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White tea

White tea, delicacy personified.

White tea is made from the same plant as is green tea, but undergoes a very different process. It begins with the rolled buds of the Camellia Sinensis plant, but suffers no oxidation.

That oxidation process, often called fermentation, is what produces the distinctive color and taste of other teas. Though the word is the same, 'fermentation' in tea circles does not mean the same as when it's used in relation to wine. No sugars are altered to produce alcohol.

Instead of oxidation, the buds are dried by steaming, then air dried. No rolling or crushing occurs. This leaves the enzymes in the leaves intact, unexposed to air. Water evaporates more slowly and up to 40% of the original weight is lost. Then the leaves are slow-roasted to remove about 95% of their moisture content.

The result is a tea with very little caffeine and a very light color and delicate taste. The final product has a very fresh taste, somewhat like real leaves or grass, that is preferred by some tea aficionados. Leaves gathered in the early spring provide a clean cup with a fragrance that has a hint of outdoors.

A type called Silver Needle that hails from the Fujian province in China is an especial treat. The Darjeeling province in India makes a fine white tea as well. And there is a variety called Ceylon White that hails from Sri Lanka.

But there's more to white tea than just good taste.

Though still an area of active research, there are studies that suggest white tea is even healthier than the already great green tea. Green tea stimulates the immune system to fight infection and according to a recent study at the Pace University, that property may be even more pronounced in white tea. It has an anti-viral and anti-bacterial effect.

With its lower caffeine content (15 mg per serving, compared to 40 mg for black tea, and 20 mg for green tea) white teas will be a great addition to the 'decaf' section of your tea tin.

Brew about 2.5 grams (1,5 teaspoons) for every 200 ml (6 oz). Heat the water to 82°C (180°F), then steep the leaves for a few minutes. Cool to taste and enjoy this ancient delight as a new experience.