Tea 101: A Beginner's Guide Part III White and Green Tea

By pete, Apr 9, 2015 | | |

  1. White Tea is one of the most subtle of all teas.  Traditionally grown only in the Fujian province of China it is now also grown in parts of Nepal, India, Thailand and Taiwan due to its increased popularity in the Western world.  Most tea aficionados agree that the best white teas still only come from the Fujian province and consider white teas grown elsewhere to be of inferior quality best suited for mass marketed tea bags and bottled tea.

    The season for harvesting white tea is very short, from early spring to late spring while the tea bushes are still budding.  In fact, the best white teas contain only early spring buds or buds and freshly unfurled leaves, still covered in fine white hairs, which they quickly lose soon after opening.

    To help retain the subtle freshness of this tea it is minimally processed undergoing a withering stage before being slowly bake-dried to preserve its qualities.  Because it doesn’t go through the steaming process of green teas, white teas are slightly oxidized giving them a flavor more reminiscent of black or oolong teas as opposed to green teas, although the flavors of white teas are much more subtle and nuanced than either black or oolong teas.

    To brew white tea in the Western style use approximately 2 teaspoons of tea for every 8 oz. of water.  Use water that is approximately 175°-185°F.  Any hotter and you risk making a cup of tea that is overly astringent and lacking in any nuance.  Allow to steep for 3-4 minutes.  For multiple steepings add 1 minute to the time, but only expect to get a total of 2-3 steepings out of these teas as they are so light and subtle to begin with.

    Green Tea has become increasing popular in the West due to its supposed health benefits, but the Chinese, Koreans and Japanese have been drinking green tea for centuries.  While each of these countries has its own way of processing the leaves for green tea, all green tea goes through a process that deactivates the enzymes that cause the leaves to break down and oxidize.  That is why the leaves stay bright green as opposed to olive green or black like in other teas.  This is done one of three ways; a quick firing in dry heat that cooks, but doesn’t color the leaves like done China, briefly steaming the leaves as they do in Japan or immersing the leaves quickly in boiling water is it is sometimes done in Korea.  From there, the methods of finishing the tea vary from country to country, but can range from simply drying the leaves to multiple firings and rests during which the leaves are shaped and twisted into different forms.

    All of this results in teas that are often bright green to deep yellow in color, somewhat sweet on the tongue and full of vibrant, fresh vegetal flavors.  Green teas can also express a lot of terroir due to their minimal processing.  Because of this, Chinese green teas are often marketed according the specific regions, or even specific plantations and often the season in which they were plucked.  On the other hand, most Japanese green teas are blended with each master blender creating a signature taste that they strive to keep consistent through the harvests.

    Because green tea can be so different from place to place it can be difficult to describe its taste, but they all tend to be bright and fresh, often with a subtle sweetness.  They can often be described as grassy, herbaceous and or vegetal, but can also have a lot of mineral qualities, and often in the case of Japanese green teas have a definite character that can be described as sea-like or kelp-like.

    Because of their fresh quality, green teas don’t stand up really well to overly hot water, when brewing.  Generally stick with water that is 160°-180°F.  Personally, I usually shoot for around 170° unless I’m drinking an extremely delicate green tea then I keep the water temperature at about 160°F.  Use 1 heaping teaspoon of tea for every 8 oz. of water.  Green tea should be steeped for no longer than 2 minutes, although some only require about 1 minute.  Keep a close eye on the time as green teas can quickly turn overly astringent if over steeped, and once that happens all subsequent brewing will be astringent also.  You can usually get 1-4 steepings out of a measure of green tea.  I find that for most though, 2 is about all you will get before you lose most of the character.

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  1. mahee ferlini
    What a great article highlighting the differences between green and white teas! (which both are delicious really...)