Blog 24: The Varieties and The Growing Environment of White Tea

Updated: Oct 19, 2018

In our white tea appreciation month, we will focus more on the topic of white tea. In the past few blogs, we’ve briefly introduced the basic knowledge and the history of white tea. Today, we will continue our journey with white tea and discuss the varieties of tea plants that can produce white tea as well as the growing environment required for these tea plants.

White tea has a small production. Even in China, the birthplace of white tea, there are very limited areas that produce it. Historically, there are only 4 locations in Fujian Province that make white tea: Fuding, Zhenghe, Songxi, and Jianyang. Ever since white tea products gained popularity, there have been more tea producing areas started making white tea. Nowadays, even some areas in Yunnan, a Pu-er tea producing province, are making white tea. However, the 4 towns in Fujian are still believed to be the true white tea producing areas.


White Tea Producing Areas

White tea’s production is limited by not only fewer producing areas, but also a small varieties of tea plants. In general, fresh white tea leaves need to have the visible “white fur”. The white fur on leaves is also called Bai-Hao (Chinese: 白毫, meaning very fine white hair). White fur has higher nitrogen-containing compounds including amino acids. The earliest tea plant used for producing white tea was called “Cai-Cha” (also called “xiaobaicha”, Chinese: 菜茶, meaning a group of tea plants bred only using seeds). Cai-Cha has over 1000 years of tea producing history. Its shape and properties are more complex due to the result of natural mutation and seed propagation. The modern white tea comes from a selection of tea plants. Traditionally, white tea producing plants are: Fuding Dabaicha, Zhenghe Dabaicha, Fuding Dahaocha, Fu’an Dabaicha and Fuyun No.6 (Chinese: 福鼎大白茶、政和大白茶、福鼎大豪茶、福安大白茶、福云六号).


Silver Needle

These names might sound very strange to you. That’s because finished white tea products are not named after the tea plants. Different white tea products can come from the same trees at different growing stages. For example, when Fuding Dabaicah just sprouts, we can take the tips and make them into Silver Needle (Baihaoyinzhen, 白毫银针). A couple days later, leaves grow out, now we take not only the tip, but also the leaf. This one tip and one leaf becomes White Peony (Baimudan, 白牡丹). Finally, leaves continue to grow. Now we have multiple leaves, and they become Shou-Mei and Gong-Mei (寿眉、贡眉).


Despite there are different white tea producing tea plants, they all grow in a similar environment. From here, I’ll list some numbers and facts to give you a more comprehensive picture of the environment. These tea plants all grow in the mountainous areas with an average elevation of 600m/2000ft. The red and yellow soil that nourishes tea plants have more than 1% soil organic matter and the PH level of 4.5 to 6.0. Situated in southeast China, white tea growing areas have a subtropical monsoon climate with significant characteristics of maritime climate. The annual average temperature is 18℃/64.4℉, and the annual precipitation is over 1500mm/59’’. In the mountains, the relative humidity is around 80%, and the average frost-free season is over 200 days. Till today, there hasn’t been any success making white tea on flat fields.


Thus, the limitation on white tea production comes from the strict requirement for the tea plant growing environment.


We hope you enjoyed today’s blog. As always, if you have any questions or suggestions, please leave a comment, tweet us @valleybrooktea or email us at contact@valleybrooktea.com. Please also follow us on Instagram @valleybrooktea and join our mail list to get our daily tea updates and our latest promotions! Finally, If you are interested in ordering some white tea, don’t forget we have a white tea sale for the entire month of June! Use code: whitetea186 and get a 10% off on all white tea products!