A Complete Guide To White Tea (What Is It?)

As any tea lover will know, there are thousands of varieties of tea in the world. This is great because it means there’s a tea for every palate, occasion and mood, but it also means that there’s a lot to learn about different teas.

A Complete Guide to White Tea (What Is It?)

One tea variety that all tea enthusiasts should know about is white tea. Actually, white tea is more of a category of tea, since there are various kinds of white tea that come under this umbrella.

If you would like to learn more about white tea, where it comes from, and more, then read on! We have all the information you could ever need about white tea right here in this guide. 

An Introduction To White Tea 

What Is It? 

Maybe you’ve never heard of white tea before, or maybe you have heard of it but aren’t entirely sure what it is. Either way, you’ve come to the right place for more information. 

White tea is a type of tea which is much less common and easy to find compared to black tea. In fact, compared to black tea, white tea has a production rate of 0.01%. 

When you first taste white tea, you might confuse it for a type of herbal tea due to its flavor and aroma (more on this in a moment). However, it’s actually similar to black tea or green tea due to the fact that it contains caffeine. 

Where Does It Come From? 

White tea originates from the Tang Dynasty in China, dating all the way back to between 618 and 907 AD. Historians believe that white tea was the top choice in the royal court, especially for Emperor Huei Tsung, who was a known tea enthusiast.

In fact, it was Emperor Huei Tsung who declared white tea to not only be the rarest type of tea, but the best. 

For a long time, white tea wasn’t really known in other parts of the world. It only started to become known worldwide during the latter half of the 19th century. 

Today, you can source white tea from many countries, including India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Thailand. With that being said, there is some disagreement across different cultures regarding what makes authentic white tea. 

Some tea experts in China believe that tea should only be called white tea if it’s made from Da Bai tea bush buds, and only if those buds come from the Fujian province.

However, other enthusiasts feel that the production process is what determines whether a tea can be considered white tea or not. 

Regardless, the fact remains that most of the world’s white tea continues to be produced in China. In fact, 90% of the white tea on the market today is from China.

How Is It Made?

We just mentioned that many people consider the production method to be an integral part of what constitutes white tea and what doesn’t. So, how exactly is white tea made?

White tea is made from a plant known as camellia sinensis. However, not all parts of this plant are harvested to make white tea. 

Most of the time, white tea is made from a combination of camellia sinensis buds as well as the leaves. The leaves should ideally be harvested young, while the hairs on the buds have a silvery color, which is why we call it ‘white’ tea.

The harvesting process is quite specific because there needs to be enough sun and minimal moisture to ensure that the buds are dry. 

Once the buds and leaves have been harvested, the processing begins. The buds are first allowed to wither so that their color changes to either more green or more brown.

This is due to the oxidation from contact with the air. They are then dried, traditionally in the sun but now, more commonly, in a mechanical drying basket. 

What Does It Taste Of?

White tea has a subtle but unique and very pleasant taste. Depending on the exact type of white tea (more on the different varieties later), the tea might taste more or less fruity.

However, all white tea has a sweet and lightly vegetable taste that can be compared to honeydew. 

White tea is known for being very refreshing and mild, unlike some other teas like black tea, which can be quite bitter if brewed for long enough.

A Complete Guide to White Tea (What Is It?)

What Does It Smell Like?

While the flavor of white tea is undoubtedly delicious, even people who don’t like to drink tea will appreciate the wonderful aroma of white tea. 

White tea smells as sweet as it tastes, but the scent is quite neutral, which means it’s not overpowering or off-putting.

When you buy a white tea scented candle or soap, for example, you may find that it has been infused with other scents such as blossoms, wood, or citrus fruits to complement the otherwise very subtle scent. 

White Tea Varieties

There are 5 main types of white tea, otherwise known as white tea varieties. These varieties differ based on which parts of the camellia sinensis plant have been used and which production methods have been employed to turn the harvested plant parts into tea. 

Depending on which tea variety you choose, you may also notice differences not only in the flavor but also the color, aroma, and leaf quality. Here are the main varieties of white tea you can choose from: 

Bai Hao Yin Zhen (Silver Needle)

If you’re looking for premium-quality white tea that is produced using traditional methods, you should look for Bai Hao Yin Zhen, which is commonly known as Silver Needle white tea. 

This is considered the highest-quality white tea variety, and while this also means it’s the most expensive, many consider it to be well worth the price for the flavor. 

Silver Needle white tea is made from springtime buds from the camellia sinensis plant, specifically sourced from China’s Fujian province.

The buds have to be hand-picked in order for white tea to classify as Silver Needle, and instead of using mechanical drying methods, the buds are dried using a combination of warmth from the sun and sometimes fire. 

The reason this tea is called Silver Needle is that the processing is minimal, so the tea retains the silver color from the bud hairs. The tea is also shaped like needles. 

Gong Mei (Tribute Eyebrow)

An alternative to Silver Needle is Gong Mei, which you might also hear referred to as Tribute Eyebrow. The name might catch some people off-guard, but it makes sense because it’s only made of curved camellia sinensis leaves (not the buds).

