See a letter from Ellen about the donation campaign. Your help matters!

White Teas


White teas, unfermented leaves of camellia siniesis, are among China’s rarest tea treasures, harvested for only a brief period each spring. During the Song Dynasty white tea was developed from green tea, and Song Dynasty emperor Hui Zhong proclaimed white tea to be the culmination of all that is elegant. Its unique process is also documented in the Ming Dynasty tea books. Commercial production of white tea is first recorded in 1796, during the Qing Dynasty. The most prized current specialty white tea is “Silver Needle Pekoe” which emerged in 1885, produced from the tip bud of the tea branch. "White Peony Tea" Bai Mu Dan began a bit later, perhaps around 1922, and includes the first two leaves below the bud that is the Silver Needle.

White teas are indigenous to a very small area in south eastern China, where ideal growing conditions of geography and climate coincide. True white teas are barely fermented and can only be made according to a unique withering processing, distinct to a few small districts in the far northern part of Fujian, China. White teas get their name from specific tea plant varieties, as well as a particular post-harvest processing method which raises small silvery hairs on the dried tea leaves and buds.

The history of white tea manufacturing begins more recently than any other tea types. As mentioned, white tea was firstly created in Fuding province in 1796. At that time, the farmers plucked the fresh tea buds from the "vegetable white" variety to make silver tip white tea. The "Big White Tea" variety was identified in Fuding about in 1857. Since 1885, the farmers began to pluck fresh tea buds from the "Big White Tea" variety to make silver tip or silver needle white tea, which was also called Big white in that time. To distinguish it, the silver tip white tea from "vegetable white" variety was called "unrefined needle" or "small white".

The "Big white" variety was also found in Zhenghe in 1880. The tea farmers there began to produce silver tip white tea in 1889. Around 1922, white peony tea was then produced there. White peony tea was first created in Shuijie( Jianyang province nowadays). It's not clear exactly when white peony tea was created.

The export business for silver tip white tea began from 1891. Since 1910, Chinese white tea has become popular in both Europe and America like Chinese congou black tea.


If divided by tea plant types, modern Chinese white tea comes from three varieties:

Big white: the white teas made from fresh tea leaves plucked from "Big White Tea" variety include Fuding Big White Tea; Zhenghe Big White Tea; Silver tip white tea (or silver needle pekoe) made from single buds plucked from "Big White Tea" variety.

Narcissus White: white teas are made from fresh tea leaves plucked from "narcissus white" variety. White peony tea is most often made from one bud with two/three leaves plucked from "Big White Tea" variety or Narcissus White.

vegetable white: several lesser known white tea varieties are made from fresh tea leaves plucked from "vegetable white" variety.

White teas are grown in a very small mountainous geographic area of China.


The white tea production began from Fuding, then spread to ShuiJie, then Zhenghe. Historically, silver tip white tea was first created, then white peony tea, then longevity or long life eyebrow. The leaves and other material left over from the selection of Silver Needle and White Peony are processed into Noble, Long Life Eyebrow. Tribute Eyebrow, Gong Mei is made from "chaicha" bushes and is processed slightly differently than other white teas.

Using the youngest buds and leaves still covered with short white hair, white teas are produced by withering the leaves, then drying in the sun or slowly at low temperatures. In the past, steam has been used for withering the white tea leaves, but that is not usual with top quality white teas today. The down on the white tea leaves is clearly visible and gives it a silvery-white appearance. The new white tea buds are plucked before they open in early spring.

White tea is not usually rolled and is only slightly oxidized, leaving its natural anti-oxidants intact. White teas are not fermented. The resulting teas have mild, fresh flavors and natural sweetness.

Depending on the age and type of white tea selected, white tea leaves and brewed tea may vary from a light yellow or green to a dark brown color. It has a milder, less grassy flavor than most green teas, but still tastes more like an herbal tea than an ordinary Chinese tea.

Health Benefits

Chinese white teas are known for their cooling (Yin) properties and are considered detoxifying and refreshing. Recent research at the University of Oregon reports that white teas, in comparison to other tea, have the highest concentration of the anti-oxidant group known as “catechins”, almost three times that in green tea. White teas have less caffeine, approximately 10 mg compared to 30 in green tea, 50 in black tea and 110 in brewed coffee. The absence of fermentation, withering, rolling and oxidation of the leaves allows white tea to contain a concentrations of polyphenols, a possible anti-cancer agent. Recent health research results have pointed to Chinese white tea as potentially having the largest amount of health benefits of any of the Chinese teas made from Camellia sinensis.

Varieties of white teas

Divided by different standards of picking and selecting, Chinese white teas can be classified as Yin Zhen Bai Hao (Silver Needle), Bai Mu Dan (White Peony), Gongmei (Tribute Eyebrow), and Shou Mei (Noble, Long Life or Longevity Eyebrow). All of these white teas are widely produced in China and are available in America. Each has several grades, allowing for a very wide variation in price. Quality characteristcs are discussed with each type.

Silver Tip or Silver Needle white tea

Silver tip white tea produced at Fuding and Zhenghe areas in Fujian province is a top grade white tea. Chinese tea lovers describe it as "white like cloud, green like dream, pure like snow, aromatic like orchid". Single buds are plucked right when they fully develop and are ready to open. The beautifully acerose buds are covered with silvery hairs, hence the tea named "silver tip white tea". When infusing, every bud stands in the cup upright just like bamboo shoots after a spring rain. The reason for the name, "Silver Needles," is quite apparent with one glance at the buds. The prominence of the delicate white hairs on the buds is quite striking. Jasmine Silver Needle is a flowery variant of Silver Needle infused with the scent of fresh jasmine using the same technique used for Jasmine Dragon Pearls.

