White tea is an exquisite and still rare category of tea. It’s the type of tea with the least processed leaves with rich nutrient profile and fresh light tea taste. White tea has only a handful of subtypes, and brewing them is quite easy. No matter which white tea you choose, it should always be enjoyable, fresh and even lightly sweet.
How to brew loose leaf white tea properly
White tea may be the most delicate type of tea, but it can handle high water temperature very well. In fact, you will get the best cup of white tea if you steep the leaves using very hot water (but not boiling) for only a couple of seconds. For example, green tea is often more complicated for brewing and won’t be able to handle high temperatures like white tea. You can re-steep the same leaves at least 3-5 times.
If brewed properly, white tea will rarely be bitter. Interestingly, loose leaf tea will have a completely different flavor than white tea bags. Regular white tea bags usually contain lower grades of dust and stronger teas, and never pure buds. Color can range from completely translucent to dark yellowish. It should never taste moldy, with intense straw notes or unpleasant. Some teas like Shou Mei may have a light straw note, but they should be light nevertheless.
Tips to get the best cup of white tea
Choose the best water
When brewing delicate white tea, water quality is extremely important. Always use fresh spring water. The second best choice is filtered one. Distilled water will give a dull flat infusion and regular hard tap water may cover the delicate flavor.
Use clean suitable teaware
Cast iron, or even some unglazed teapots may not the best choice for brewing white tea. Avoid teapots that have residue from black or oolong teas too. If possible, choose porcelain and glass teaware.
Preheat your teapot
To experience the scent of dry leaves and keep the brewing temperature at optimum, preheat the teapot by pouring boiling water in and out. Place the dry leaves in the preheated teapot and enjoy the scent.
Use enough leaves
Pay extra attention when using a teaspoon to measure the white tea leaves, especially Pai Mu Tan (White Peony tea) and Shou Mei tea. They have much bigger leaves fluffy and a lot of long stalks, so one teaspoon may not be enough. Try to use at least 3-4 grams of leaves per 8 ounces of water.
Avoid old strainers and small infusers
Although white tea leaves won’t expand too much, using proper utensils is very important. Firstly, small infusers may be too small for bigger white tea leaves. Old strainer may have a residue or leave a metallic flavor that can easily ruin delicate tea.
Drink it while it’s still hot
White tea will drastically change flavor if you let if cool down. Enjoy tea while it’s still hot, but be careful not to burn yourself.
Look at your tea
Both dry leaves and an infusion. Small silver needles from pure bud teas will leave a layer of fine white hairs on the surface and are often a sign of a high quality tea.
How long should I brew?
Proper brewing will not only extract the right amount of nutrients and caffeine, but it will also bring out the best flavor of white tea. Unless the instructions on the packaging say differently, white tea should generally be brewed with around 194 °F for about 30-60 seconds if you are using multiple-steeping technique, and with around 176-185 °F for about 2 minutes If you are using western technique. It is advisable to use about 2-3 grams of tea leaves for both techniques. Some teas may even tolerate longer steeping time, even more than 5 minutes. Test different approaches to find which one suits your palate the best.
To get the best cup of flavored white tea, always use a western brewing technique and steep for at least 2 minutes.
Unlike the common belief, white tea may have a lot of caffeine – even more than many green or black teas. If you are looking for teas with less caffeine, pick those from later harvests and fewer buds. To reduce the amount even further, use shorter steeping time with water of around 80 degrees Celsius.
How to cold brew white tea
White tea may not be the best type for cold brewing, as it already has a more delicate flavor than other tea types. However, it’s possible to get great results with flavored white teas and stronger and darker types like Shou Mei or even Pai Mu Tan. Cold-brewing Silver Needle would be a shame, unless it’s scented with flowers such as jasmine, rose or osmanthus.
To cold brew white tea:
- Choose a big glass teapot or a pitcher.
- Add 1-2 spoons of tea leaves (2 spoons if you are brewing White Peony tea).
- Add lukewarm or cold water.
- Cover with a lid to protect from odors.
- Put in a fridge for at least 5 hours.
- Drink within 24 hours.
Learn more about white tea here.