The History Of White Tea

2/24/20242 min read

White tea, the most delicate in flavor and valued for its healthful properties, is said to reach even further into the past than commonly believed. Though discovered during the rule of the Song dynasty (960-1269), many believe that the origins of white tea are to be traced back to the Tang dynasty (618-907). The earlier form of white tea was first prepared from leaves which had been plucked early and were then pressed into cakes. The leaves are then steeped in earthenware kettles, the most primitive, but thereby best beginning of the importance of white tea culture.

Throughout the long running period of Chinese history, white tea has had to change from an elite drink of certain people to a precious health elixir.

It rose to prominence during the Song Dynasty but even then remained a luxury for royals, rumored to be served by virgins in a ceremonial tribute to the emperor. Thus, Emperor Hui Zong's obsession with white tea, if nothing else, could underline how esteemed that exact sort of tea was and its possibly narcissistic porcelain obsession, which would bring about his own political consequence. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), one important change occurred with the issuance of loose leaves as the golden standard of white tea. This presented white tea with new cultural meaning and taste. However, the first mention of tea in history belongs to the legendary 5 thousand-year-old Emperor Shen Nung, who accidentally learned that tea has refreshing and healing qualities. This revelation was to set the platform of the inextricable role of tea within the later stages of Chinese civilization, furthered to eternity by the works of Lao Tzu and the seminal work of Lu Yu within the Cha Ching or "The Sacred Book of Tea". It is evident that this change has brought to the forefront the change of tea to a cultural staple and culminated into the sophisticated taste and appreciation of the attributes of white tea.

By the time white tea was discovered, it was prized for its delicate mellowness and rarity, first having been set aside for the highest classes in society. Its exquisiteness persisted until the 19th century, when cultivation started to innovate and produce more varieties of white tea. First becoming an export in the late 19th century, white tea was sent to areas of the Orient among tea connoisseurs, and most recently to the Western world, where it has become very popular in the last decade. White tea is also developing a growing demand in the West because its antioxidants are believed to outnumber the summation of those in both green and black tea. The antioxidants help in managing the risk of more health conditions such as heart diseases and even cancer, and further assist in bettering skin health.

Yet, with demand that is steadily growing around the world, white tea maintains a status as a rarefied, prestigious product with a base in standards for harvesting and processing that somehow verge on imperial. In one word, the expression to illustrate the history of white tea is a very colorful tapestry, and this is of course cultural evolution, discovery in terms of medicine, and globalization. The tradition of white tea from its ceremonial and ancient birth in China to its place in the modern world of health-promoting indulgences, white tea gives tradition and health to its devotees worldwide.