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Chinese White Tea

Like green tea, the leaves that are used for white tea are not oxidized ('fermented'). But unlike green tea, these leaves are not rolled, just plucked and carefully dried. Fine little white hairs remain on the leaves making it "white". It is mainly produced in the Fujian Province. Like green tea, the taste and fragrance of white tea is very delicate and light. The liquor is pale and can be almost colorless.

The caffeine level is low, about 1%. Steeping time, 2-3 minutes, and temperature, 80-90C, are the same as with green tea. Because white tea is so delicate and not compact like leaves that have been rolled, it is best to use extra tea for infusion. It is somewhat difficult to measure this tea by the 'spoonful', as with other teas.

An interesting note, in All The Tea in China, it is mentioned that in China, out of respect, a house guest is always offered tea. This custom was continued even during hard times when the host could not afford tea and would only be able to offer guests "white tea", or just a cup of boiling hot water.

Examples of Chinese White Tea

  • Pai Mu Tan, The Chinese Pai glyph The Chinese Mu glyph The Chinese Tan glyph "White Peony", is made from the smaller buds and leaves of the "Big White" and "Water Sprite" tea bushes, known as Dai Bai and Shui Hsien, respectively. An orange-yellow infusion is produced.

    In addition, there is also another Chinese tea referred to as mudan. From Tea Lover's Companion,

    "Mudan (or Mu Tan), usually about one inch round, are created by tying together many leaves to form the shape of a flower. When infused it "blossoms" from the weight of the water to form a "peony". Mudan are also made from red (black) teas."
    I'll attempt to describe the mudans I've enjoyed.
    The mudan that I have found is called a "Spider Peony". Other names I've come across for mudans include "Green Sea Anemone", "Spring Plum", "Spring Rosettes","Silvery Strawberries" and "Peony Rosettes". It is about the size of a cherry, very symetrical, perfectly shaped and formed with the bottom somewhat flattened. All the leaves originate from the center of the bottom and are folded up and over the top forming a light but dense ball.

    Once in water, the ball initially floats. As it slowly absorbs the water, the folded leaves begin to swell and unfold. First one, then two, three and so on. As this continues, the opening "Spider Peony" sinks to the bottom of the cup. After steeping 2-3 minutes, the ball opens completely forming the "Spider Peony" covering the entire bottom of the cup. This 'show' is very unique and can only be appreciated in a clear glass cup.

    I'll try to describe the "Spider Peony" now that it is opened. The 'petals' or 'legs' are all about 1 to 1 in length. They appear to be the bud and first two leaves of approximately 20-30 pluckings. The center of the 'flower' or the 'body of the spider', is composed of the ends of the stems of the pluckings, which are tightly held together with a layer of leaves wrapped around them. This is all secured with a tightly, wrapped thread.

    Once again in trying to describe the mudan, it's 20-30 pluckings bundled and tided at their bases. The leaves are all folded down and up over the tided stems. Imagine holding a peeled banana in your hand. The manner that the peel strips fold / bend down over your hand is the same way the tea leaves fold / bend. Now, with your other hand, if you would gather all the loose ends of the peel underneath the hand that is still holding the banana, that would give you an idea of how a mudan is formed. The gathered leaves form the ball shape completely covering the base of tied stems.

    As with any white tea, this tea is very delicate in all aspects, with a faint pale yellow color. This is a truly impressive and labor intensive method of preparing tea with a very spectacular end result! You can also simply refill the cup with more water and continue to enjoy the visual aspect of this tea for as long as you wish.

    In its own way, this classifies as much as a tea ceremony as does Kung Fu. The 'tea spirit' is embodied in a mudan.

    • sit quietly and watch
    • the peony opens, slowly
    • visually esthetic
    • delicate scent, taste and color

    Nothing can be rushed in this 'ceremony', in can't be hurried. It is so un-21st century and completely unique. I hope I've managed to convey an image of a mudan for anyone who has not had the opportunity to experience one first hand.

  • Sow Mei, The Chinese Sow glyph The Chinese Mei glyph "Longevity Eyebrows", also made from the smaller buds and leaves of the "Big White" and "Water Sprite" tea bushes. These leaves are said to be reminiscent of an elderly man's bushy white eyebrows.

  • Yinfeng, The Chinese Yin glyph The Chinese Feng glyph "Silverpoint", as with Yin Zhen, only the delicate white-haired buds are used for production of this particular tea. Processing, though, is different from that used for Yin Zhen. Here the buds are manipulated by kneading and rubbing them into fine strips in large woks over low heat. This is done to raise the fine white hairs. This takes less time than that needed to prepare the buds for producing Yin Zhen, which is specialized and takes three days.

  • Yin Zhen Bai Hao, The Chinese Yin glyph The Chinese Zhen glyph The Chinese Bai glyph Hao glyph "Silver Needles White Hair", this tea is made completely from buds, which are covered with tiny, fine white hairs, from two tea bushes known as Dai Bai or "Big White", and Shui Hsien or "Water Sprite". Buds that are about an inch long are selected for making this first quality tea.

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