 5: Carbonating
This step is totally optional, but if you like a fizzy kombucha, you'll need a 1L vessel with a twist-top.
Fill the bottle with your finished kombucha (your SCOBY is no longer in the liquid), and seal. Leave the bottle on the counter for 2-3 days.
How it works: The bacteria and yeast present in your kombucha will produce gases which, when trapped in the bottle, are forced back down into the liquid thereby carbonating it.
Whether or not you choose to carbonate your kombucha, store the finished product in the fridge and consume within 2 weeks for optimal flavour.