While there are references to white tea as far back as the Tang Dynasty (600-900 CE), the white teas produced today have only been around for the last few hundred years. White tea gets its name from the very fine white 'hairs' that grow on the unopened buds of tea leaves. These buds are used to make Silver Needle, but white tea is now recognized more as a production style, rather than a picking style.
Because caffeine is concentrated in the younger leaves of the tea plant, white teas like Silver Needle have relatively higher levels of caffeine than teas made from older leaves. White teas are often prized as much for their flowery aromas as for their delicate flavors.
Most white tea comes from Fujian. There are three main styles. Yin Zhen (Silver Needle) is the most famous, and the most luxurious, being made only from unopened buds. Bai Mu Dan (White Peony) includes a bud and the first two leaves, and has a more fruity flavor. Shou Mei (Longevity Eyebrow) is made from older leaves, the third, fourth and even fifth leaves on the branch, and has a slightly stronger flavor than other white teas.
White tea is one of the few teas that ages well, and is often pressed into cakes similar to pu'er. These cakes can be stored easily. White tea is considered well aged after 5-7 years.