Great Debates of Tea: Is Moonlight White Tea Puer Tea or White Tea?

July 14, 2017

Great Debates of Tea: Is Moonlight White Tea Puer Tea or White Tea?

What is Moonlight White Tea?

There’s a fierce debate happening amongst the tea intelligentsia about whether or not Moonlight White is a White tea or a Puer.

You see, “Yue Guang Bai”  is translated in English as Moonlight White. This is a tea I loved from the beginning of my tea hunting career and spent a long time trying to hunt down the best Moonlight White (Yue Guang Bai) I could find. It literally took me 3 years to find China’s Best Moonlight White.

One of the things I love most about true “Yue Guang Bai” is that you get beautiful whole buds and leaves together. It looks like a work of art, which it should. The taste is also significantly different. The one we source here at WTQ has a lighter but more complex fresh flavor. Of course, the flavor changes as you age it, which is one of the things I love about Moonlight White (Yue Guan Bai) is being able to age it.

By working with so many Moonlight White producers I learned a lot about what it was. In addition to sourcing, a top quality Moonlight White tea from ancient trees was a final mission. Mission accomplished when I found Tea Master Tian Zhi and his family. He and his family specialize in Moonlight White. They produce a variety of Moonlight Whites.

Literal Language Translation Adding to Confusion

First you need to understand the meaning of “Yue Guang Bai” in Chinese.

Yue (月) means Moon

Guang (光) means Light

Bai(白)means White.

So Yue Guang Bai in English is literally “Moonlight Light White.”

This reminds me of a long time ago a friend of mine asked me what is the difference between Dian Hong and Yunnan Black tea. This is the same kind of question as I addressed above with “Yue Guang Bai”:

Dian (滇) means Yunnan in Chinese

Hong (红) means Red in Chinese, but we generally label red teas as black in English.

Thus, Dian Hong in English is the same as Yunnan black tea. An example of that is Ancient Artisan Yunnan Black.

Therefore, one of the main reasons for so much confusion about what the different teas are, is because some people are calling them by their Chinese name while others are calling them by their English names!

Often times people make up names for teas in China and other countries so you think you have a certain kind of tea, but it could be something else. To make matters more confusing some people change the name. We don’t believe in creative names for teas for the sake of marketing.

We believe people should know the real names of the tea so that people can get more clear understanding of the tea as often times the names tell a lot about the tea.

The Ancient Debate of Puer Tea vs. White Tea

Having been involved in the tea world for many years, the most fun thing I love is that you can always hear people from all parts of the world exploring tea, discussing and debating tea, and not only tea itself, but also tea history, tea names, definitions, culture, processing and more! This is why tea is such a fascinating topic.

Thus, whether a Moonlight White is a white tea or puer tea has been the subject of discussion and debate in China for many years already. Only just recently is it becoming one in the west.

A Brief History of White Tea

First, we need to learn a little bit history about White tea in China to aid us in deciphering the answer.

Since ancient times, China has only one place that has produced white teas – Fujian. This area became very famous because its climate is just right for the white tea processing, which includes sun or fire drying the tea. Sun dried or fire-dried are the simplest ways to process tea, but you need very high quality tea leaves in order to produce tea this way, otherwise the flavor is not so good.

In ancient times, people realized that Fujian has a type of tea leaf which only needs to be sun dried or fire dried in order to bring out a good flavor from the tea. This type of tea is covered in white hair on the leaves,  while the buds are very strong. When you dry those leaves, it becomes pure white like silver. This type of tea has a very nice light aroma mostly like a flower Fujian white tea such as Silver Needle became one of the important factions in tea history.

During the contemporary era, the processing way of tea was more and more detailed and thorough thus people started to explore the different type of tea leaves to make the tea which is different than previously used. This is how Yunnan Moonlight White tea came to be.

A Brief History of Pu’er Tea

In Puer City, Yunnan Province, they have a very well-known type of tea called Yunnan big tea leaf. This type of tea leaf is very big and people used it to produce puer tea for long time throughout history. During the contemporary era, people found in this same area of Yunnan that this type of big leaf tea not produces Puer tea, but can also produce a white tea. The tea producers of Yunnan started to copy the Fujian way to process white tea, by just putting the tea leaves in the sun to dry or using the fire drying process. As they expected these types of tea leaves turned to a white color, which, like their Fujian counterparts has lots of hair on the leaves. The buds are even stronger than the Fujian white tea buds, while they also have the typical white tea flavor and floral aroma of the Fujian white tea.

The buds and leaves had a pure white on the outside and jet black on the other side (although sometimes green) resembling the moon. Tian Zhi and other Moonlight White producers that Wild Tea Qi works with consider this type of tea an art form. They pick the buds in the spring, between March and April, early in the morning around 4-5 am. At that time the mountains have strong fog, spurring the tea buds starts to grow a lot. They get lots of dew from the moisture, thus the tea is more fresh and higher quality fresh leaf tea than during any other season then they immediately put it in the sun during the sun rise. What makes this even more fascinating is that they try to time it so that they process the tea on the full moon as they believe it contains a special energy from the moon. Not all Moonlight White is processed in this way. The processing method has been kept a secret for a longtime.

After Moonlight White tea was created in Yunnan, people started to discuss that whether it should be white tea or Puer tea. Yunnan people are accustomed to producing Puer tea, especially Puer cakes and bricks, etc, so they copied both the Fujian producer white tea processing way and also added a Puer tea processing method which is to press the leaves and buds into cakes just like a Puer.

Does Pressing into Cakes Make Moonlight White Tea Puer?

After this people got confused, they asked, “Should we call Moonlight White tea Puer Tea or White Tea?” Once this tea has been pressed into cakes, bricks or other shapes it can be naturally aged just like a puer. Even some of the Fujian producers are starting to copy this method with their Bai Mu Dan “White Peony”.

Loose-leaf moonlight white tea should belong to Yunnan white tea. When referring to the pressed kind, it is up to you whether to call it a Puer or white tea.

Both loose leaf or Pressed Yunnan Moonlight White tea are collectible. Just like Puers you will find that different years have different flavors and that when you age it you will also get different flavors.

Therefore, the question is not whether Moonlight White tea is Puer or White tea. The question to ask yourself is rather whether the pressed cakes and bricks are puer tea or white tea?


So that’s it! Again, what I love about tea is that it becomes a personal journey. And, in cases like these, where there is no “black or white” definition, you can create through experience your own relationship to these delicious and beautiful teas.

Until next time,

JT Hunter

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