According to Chinese legend, some 5,000 years ago the emperor Shen Nung was traveling the countryside. The water was foul and unfit for drinking, so he ordered it to be boiled. Suddenly the wind blew a tea leaf into his cup of hot water. The curious emperor let the leaf steep, then drank the brew. Tea as we know it was born. White tea became revered during China's Song Dynasty (960-1279). It was the choice of the royal court and was given as tribute to the emperor. White tea leaves and buds were ground into a silvery powder, which was then whisked in bowls during the Song Tea Ceremony. This was the inspiration for the famous Japanese Tea Ceremony.
One Song Emperor was renowned for his love of white tea. Hui Zong (1101-1125) became so obsessed with finding the perfect tea that he lost much of his empire. Over the next several centuries, powdered white tea and the Song Tea Ceremony were abandoned for loose-leaf tea. In 1885, select varieties of the tea plant were developed for white tea. White tea has come a long way in its long history. It was largely unknown outside China and the Orient until recently. Now, with a renewed interest in fine tea and remarkable discoveries about its health benefits, white tea is being discovered and enjoyed around the world.
White teas are traditionally a product of China’s tea plantations. The most expensive and rare of that country’s teas, the tender silvery-green buds are gathered in the spring in the very brief span of time between the new buds forming and just before they start to open. The leaves used for the most expensive, top quality white tea can be up to one inch long and are from two varieties of the Chinese tea bush-the Shui Hsien and the Dai Bai.