Confusion and discrepancies abound as to what constitutes white tea. You will find white teas can vary greatly in size, shape and color from different parts of the tea producing world. This is because technically speaking white tea, as defined by the way it is harvested and processed, can result from picking the leaves in the earliest part of spring, picking only the unopened, individual buds (or tips) of the plant immediately prior to their opening, then using a special withering-drying process and with no rolling of the leaves. It is usually just the individual, unopened buds with no leaves or stems that are picked. These buds are covered in a downy fuzz, which is called Bai Hao.
There are also a number of different grades of white tea based largely on the varietals from which it originates. The controversy comes from what some people consider true or authentic white tea vs. all the other white teas that are being sold in the market place. Authentic white tea is defined not only by how it is harvested and processed (being one of the least processed of all teas), but also by the varietals that are used and where they come from. True white tea is said to come from a particular rare varietal of the Camellia sinensis plant (Da Bai), that has smaller leaves, that comes from Fujian province and some even believe, more specifically, that the very finest white tea (Bai Hao Yinzhen) comes only from Fuding or Zheng He County in Fujian Province. Others argue that white tea is any tea that comes from the Camellia sinensis plant that is harvested in the early spring and is comprised only of buds.
One “white tea“, An Ji Bai Cha, is a case in point. A unique and somewhat rare and wonderful tea, Bai Cha literally means white tea. However, depending on who you speak to, you will hear that it is either a rare white tea or a rare green tea. To me, it looks, smells and tastes like a green tea. It is picked in the early spring, usually consists of one bud and one or two leaves, is dark green and flat and wiry looking, has no Bai Hao (white hairs) and comes from Zhejiang province. I’m not certain, but I think it may come from the Da Bai species. So you tell me; Is it a white tea or a green tea? Personally, I feel confident that it is a green tea.
Ultimately, as in art, wine and beauty, you should let your knowledge and your personal preferences be your judge as to what you like or don’t like, regardless of what it’s called.