The surreal beauty of white – whether in leaf, infused leaf or liquor form – is a rare pleasure that every tea aficionado must enjoy. I do not mean the commercially driven and inexpert interpretation of white tea, but the real thing. It seems strange to have to make this differentiation because white tea should be, well .. white tea.
A few weeks ago whilst in Sweden I discovered that some of our friends in the tea category saw fit to try and energise their sales by proclaiming the benefits of white tea. Described in increasingly dramatic superlatives which refer to every point in their consumer research – youthfulness, power, nature, health – they offer White Tea, which on inspection turns out to be green tea, packed in boxes marked ‘white tea’ This can surely not be ignorance for the packages very clearly show the silvery, white buds on the front beneath the prominent wording ‘White Tea’.
I hesitate to call this a conspiracy but being at a loss for another description I shall use the term with apologies to anyone who considers it excessive. You be the judge:
– a pack of tea prominently marked ‘White Tea’, with the image of genuine white tea but not a trace of the green tea that is really inside.
– a description on the back that eloquently but falsely describes, ‘..the unique taste of [brand] White Tea…’ and goes on to refer to them as ‘silver tips’ (the unique Ceylon Pure White Tea which is not in the pack at all) and as being ‘picked by hand’ etc.
– an ingredient statement that in English states ‘White Tea’, and in Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Greek where the law requires detailed reference to composition, instead states (in translation) ‘Green Tea 81.9%, white tea (11.6%) and so on…
– sadly, but not illegally, the pack also mentions flavour and rose petals. In context of the subtle and refined floral notes of White Tea that the description mentions, it seems a little inappropriate to add flavour.
Let all this not put you off though, because I mention the commoditised version of white tea only to explain that all white teas are not created equal. Please visit The Luxury of White a website we established, not to promote our white tea (which sells in tiny quantities because, being real white tea it is expensive), but to explain the truth behind this wonderful and indulgent form of tea.
In the section termed ‘white lie’ you can see images of the real thing and what I refer to above. What is important though is to know what the real thing is, for genuine white tea is inspiringly light, deliciously sophisticated with a very elusive but amazing natural bloom. Its texture and appearance from the downy, fine buds, to the silky, pale golden liquor, are exceptional.
On our Kataboola Estate we produce White Tea in the Ceylon tradition, a special cultivar of Camellia Sinensis, the buds handpicked at dawn by gently squeezing at the base to ensure the juices in the bud do not come out, placed in a silken pouch with each tea picker only able to pick 100-200 grams of buds each day. Handpicked and then handprocessed with a Teamaker watching the harvest as it is lightly baked in filtered sunlight and then packed into foil lined plywood boxes for packing.
Commoditisation is a reality, a consequence of our 21st century liberalism where traditional skills – specialising in an area and knowing it well in order to do it well – are discarded in favour of the new skill, which is to be able to do everything and specialising in nothing. Tea is an artisanal skill, it requires passion, commitment, and years of effort to understand its basics. Commodity White Tea is the work of the multi-skilled, experts in doing anything to make profit, whilst real white tea is what traditional teamen will offer you. Let the former not put you off.
Back to the beauty of White Tea. The artistically grown, handpicked, handmade, Silver Tips that are genuine and in every sense Real White Tea, are expensive (around $1 per bag) relative to the white lie but they are inspiringly delicious. And Silver Tips offers an intensity of natural, health giving antioxidants that make White Tea good for human health.