By Lia Blanchard
In this final installment of our series on tea, we’ll explore the “other” teas; some of which aren’t actually teas at all!
White tea is produced from the buds and a few select leaves of the tea plant. The highest quality of white tea is “silver needle” white tea, made only from the silvery white buds of the plant. It is the fine whitish hairs on these immature, unopened leaves that give white tea its name; the beverage itself is a delicate pale yellow. In the most premium tea, the fine white hairs are visible in the brew.
Picking is done from well-established plants, only during a certain time of year, and only when weather conditions permit – no rain or frost on the ground permitted! Altitude and soil are also critical.
Unlike green or black tea, buds and leaves harvested for white tea are not rolled or crushed in any way – they are simply dried, allowing only slight fermentation of this least-processed tea.
Sometimes called Imperial Tea, yellow tea gets its name from its bright yellow coloring. The yellow color is acquired during an extra step in the processing of the tea, in which damp leaves are covered and allowed to ferment slightly. This also produces the sweet and mellow flavor that is its most prized characteristic.
What about herbals?
The bottom line: if it isn’t made from the Camellia sinensis plant, it isn’t a tea. Steeping any part – leaves, stems, flowers, bark, seeds, roots – of any other plant produces what is more correctly called a tisane or infusion.
That said, many herbals are quite pleasant tasting, and enthusiasts enjoy blending the flavors of different herbs and spices to create an array of flavors for every palate. Most herbal tisanes contain no caffeine.