Interest in premium teas has increased over the past few decades due to both health benefits and lifestyle. A rising star among them is the white tea category.
Most tea consumers are familiar with green tea and black tea. White tea has been relatively reluctant so far.
The recent surge in demand for white tea has led to a significant increase in prices. In 2017 alone, Premium Fuding Silver Needle saw its retail price rise 35%, while the wholesale price quadrupled in the past 10 years.
The limited production
The production of white premium tea is limited worldwide and is traditionally made in certain pocket regions of the southeast Chinese province of Fujian: Fu-Ding (福鼎), Zheng He (政和), Song-Xi (松溪) and Jian-Yiang (建 阳). Fu-Ding is considered the birthplace of all white teas and still manages to produce the best in this category to this day.
While the southwest Chinese province of Yunnan is best known for its Pu-Erh tea production, there is a Yunnan white tea, which is made from tea leaves from deciduous trees (Assamica) and is processed differently than the Fujian white teas.
There are similarities and differences between Fujian and Yunnan white teas. However, they are easy to confuse for the inexperienced eyes and taste buds.
With the increase in demand, white tea production has been achieved mainly by expanding production to surrounding areas with similar climatic and soil conditions to traditional areas in Fujian Province.
The white teas produced in these relatively new areas tend to be sold at lower prices.
Yunnan white tea is also gaining popularity and is considered a replacement for the Fujian white tea for budget conscious consumers.
The health benefits of white tea
White teas have long been known for their powerful medicinal properties. One example – it was known to locals to use aged white teas to treat fevers caused by measles infections long before the modern era of antibiotics. The researchers have now found that white teas are anti-inflammatory.
White teas have been found to have the highest levels of flavonoids (many are antioxidants) and above-average levels of amino acids. Other documented health benefits include:
- Lowering cholesterol, preventing cardiovascular diseases
- Lowering blood sugar levels and anti-diabetic drugs
- Antioxidant, preventive against cancer and many other degenerative diseases
White teas are also used in Chinese herbal medicine for the following properties:
- Vision improvement
- Preservation of liver function
- Heat stroke prevention
- Speed up recovery after the hangover
As our society is increasingly burdened by so-called lifestyle-related health conditions such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and inflammatory diseases, many are turning to lifestyle changes for answers.
Tea, a calorie-free drink with many health benefits, is a perfect candidate.
The unique Fujian white tea
The traditional definition of white tea includes the following components:
- Production region: Fujian Province in southeast China
- Tea plant: Fuding Da-Bai-Hao (Fuding Great White Fur)
- Processing method: Wei-Diao (wilting) then sun-dried (or low-heat depending on weather conditions during harvest).
On a spectrum between its close neighbors in the tea category, unfermented green tea and semi-fermented oolong tea, white teas are the least processed teas.
There is no rubbing, pressing, rolling or baking of the white tea leaves, which are only slightly fermented / oxidized during processing. Hence, while very skillful, making white tea is relatively simple.
Based on the tenderness of the tea leaves and the time of harvest, white teas are classified into the following hierarchy:
- Silver needle: made only with the unopened needle-shaped tips harvested in early spring
- White peony: created with a top leaf plus a couple of open leaves underneath, harvested in mid-spring
- Shou Mei and / or Gong-Mie: made from most of the ripe tea leaves harvested in late spring.
Other reasons for the white tea price increase
One of the main reasons for the recent price hike for white teas is their aging properties.
The high-quality Chinese teas can be divided into the following categories according to their aging potential:
- Teas that are drunk fresh, such as green tea and certain oolong teas. They are generally consumed within 12 months of being harvested and their value decreases over time.
- Teas ‘whose quality improves with age, such as pu-erh tea and Hei Cha
White tea is unique in this regard, the fresh white teas and the aged white teas show quite different properties. They are ready to eat both fresh and ripened. The fresh white teas are rich in amino acids and taste refreshing, while the matured white teas are smooth and smooth with many medicinal health properties.
This has helped the white tea collection to be a form of investment: buy now, consume now, or later. The price will likely only go in one direction that is up.
Make a big bang for your buck
The wholesale price of Premium Fuding Silver Needle tea (excluding transportation costs, taxes, and retail margin, etc.) is estimated at $ 550-600 / kg. At this price, it is not an everyday tea for most consumers.
However, there are alternatives so that you can enjoy the health benefits and lifestyle that the white teas offer on a budget. For example, Silver Needle is produced in the adjacent areas, which is sold at significantly lower prices than the Fuding Silver Needle.
There are also lower quality teas made from the primary layers, such as the Fuding White Peony and Shou Mei, which are still very affordable. Made from more mature leaves, these teas are great for aging and offer just as many health benefits.
Enjoy your white tea no matter what type you choose!
About the author:
En Jie is a medical doctor who became a public health researcher before starting Valley Green Tea – an Australia-based Chinese tea specialist. Her passion is to share with the world this modern rediscovery of an ancient beverage tea that has been enjoyed in the culture of her home country for thousands of years as a sauce for vitality and health.