Even though tea has been enjoyed for about 5000 years since its serendipitous discovery by Chinese Emperor and divine healer Shen-Nung in 2737 BC, the white variety did not come into existence until much later.
It has only about 200 years of history and is the youngest among the major tea types – green, oolong and black tea.
Legend and History
According to folk history, the tea bush for making the white brew was discovered by a girl named Lan Gu from Fuding county of Fujian Province in China, where the beautiful Taimu Mountain is located.
While taking refuge in a cave in the mountain, Lan Gu found a special tea tree whose young buds were covered by silvery hair during spring.
When wide-spread disease was hurting the villagers, Lan Gu used the leaves from this special tree to help cure them. For her kindness and courage, people honored her with the name of Mother Taimu and named the mountain Taimu Mountain.
This legend parallels historical accounts that indicate the brew was first produced in Fuding in 1796 and later spread to two other counties (Zhenhe and Jianyang) in Fujian.
There are three varieties of tea trees that are used in the processing of white brews - Big White, Narcissus White and Vegetable White, with Big White considered the finest and most popular.
In addition, the tea is differentiated based on plucking method -- Silver Needle (only one bud is plucked), White Peony (one bud together with one leaf down) and Longevity Eyebrow (one bud with two to three leaves down). Silver Needle, also known by its original Chinese name Bai Hao Yin Zhen, is the most precious and exotic.
As the least processed among all types, white-tea leaves are only withered and dried. This light oxidation process preserves natural compounds that potentially deliver the most health benefits of any variety.
Oregon State University scholar Roderick H. Dashwood published White Tea – A New Cancer Inhibitor in Foods and Food Ingredients Journal of Japan that provided insights into the anti-cancer and anti-mutagenic properties of the blend
In addition, Pace University researchers presented findings that linked the tea's extract to prophylactic applications that retard the growth of bacteria that cause staphylococcus infections, streptococcus infections, pneumonia and dental cavities.
They also found the anti-viral and anti-bacterial effect might be greater than that of green tea.
The rareness of the tea bushes and short harvest time (e.g. high grade Silver Needle is only made from the youngest buds plucked during two days in Spring) cause the price of the tea to be higher than other varieties.
This article was written by Jay Wang, owner of Taimu Tea, a premium Chinese tea store.