Blog 127: White Tea - What Is the Fragrance of “White Leaf Hairs/毫香”?
In our previous white tea blogs, there’s one thing we never fully explained: the fragrance of those “white hairs” on tea leaves. Today, let’s discuss what this fragrance really is.
To be honest, it’s hard to accurately explain the concept of white tea fragrances. Unlike the aromas of other tea categories, the fragrances of white tea are not self-explanatory like a “fruity” or “floral” smell. When we talk about white tea fragrances, we always talk about the “white hairs” on leaves. If you’ve never had an authentic white tea before, it might be difficult to “visualize” this particular fragrance. (see pic above)
Luckily, the fragrance of white tea’s “white hairs” is not mysterious at all. A tea’s aromas are closely related to fragrance substances that tea leaves acquire and develop from the growing environment.
There are about 300 fragrance compounds found in tea leaves, and many of which are organics including alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, and polyphenols. The combination of these chemicals forms the complex and pleasant aromas of tea.
The fragrance of white tea’s “white hairs” is one of these chemical compounds. The “white hairs” fragrance is the most original smell of the tea plant. White tea’s minimalistic tea-making allows white tea leaves to retain almost everything a tea plants has to offer.
If we take a sniff of dry white tea leaves, especially those of Silver Needle and White Peony, the refreshing herbal smell is the direct expression of white tea’s “white hairs”. It’s a raw, unaltered, and distinct.
The “white hairs fragrance/毫香” doesn’t come from any tea-making techniques. It comes strictly from those little white hairs on leaves.
The “white hairs” on newly sprouted leaves are quite common among many tea plants. They help block direct sunlight and regulate rain waters on leaves.
At the same time, there’s a gland cell at the root of each white hair. The cell secretes a natural insect repellent to protect young leaves from harm.
The white hairs also harbor a large amount of amino acids and most the fragrance substances. Together, they produce the refreshing tastes and the “white hairs” fragrance.
All white tea products should have a “white hairs” fragrance. There are 3 reasons why this smell is unique to white tea products. First, the white hairs would slowly fall off when leaves grow bigger. Second, the white hairs are delicate, and they fall off easily during any tea-making processes. Third, not all tea plant cultivars grow leaves with white hairs.
A good quality white tea product should carry this fragrance throughout its entire life. However, the “white hairs” fragrance isn’t “changeless”. With the aging of a white tea, its fragrance also transforms.
A young white tea product usually has a smell of reed and weeds, but an aged white tea would have a smell of rice, barley and other cereals.
This might just be the beauty of a white tea. The ever-changing tastes and smells give us the chance to grow old together with a tea, to sample every stage of its life.
We hope you enjoyed today’s blog. As always, if you have questions or suggestions, please leave a comment, tweet us @valleybrooktea or email the author directly at email@example.com. Please also follow us on Instagram @valleybrooktea and join our mail list to get our daily tea updates and our latest promotions!
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