White tea is the least processed of all tea. There are basically two styles of white tea, White Peony and Silver Needle.
The name "white peony" is used quite liberally and there are many "imposters" out there. A classic white peony is produced during an early spring harvest in Fujian Province using the "Da Bai" (big white varietal). A typical white peony is produced as a leaf set containing two leaves and a bud. In order to be classified as a "true white peony" the leaves must pass the test of the "three whites." The white tip must be furry (like peach fuzz) and the two green leaves must still retain their early spring white down on the underside of the leaves. This tea is so beautiful to look at you almost don't want to add hot water to it. Silver Needle is from the same Da Bai varietal, however, it uses only the fuzzy white bud without the accompanying two leaves.
White tea differs from other teas not only in the kind of leaf used, but also in the actual processing. The leaves are not steamed or pan-fired (the process used in green teas). Rather, they are naturally withered and dried in the sun. If mechanical drying is required it is a baking process at temperatures less that 40˚C. White teas that are withered in conditions that are too hot with become reddish and in conditions that are too cold they will become blackish. A good quality White Peony is one with which the tea maker strikes the perfect balance between solar and indoor withering resulting in a perfect white tea.
White tea should be brewed at about 175-190 degrees Fahrenheit for 2-3 minutes. The unique production method gives the tea a full-bodied mouth feel. It produces an infusion of a darker yellow color than you might expect with a multitude of complex floral, fruit, and fresh green flavors.
For information about the specific health benefits of white tea, please see our tea master's article on the subject.