While “white tea” may be popularly used to refer to black tea with milk, those with a keener interest will recognise it as a variety in its own right along with green, black, oolong, yellow and pu’er. White teas traditionally come from Fujian province in China but are now grown in more tea producing areas such as Assam, Darjeeling (India), Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Indonesia as demand has risen.
The plucked bud or first leaf with its downy leaf-hairs lend to its white appearance and this particular type of tea is least processed of all teas.
White teas share the health properties associated with tea more generally and, although chemical composition can vary widely, often have higher levels of caffeine and antioxidant catechins when compared with green teas. White teas are also traditionally said to be good for your skin.
White teas are steeped at a temperature between 70 and 80 degrees Celsius and they are typically very aromatic with a mild sweet and floral flavour. Yin Zhen (Silver Needles) is very delicate and leans towards vegetal, its highest grade, Bai Hao Yin Zhen, is one of the China Famous Teas. Bai Mudan can be floral, befitting its name (White Peony), and Shou Mei has slightly more darkness and astringency with some fruitiness.
These subtle flavours don't stand up well to food and white teas are probably best enjoyed on their own or you could perhaps try similarly mild foods: lettuce, cucumber, plain rice.
(Special thanks to James Owen for this post)