http://www.flickr.com/photos/21185968@N00/4755009392/What is your favorite tea?  This is a question whose answer for many varies by season, time of day, and reason for drinking it.  For me, it’s remained pretty consistent for the last four years – Silver Needle.  It seems people either really like white tea, have never tried it, or say it doesn’t taste like anything. 

The last reason always surprises me.  Working with end consumers directly has given me insight into why some people find white tea tasteless.  I do think there is more than one reason why people are not fans of white tea.

White tea, as we know it today, is a relatively new tea, with roots in the 18th century.  Green and black teas, however, have had centuries to make their way into people’s teapots, cups, and daily routines.

In America, there is more coffee in people’s cups than tea.  So, it’s understandable if people are comparing the delicate, sweet, sublime taste of white tea to the strong, bold, acidic, roasted notes of coffee.  And we’ve all had bad green tea in a teabag.  I remember my pre-loose-leaf days when I used to drink green tea in a bag.  It was bitter, roasted, and hot.  Nothing else.  So, one problem is that consumers are comparing white tea to other drinks.

However, the biggest obstacles to people loving a cup of white tea are the brewing instructions and the tea itself.  At work, I have been conducting white tea tastings for the last few weeks and decided to bring in a competitor’s white tea.  Even though I am a loose-leaf tea drinker, I know that people buy teabags, so I also added tea bags to the samples I tested.  Among the four white tea samples, I included one Rishi loose-leaf Silver Needle, one competitor’s loose-leaf Silver Needle, and two teabag samples of Silver Needle.  I was shocked at what I found in terms of the different brewing temperatures, brewing times, and amounts.

  1. Silver Needle loose-leaf tea/1.5 tsp/175°F/steep 4-5 minutes
    (I measured out 1.5 tsp and came up just short of 2 grams)
  2. Silver Needle loose-leaf tea/1 tbsp/185°F/steep 4-5 minutes
    (I measured out 1 tbsp, which came to about 3 grams)
  3. Silver Needle teabag/1.6 grams per teabag/water just short of boiling/steep 30-60 seconds
    (I opened up the teabag and there was dust inside)
  4. Silver Needle teabag/1.8 grams per teabag/195°F/steep 3-5 minutes
    (I weighed 5 teabags and took an average.  The weights ranged from 1.4 to 2.3 grams.)

It’s no wonder people are brewing bad cups of white tea.  They are given dust in place of leaves, are told to use boiling water, or just aren’t using enough leaves.

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