Although often eclipsed by other types of tea in terms of popularity, there is no denying that white tea is just as refreshing and beneficial as other varieties. Fragrant and refreshing with a sweet, silky taste, white tea is a widely consumed beverage in China. But did you know that in the early times, it was treated as a drink worthy only of an emperor? Read this article and discover more interesting facts about this delicious beverage.
What Is White Tea?
Considered one of the most delicate tea varieties today, white tea, just like green, oolong and black teas, comes from the Camellia sinensis plant. It is actually made from new growth buds of the plant, or those that have not yet opened, as well as select young leaves.1
The name was derived from the fine silvery-white hairs on the unopened buds. In fact, this is how Silver Needle, the finest quality organic white tea, got its moniker.2 Silver Needle is made only from unopened buds and is the highest quality white tea available today.3
White tea is said to date back as early as the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907 AD), and became the choice beverage of the royal court during the Song Dynasty (960 to 1279 AD). Its flavor is so delicate that it became known as the Emperor’s drink. White tea was a luxury enjoyed by the Emperor and his royal court, who sometimes infused it with subtle floral flavorings like lotus, jasmine and chrysanthemum.4
White tea has a very light or pale yellow color, and a refreshing scent. However, it does not have the “grassy” flavor that is often attributed to green tea.5 It’s said to “offer a greater dimension of body,” but without the bitterness of other teas. The flavor can range from buttery to fruity, sweet and floral — each tea is different.6
You can get white tea in either loose leaf or tea bags. If you want to get the real tea experience, though, it’s best to choose organic loose leaf white tea over tea bags, as you can sidestep the potential chemicals found in the bags, which can leach into your tea.
How to Make White Tea
White tea is the least processed of all tea types. In fact, this processing method is what sets these different Camellia sinensis-derived teas apart from each other. Black tea is deeply oxidized and fermented; oolong is only partly fermented; and green tea is not fermented at all — only withered in hot air and then steamed or pan-fried quickly.
White tea is allowed to oxidize only minimally. Due to the minimal processing they both undergo, the benefits of white tea versus green tea have often been deemed similar. To produce white tea, the buds are withered and air-dried in the sun or in an indoor environment as soon as harvested, under carefully controlled conditions. Due to oxidation not being manually encouraged, the flavor profile of this tea is softer and more delicate compared to other teas.7,8
What Is White Tea Good For?
The many benefits of white tea can be attributed to its biologically active components, and because it’s minimally processed, this type of tea has the highest concentration of some of these components, such as antioxidant flavonoids like polyphenols and catechins. White tea also has antimicrobial qualities that may have disease-protective effects on the body.9 Some of the ways that white tea benefits your health include:10,11
• Helps eliminate free radicals. The polyphenols in the tea act as antioxidants that help neutralize these disease-causing elements in your body.12,13
• May protect against premature aging. According to a Science Daily article, white tea helps stop the activities of the enzymes that break down elastin and collagen, which can then cause wrinkles.14
• Maintains skin health. A 2009 study found that applying white tea topically may help reduce the risk of UV damage, which is a factor in premature aging.15
• Helps promote heart health. The flavonoids in white tea may help lower high blood pressure levels, improve dyslipidemia16 and reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems.17
• Helps with diabetes management. One study found that drinking white tea may help relieve the common symptoms of diabetes like excessive thirst, while improving glucose tolerance and decreasing plasma glucose levels.18
Caffeine Content in White Tea
All teas acquired from the Camellia sinensis plant contain caffeine. However, white tea contains the least amount among all varieties. According to the website Caffeine Content, this drink has an average of 15 to 20 milligrams of caffeine in every cup. Considering that black tea has 50 milligrams and coffee can be anywhere between 60 and 150 milligrams, white tea is more recommended for caffeine-sensitive individuals.19
White Tea Recipe: Here’s How to Brew It
Aside from being able to avoid the potential toxins linked to teabags, using loose whole leaf tea also allows more room for the tea to expand while steeping. In addition, teabags usually contain poor-quality broken shards or dust-like tea leaves. To properly brew white tea, follow these steps from Serious Eats:20
White Tea Recipe
• Leafy or bud-only white tea
1. Use a small pot that will let the leaves expand and provide decent temperature control.
2. Rinse the pot with hot water, with the dual purpose of cleaning and heating it.
3. Heat the water until it reaches a temperature of 180 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the preferred temperature for white tea. Too-hot water will scald the tea.
4. Use at least 2 tablespoons of white tea per 8 ounces of water. If you’re using leafy white tea, steep four to five minutes. For bud-only teas (these are usually the high-quality varieties like Silver Needle), add one or two minutes more so the flavors will truly develop.
How to Store White Tea
As with other types of tea, white tea requires proper storage to ensure its quality. Take note that this tea is prone to natural oxidation, as it has been processed very minimally. As a result, the leaves are subject to natural enzymatic breakdown. To prevent this from occurring, keep the tea in an airtight container and store in a cool, dry place, away from heat, moisture and light.
Refrigerating white tea is recommended, as it actually improves the flavor and prolongs its shelf life. However, if refrigerated, it should not be taken out frequently, as successive warming and cooling the tea will depreciate its quality.21
Side Effects of White Tea
The side effects of tea are mostly attributed to its caffeine content. While generally less than other tea varieties and coffee, take note that people who are sensitive to caffeine may still experience side effects, especially if white tea is ingested in large amounts. The potential effects of caffeine in white tea may include headaches, diarrhea and even cardiovascular problems. So if you have sensitivity to caffeine, be sure to drink this beverage only in moderation.22
In addition, the flavonoids in tea may bind to non-haem iron, which is usually found in dairy foods, iron supplements and plants, inhibiting their absorption. As much as possible, do not consume these foods or take iron supplements when drinking tea.23
A Final Note on White Tea
Some varieties of tea may be contaminated with lead and fluoride, since the Camellia sinensis plant is very efficient in absorbing these toxins through its roots. Lead is a dangerous heavy metal, and while some may say that fluoride is a nutrient essential especially for dental health, take note that its benefits are mostly acquired if used topically, and not ingested.
So when buying white tea, or any other type of tea for that matter, choose those that are grown in pristine environments and have not been sprayed with toxic pesticides and chemicals. Remember that a clean growing environment is crucial in ensuring that you’re drinking pure, high-quality white tea.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About White Tea
Q: Is white tea good for you?
A: Yes it is, as long as you make sure you’re drinking high-quality tea. White tea is good for diabetes management, skin health and cardiovascular health, and may even help slow the signs of aging through its free radical-scavenging properties.
Q: What does white tea taste like?
A: White tea can have different flavors, ranging from buttery to sweet and floral. What makes it stand out from green tea is that it lacks the “grassy” flavor that most green teas have and also does not have a bitter flavor.
Q: Where can you buy white tea?
A: You can buy white tea from health stores and specialty tea shops. However, make sure you’re getting a high-quality product that is harvested from plants that are not grown in contaminated soils.
Warning: When buying tea of any kind, make sure that it's organic and grown in a pristine environment. The Camellia sinensis plant is very efficient in absorbing lead, fluoride and other heavy metals and pesticides from soil, which can then be taken up into leaves. To avoid ingesting these dangerous toxins, a clean growing environment is essential, so that you can be sure you're ingesting only pure, high-quality tea.