Unlike other classes of Chinese teas that have many equal members in the family, white teas are ranked and labelled by a quality hierarchy as follows:
- Top grade - Silver Needle: made of only top tips of unopened tea leaves (the shape is like that of a needle) during the early spring
- Second grade - White Peony: made of the tip leaves (silver needle) and 1 or 2 leaves below, harvested later in the spring than Silver Needle.
- Third grade - Shou Mei (tribute eyebrow): harvested during the late spring with more mature leaves than the above two grade white tea.
With the current rapid increase of the market prices of the white teas, there are merchants use various methods to compromise their quality, for example:
- Processing white teas with other species of the teas plants than the authentic Fuding Da Bai Hao (福鼎大白毫 -Fuding Big White Fur/down), such as green tea leaves from other areas than the Fuding area of the Fujian Province.
- Using methods other than the traditional processing method which is typically higher labour cost and lower productivity, or simply not mastering the traditional white tea processing skills, which are often kept secret in the families and passed down only to the family members.
- Using short cuts to fake aged white teas resulting the poor quality and teas fail to age probably/naturally.
As the result, there are mixed qualities in the same bag of a product. Customers need to take time to experience and appreciate the quality differences of a white tea product to avoid paying the unnecessary prices.