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The tale of the white tea is surrounded by a certain mystique and enchantment as is the history of tea itself. Legend has it that about 5000 years ago a Chinese emperor and a passionate herbalist drank some boiled water into which some tea leaves had floated, from a nearby bush. Its aroma appealed to his senses and he felt refreshed. The ritual of drinking tea was born! Tea drinking has become an inescapable part of our social culture. Drinking tea in some eras was considered to be an art form. Many swear there is a science to the making of a perfect cuppa. Tea has a reverential place in ceremonies in Eastern cultures has been memorialized in poetry, music, paintings and even treatises. Its health benefits are also well documented, so it is not surprising that tea is the most popular concocted beverage in the world.
Now consider the elite of the teas, the white tea. Also called Baicha in Chinese [Bai-white, Cha-tea]. This variety of tea was introduced towards the end of the first millennium. At that time it was only served to the emperor and his courtiers. Common people were forbidden from partaking in this tea, because of its rarity.
White tea contains the delicate young unopened buds of the tea plant. The buds are silver in color due to the delicate silvery fuzz found on them and hence the appearance of a white hue which gives the tea its name. The buds are handpicked in early spring, under certain weather conditions during a small window of time. They are then steamed gently and air dried. Compared to its black and green family members, white tea is the least processed. Health benefits from drinking white tea are greater than other teas because the natural characteristics are changed the least. It is said to have powerful antioxidants and immune boosting and blood pressure reducing properties among many other health benefits. The brewed tea is pale green and has a delicate flavor and aroma and a subtle sweetness that you begin to appreciate as you get more familiar with the tea. The best quality white tea, which only consists of tea buds, is generally sold as loose leaf tea. Other grades of white tea have varying proportions of very tender leaves mixed in with the buds. White tea that is available in tins is mechanically dried and packaged and in my opinion has a stronger taste.
I steep a couple pinches of Baicha in my cup of hot but not boiling water for a few minutes. I am told you can resteep the tea several times, which is good to know since this tea is very expensive! I was gifted a generous quantity of Baicha by a wonderful Chinese family and I am so appreciative of their generosity. So I raise my cup to the Qiu family in Shanghai and wish them good luck and good health. I think of them every time I have my ‘Jade Water’ in my tea cup that I brought back from China.
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Here is the most precious thing that I brought back from my recent trip to China.
My beautifully proportioned, handmade clay teacup that fits snugly into my palm. It is made with a special purple clay found in the Yixing region of China. The cup is unglazed and therefore porous. In fact I can still smell the clay from inside of the cup. Because of its porous nature the teacup absorbs a little bit of its contents and gets seasoned at every use. It is recommended to use this cup for just one type of tea. I can see why. Drinking different teas from the same cup muddles the flavors and interferes with enjoyment of your favorite tea.
It brings a smile to my face, every time I see or think about my new tea cup.
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