Tribute Eyebrow is generally considered to be a higher-quality version of Shou Mei (Long Life Eyebrow), which we’ll discuss next. However, it’s not as sought-after as Silver Needle. 

Shou Mei (Long Life Eyebrow) 

Shou Mei is a relatively inexpensive variety of white tea because it uses both young and old leaves. Some of the leaves used to make Long Life Eyebrow are leftovers from White Peony (see below) and Silver Needle. There are no buds present in Shou Mei tea. 

Bai Mu Dan (White Peony)

White Peony is often considered the next best thing compared to Silver Needle. Its Chinese name is Bai Mu Dan. Because it’s made using older camellia sinensis leaves, it can cost around a fifth of what you would pay for Silver Needle tea.

Younger leaves and buds are also used in the production of Bai Mu Dan. Some of the production is similar to that of Silver Needle because sunshine withering is often still used alongside airing. However, the dying process is done at higher temperatures. 

Darjeeling White 

All the other white tea varieties we’ve mentioned so far have come from China, but Darjeeling White comes from India. It’s named after the Darjeeling region, which is where the tea is harvested and produced. 

There is more caffeine in Darjeeling White tea compared to, say, Silver Needle, and the taste is less mild.

There’s a distinctly earthy flavor to Darjeeling White, so it’s often infused with lighter flavors such as hibiscus, peach and pomegranate to counteract the earthiness. 

The Benefits Of White Tea 

If you’re not yet sold on white tea, you will be once you hear about all the incredible benefits this brew can have for your health. 

If we look back through history, we can see that white tea was used medicinally as far back as ancient China. In fact, it was a popular treatment for the measles.

A Complete Guide to White Tea (What Is It?)

However, the medicinal benefits of white tea aren’t just limited to ancient medicine. They continue to be relevant in the present day, and although more research is needed to confirm many of the suspected benefits, the evidence we currently have looks very promising. 

For one thing, white tea is rich in antioxidants. This is partly because processing is kept to a minimum for white tea, which means that most of the nutrients remain in the tea itself. White tea is especially high in catechins, which have more antioxidant properties than green tea. 

Because of its antioxidant content, as well as the fact that it’s been shown to have antineoplastic and chemopreventive effects, white tea may also be an effective treatment for some cancers.

More research is needed on this subject, but the potential for white tea in the area of cancer treatment is exciting. 

White tea has also been shown to reduce inflammation in the body and promote better cardiovascular health. The reason white tea is so good for your heart is that it contains l-theanine, which helps to reduce blood pressure.

Therefore, your risk of cardiovascular conditions associated with high blood pressure is reduced if you consume green tea regularly. 

Something many people aren’t aware of is the fact that white tea can even be helpful if you’re trying to lose weight.

We mentioned that this type of tea contains catechins, and these have been linked to lower rates of obesity, since it’s thought that they help to boost metabolism.

The Best Way To Drink White Tea 

How you prefer to drink your white tea is a personal decision, but there are some tips we recommend employing if you want to have the best tea-drinking experience possible. 

First, make sure not to fully boil the water you use to make the white tea. The water should only be heated to around 165 or 175 degrees Fahrenheit.

Hotter infusions often result in a less balanced flavor. However, since the flavor of white tea is usually quite mild, and you won’t be using boiling water, you should let the blend infuse for about 10 minutes. 

A good way to tell if your white tea is sufficiently infused is to look at the color. The liquid should be a pale yellow. If it still looks relatively clear or is dark yellow, it’s either over or under-infused. 

Most people will want to avoid adding sugar or milk to white tea. Again, this is up to you, but remember that the flavor is mild, so you don’t want to overpower it completely with extra flavors. 

The same goes for any food you consume alongside your cup of tea. Make sure that you don’t drown out the flavor of your tea with very strong-tasting foods. Fish and cheese are fine, but make sure they’re as mild as the tea itself.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Is White Tea Caffeinated?

Yes, white tea does contain caffeine. Recent studies show that white tea generally contains more caffeine than green tea, but less than the caffeine found in black tea.

Who Should Not Drink White Tea?

White tea is safe and healthy to drink for most people, but since it’s caffeinated, you may want to avoid it (at least before bed) if you have trouble falling asleep or if you are sensitive to caffeine.

Some research shows that over-consuming white tea may also be bad for your heart despite having some cardiovascular benefits, so consume white tea in moderation

Does White Tea Cause Bloating? 

White tea should not cause bloating (see also: What Tea Helps With Bloating?)when consumed in moderation. However, consuming too much white tea could lead to bloating due to its caffeine content.

If you have diagnosed digestive conditions or notice digestive symptoms after drinking white tea, consult your doctor.

Final Thoughts 

White tea is one of the rarest teas in the world, but it’s worth spending time and money getting your hands on this brew because it’s very tasty and may even improve your health. 

Remember not to pair your white tea with strong-tasting foods or mix it with boldly-flavored ingredients so as not to overpower the mild taste of the tea itself.

Joanne Baltimore
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