White tea: Basics

16 Mar
Poor Fluttershy tea. She can't help it, it's just how she is.

Oh, finicky Fluttershy tea. She can’t help it, it’s just how she is.

Ah, white tea.

Think of that one friend who’s just got something about her. She’s the sweetest, kindest, gentlest soul you can imagine, taking in stray cats that flock to her porch, or whipping up a batch of your favorite cookies when that you get rejected from that Ultimate Dream Internship.

Unfortunately, that super sensitivity can make it a little difficult to hang out with her. She has a knack for getting sunburned, even on the greyest winter afternoon, and comes home covered in bug bites if she goes within a five-mile radius of the woods. Anything that requires athletic ability results in sprains and breaks–possibly a concussion. Not to mention she’s allergic to gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, and nuts.

But. She’s so sweet. She apologizes every time her condition creates an inconvenience, and you just can’t hold it against her. After all, she’s one of those people that are so hard to find in the world, one of those souls who has nothing but genuine love in her heart for other humans.

White tea is basically that friend. In bagged form, you’ll usually find this tea as some incarnation of Pai Mu Tan/Bai Mu Dan (or White Peony, if you’re like me and billions of Americans who didn’t take Mandarin in high school), and it’s primarily from China. When loose, you’ll run into other whites, such as Silver Needle, which are even rarer–the diamonds among pearls, so to speak. It has the highest antioxidant concentration, so this pale lady wants to do you good, to make you happy, to put a spring in your step and a song in your spout. (And perhaps a massive dent in your wallet.)

But it requires just a little more care than your average Ceylon. Steep it for too long, or boil the water too hot, and the flavor gets burned right out, leaving you with a steaming cup of disappointment.

So, how to woo the fair damsel?

Make sure that you turn off the water just before it gets to the boiling point. Most instructions recommend steeping your whites at 180 degrees for three to five minutes, but if you don’t have a thermometer or a timer–not to mention the time to make a production out of just a simple cup–then guesstimate. Get the water happily simmering and steep your leaves for the length of whatever song’s been stuck in your head these days. Hello, Game of Thrones Season 3 trailer…

Another, low-commitment method is to steep even sooner, when the water is just about to simmer, but leave it for the next ten minutes or so–as long as you want, really. Since it will be lukewarm by then, this is best for summertime, preferably with a good book at your side.

This fair damsel will reward your care with a wealth of subtle flavors that poke at your tongue, shyly introducing themselves: “Hi, I’m jasmine.” “And I’m lychee.” “Cucumber here.” You may even find some unexpected notes in the background. Whites tend to the floral, but you won’t get the nauseating, wedding-bouquet sensation, even if you manage to oversteep.

Ready to woo your own white lady?

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One Response to “White tea: Basics”

  1. achat de the March 18, 2013 at 3:39 pm #

    As it doesn’t really matter anymore, I think I finally see your point. It’s good to see some professionnal writing for free.

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