The lightest, least processed of all the true teas, white tea is made from leaves plucked while still young enough to be covered in silvery down, and steam-dried almost immediately. Its flavour is soft, mild and honey-like, although only slightly sweet; it has little of the astringency, and almost none of the bitterness, of green and darker teas. The infusion, too, is
honey-yellow - only the unbrewed leaves are tinged with white hairs. Once brewed, there is little to distinguish the leaves from infused green tea leaves.
White tea is even richer in antioxidant polyphenols than green tea; the short time
for which green tea leaves are withered, or the fact that they are typically plucked later in the season, seem to make a big difference to the amount of health-giving catechins available to the body.
White tea retains a reputation for extreme rarity, but as word has spread of its unique flavour and exceptional health properties, more and more suppliers have started
selling what they describe as white tea. Some of this apparently increased availability is down to questionable selling practices - with 'White Monkey' green tea, for instance, being sold as white; there is certainly also more white tea being produced, though. A Chinese invention - originating, like oolong and lapsang souchong, from Fujian Province - white tea is now also produced in Japan, Darjeeling and Sri Lanka.
White tea is forgiving of a wide range of brewing techniques, being as it is so mild; I favour about a heaped teaspoonful per cup, brewed for something like three minutes, using water which is well shy of boiling point - around seventy or eighty degrees centigrade. You might find your own preferences vary.
With its pleasant but unobtrusive flavour and its well-attested health benefits, white tea is also a very popular base for blends. Here's one I just now came up with. It's intended to be good for the brain, particularly against dementia, and it also has rather powerful anti-cancer properties, but the main thing is that it's delicious. I made a pot for three using 2tsp white tea, a section of fresh grated turmeric root (probably about 5cm long, 1cm thick), a bit of ginger, one whole stalk of freshly beaten up lemongrass, a sprinkling of lime rind and a few drops of its juice. Brew for about five minutes using water not too much hotter than 80°C.
'White tea' can also be used to refer to plain boiled water - 'silver tea', as the Swedes call it - or to 'English tea', which is to say black tea with milk. I wouldn't recommend it though.