Wild about White Tea

Look for White Tea to Become the Latest Hot New Food Trend

White Tea
White Tea

White tea has arrived in North America. While Chinese tea drinkers have been hip to white tea’s benefits since the Ming Dynasty, until recently it was virtually unknown outside of Asia. Not anymore. Today, everyone from chefs to medical researchers is praising white tea’s delicate flavor and purported health benefits. Market researchers predict consumers will soon share their enthusiasm, turning white tea into one of the hottest new food trends.

But, what is white tea? Most tea aficionados know that all tea comes from the same source: the Camilla Sinensis tea bush. Whether a tea leaf winds up in a cup of green, black, or oolong tea depends entirely on what happens after it is plucked. Black tea derives its dark color and full flavor from a complex fermentation process that includes exposing crushed tea leaves to the air for a strictly defined number of minutes.

Tea leaves meant for more mellow tasting green tea are not fermented at all, but merely withered in hot air and quickly steamed or pan-fried. A gentle rolling and final heating stabilizes the tea’s natural flavors. Oolong teas fall somewhere in the middle: partial fermentation gives them a distinct reddish colour and a “flowery” flavor.

So, where does white tea fit into the picture? White tea is made from immature tea leaves that are picked shortly before the buds have fully opened. The tea takes its name from the silver fuzz that still covers the buds, which turns white when the tea is dried. The exact proportion of buds to leaves varies depending on the variety of white tea. For example, White Peony contains one bud for every two leaves, while Silver Needles, the creme de la creme of white teas, is made entirely from downy buds picked within a two day period in early Spring.

Of course, an exotic appearance alone doesn’t explain white tea’s sudden surge in popularity. The secret lies in what happens after the buds are plucked. Tea leaves destined to be sold as white tea undergo even less processing than green tea leaves. Instead of air-drying, the unwithered leaves are merely steamed.

The result? A pale tea with a sweet, silky flavor. People who have tried both note that white tea lacks the “grassy” aftertaste so often associated with green tea. Furthermore, studies indicate that white tea is better for you. Leaving tea leaves so close to their natural state means that white tea contains more polyphenols, the powerful anti-oxidant that fights and kills cancer-causing cells, than any other type of tea.

Need another reason to drink white tea? A 2004 study at Pace University concluded that white tea can help your body’s immune system fight off viruses and dangerous infection-causing bacteria. The same study concluded that fluoride-rich white tea helps prevent the growth of dental plaque, the chief cause of tooth decay.

Aboutfood

The sunrise of Sundown Tea triggered by a growing demand

Shannon @ SunDown Tea
Shannon Duncan @ SunDown Tea

While earning her degree at Western University with a double major in history and English, Shannon Duncan began trying different types of tea.

After graduation she worked in Japan for a year teaching English. On her return to London, Ontario, she started to map out her future. “Before that I never had a plan. It was difficult to see where I would be in five years. I was thinking of teaching, but the question was ‘where do I want to be?’ “
Then her entrepreneurial side kicked in. She came up with an idea, took a 12-hour course with the London Business Centre and researched the customer base and target audience. On Oct. 17, she will launch the grand opening of Sundown Tea on London’s west side.
“I found that tea stores are in the north end, south end and downtown.” There was no competition in the west end. The shopping plaza where she located, at Wonderland Road and Commissioners Road West, is anchored by a chain grocery store. It has lots of traffic.
“I definitely feel it is a growing market,” says Shannon of tea. “In the past it was tea bags. Now it’s loose-leaf tea. It’s much better quality.”
She says more and more tea drinkers are interested in loose-leaf tea. More people are getting introduced to it and it is likely to succeed.
Sundown Tea will open with 65 varieties of tea and will expand from there based on what customers like and their suggestions. Categories include white, black, green, oolong , herbal tea and Pu’erh.
“I have an expansive line of tea pots as well as tea cups, mugs and strainers.  The most popular is a little meshball tea ball. The flavour is distributed through the mug,” says Shannon.
One of the more exotic teas she is offering is silver needle tea. It is a white tea that has little processing. It has little white hairs on the tea leaf. “It has a cool flavour and a light, refreshing aroma.”
There is a reason for everything, including the store’s name. Shannon explains it this way: “When I think of the colours related to tea they match sundown – the reds, yellows and oranges. It is also my favourite time to sit down with tea.”
Sundown Tea facts
Location: Unit A15 at 509 Commissioner Rd. W., London Ontario
Store hours: Tuesday to Friday 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; closed Monday.
Business phone 519-204-5200
Store hours: Tuesday to Friday 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; closed Monday.
Business phone 519-204-5200; website www.sundowntea.com