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What is White Tea?

For many years it was believed that white tea was discovered during the Song Dynasty (920-1269), however, even earlier references to white tea have been traced as far back as the Tang Dynasty (618-907). At that time in history, white tea preparation was a very different experience than it is today: early harvest white tea leaves appeared solely in compressed cakes and broken pieces were steeped in earthenware kettles.

Although white tea was popularized and widely revered in the Song Dynasty (960-1269), it was relatively unknown to the rest of the world until very recently. Only royals were allowed to consume white tea and it is rumored that it could only be served as a “tribute” to the emperor by virgins with white gloves as a symbol of honor and respect. One emperor, Hui Zong, became so enamored by white tea that it literally cost him most of his empire. During this time, ceremonial methods of preparing white tea were very similar to the traditional Japanese tea ceremony for matcha; typically in powder form and whisked in wide ceramic bowls.

It wasn’t until the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), that the Ming court ruled that only loose leaf white tea could be served as a tribute to the emperor, thus changing our understanding of white tea processing and its preparation forever.