Exquisite and delicate, Silver Needle has a fresh, sweet fragrance and produces a pale yellow brew. Its taste is delicate with a clean mellow sweetness. The aftertaste is fresh. This tea has high concentrations of polyphenols (antioxidants that help fight against cancer-causing radicals and heart disease).

Brewing with a Yixing teapot dedicated to only Silver Needle can best show the aroma of Silver Needle.

White Peony tea

White peony tea is also known as "Pai Mu Dan". White peony tea is made from the buds with two tip leaves that remain after the famous silver tip white tea has been harvested. Prized for its low astringency, it is sweet and mild, yet more full-bodied. The cup color is darker and the aroma bolder, the natural sweetness clearly identifies the close relationship to the silver tip white tea. Tea steeped from these leaves has a light golden brown color and a pleasing roasted aroma. The tea has a sweet roasted taste and a fresh and sweet aftertaste. The leaves are multi-colored like autumn foliage. Once brewed, White Peony has a more pronounced scent, described as a fresh bamboo fragrance. Its flavor is also stronger than Silver Needles, with notes of honey, chestnut, oak and vanilla.

Longevity eyebrow

Longevity Brow, (Shou Mei) is a sun-dried leaf that has been partially steamed during withering. Grown in Fujian, this tea is plucked during the period of April, May, and June. Only two distinct leaves and the bud are selected.

New white teas from Fujian and other locations
snowbud - light and gentle tea from coastal China. Snow bud (Xue Ya) is a rare and certified organic white tea. Its clear infusion offers a fresh green note with a complex savory flavor and aroma that can be likened to toasted grains and baked sweet potato. The taste is both sweet and savory.
song yang - needle-shaped leaves from northern China
Drum Mountain White Cloud "Gu Shan Bai Yun" is a white tea from Drum Mountain, where the monks of the historic Buddhist Drum Mountain monastery harvested tea for centuries. The legendary tea explorer, Sir Robert Fortune, visited this site in the mid-19th century and praised the tea. Grown in the clouds and mist environment, known as "yun wu" in China, this white tea is wonderfully fragrant and has a mild, sweet taste with a slightly nutty flavor. It is very easy to brew and doesn't become bitter from oversteeping. Very low in caffeine.
Organic Darjeeling Silver Tips
When the white tea method of withering and drying the leaf without fermentation is applied to a Darjeeling, the result is the subtle flavor of a traditional white tea with the floweriness and distinctive character of a Darjeeling. Hand-picked from special bushes during the early summer Second Flush, Silver Tips are made only from young buds and tender leaves. So they tend to resemble a Chinese "White Peony" tea more than a "Silver Needle" tea.
Sowmee white tea - stronger tasting white tea, with a toasty flavor
Adams Peak White Tea - Rare white tea high in polyphenols
Muscatel- a second grade white tea with few buds and a taste with a hint of white wine
Snow Dragon White Tea - Sweet and delicate
Panda Pearls or White Pearls Tea - a rolled tea that is lighter and less smokey than a dragon pearl green tea
100 Monkeys White Tea - Premium grade, a popular white tea
Star of China White Tea - a premium white tea as served by the Chinese Ambassador

Determining the Quality of White Tea

"Three Whites" is the primary requirement of the fresh tea material. The buds, the first leaves and the second leaves must be covered with tiny white hairs. A tea with an abundance of white tips or large buds is not necessarily a true white tea; the hairs should be present and the withering and drying is a part of the preparation.

The best white tea in China is picked in early spring under very limited conditions. First of all, picking top-grade white tea is prohibited on rainy days or when the early morning dew is not dry. It should never be picked when the buds appear purple; when they are damaged by wind, people, or insects; when they have begun to open; when they are hollow; when they are too long or too thin; when there is one bud with three to four leaves; or when there is frost on the ground.

White tea that is withered in conditions that are too hot will become reddish, while leaves that are withered in conditions that are too cold will become blackish. Both conditions affect the quality of the tea.

The highest grade of the finished Silver Needle white tea should be fleshy, bright colored and covered with tiny white hairs. The shape should be very uniform, with no stems or leaves. The flavor and fragrance should be delicate, light, fresh, and slightly sweet. The liquor should be a glittering pale yellow color with evidence of floating white hairs that reflect light.

The highest grade of finished White Peony white tea should appear as two intact grayish green leaves and a silvery bud. The two leaves and bud should be covered with a fine, silvery-white down. The bud and two leaves should adhere to the stem and should be uniform and virtually unbroken. This grade is extremely rare in America. The finest quality should have a shimmering clear infusion with a delicate lingering fragrance and a fresh, mellow, sweet taste devoid of astringency and grassy flavors.

Most White Peony available in America yields a darker infusion, a nutty or bamboo fragrance, and a sweet and slightly smoky taste. These teas are not considerd very high grades in China, but their more obvious character is widely appreciated in America and Europe. It is popular in restaurants and foodservice because it is less delicate and has a more pronounced flavor and fragrance.

Preparing White Teas

All white teas deserve special care with brewing. White tea is famous for its sweet aroma and delicate flavor. When brewed, the tea leaves float vertically near the top of the brew and then slowly sink down. Because of its delicacy, take unusual care when preparing your tea. Preheat your pot. If you have a Yixing tea pot, this is perfect for preparing white tea. Use fresh high quality water that is brought just to a boil then cooled to a lower temperature, 175-180 F. White tea leaves are bigger, lighter and more delicate than black, oolong and green teas, so you need to use more leaves per cup than with other teas. Use 2 heaping tablespoons (3 g) for a 6 ounce serving. Steep for 2-5 minutes, to taste. Remove the leaves when ready; they can be brewed a second time.