What is White Tea?

What is white tea
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Many proved health benefits, light and airy sweet floral flavor and beautiful leaves are the main reasons white tea is receiving more and more attention from tea drinkers world-wide. The birthplace of today’s white tea is the Chinese province of Fujian.Learn about the history of white tea, different types, flavor profile and benefits.

What is white tea?

White tea is one of the main six tea types. Just like any other real tea, it’s made from Camellia sinensis. What makes it unique is the processing method – it’s only withered and dried. Although the process of making this type of tea sounds easy, it takes a lot of knowledge and attention to result in leaves with beautifully preserved color, nutrients and freshness.

White tea is not a wide category and includes only several main types – Silver Needle, Pai Mu Tan or White Peony, Shou Mei, Gong Mei and less common, Yue Guang Bai and New Technique white tea. Although the most of white tea is produced in China, especially in Fujian, the birthplace of this type, other countries like Sri Lanka, Japan and India producing their own types too, mostly in the form of a silver needle.

The naming of white tea is very similar to the Indian and Sri Lankan way – Silver Needle will contain only buds and Pai Mu Tan a bud and one or two leaves. Gong Mei and Shou Mei will both contain buds but second, third and fourth leaf as well.

White tea caffeine content

It’s often considered that white tea has the least caffeine, and sometimes even referred to as almost caffeine free. However, it’s almost impossible to say how much caffeine is in each and every cup of tea. Type of tea leaves, varietal, harvest time and processing methods will all have an influence on the final caffeine content. Teas that contain more buds are likely to have more caffeine, while the more mature older leaves are a better choice if you want to reduce caffeine intake.

Therefore, Silver Needle white tea will generally have the most caffeine of all white teas. White Peony on the other hand, a tea that contains bigger leaves as well but is also harvested in spring, is likely to have less than Silver Needle, but more than Shou Mei, a tea made from later harvests containing both buds, leaves and stalks.

One research on 37 commercially available teas showed that Pai Mu Tan white tea had much more caffeine than many green and black teas, especially Ceylon and Darjeeling, with 18 mg per gram of leaves[1]. Not a negligible amount, compared to 14 mg in Darjeeling and only 11 mg in Chinese sencha.

What are white tea benefits?

Similar to green tea, white tea contains L-theanine, caffeine and a catechin EGCg (epigallocatechin gallate). EGCG as an antioxidant has a cell-protective power and many other benefits that make tea one of the healthiest drinks in the world. Other compounds often researched for beneficial properties are gallic, caffeic, chlorogenic or cinnamic acids, quercetin and proanthocyanidols, caffeine, theophylline, l-theanine and minerals such as fluorine, manganese or chromium[2].

Studies have showed that white tea has the highest levels of GABA[3] and EGCg, potentially higher than some green teas[4]. Because white tea is the closest to fresh leaves of a tea plant, it doesn’t surprise it contains more nutrients, not destroyed by the regular processing methods for green and black tea. The maximum possible amount of catechins in the white tea is much higher than the maximum amount of catechins in green tea. Furthermore, to be released into water, antioxidants need specific water temperature. Temperature used for brewing tea is quite often higher than the one for brewing green tea. This is another reason why, with a proper brewing, white tea might give more benefits than green tea.

Top benefits of white tea

Some of the most important potential benefits of white tea include antimutagenic properties, anti-inflammatory properties, anti-aging properties, protecting teeth, reducing the risk of heart disease and weight loss benefits.

Research says that polyphenol in the white tea may have antimutagenic properties[5]. They may help prevent or even delete mutations in cells[6] and possibly prevent them from growing into tumors. Both gallic acid and catechins in the white tea are antimutagens. While self-treating cancer with tea is not advisable, taking tea as an enjoyable daily routine is a good way to add value to your lifestyle.

Another study suggests that white tea might reduce the risk of inflammation and risk of other diseases related to inflammation. An anti-inflammatory effect might come from a caffeic acid found in the white tea.[7]

Beauty tea

White tea has gained popularity as a beauty tea, and studies have shown that this name might be justifiable. It’s often an ingredient in many skincare products. This tea type may have a “potential anti-ageing activity via inhibition of collagenase and elastase”[8] and may help to protect the skin cells from the sun damage[9] and premature aging.

Next, drinking white tea in the absence of toothbrush could be a good way of preventing bacteria from invading the mouth. A recent research showed “white tea mouth rinse potently inhibits plaque formation”[10]. Moreover, white tea is less likely to stain teeth because it contains less tannins than black or green tea, a compound responsible for staining teeth.

Does white tea have a flavor?

White tea has a range of flavors – from delicate light and sweet to a more nutty, fresh hay and maltiness, all depending on the terrior, tea varietal, picking and processing methods. To preserve the most freshness and flavor, storage conditions are important too. Common white tea will usually lose flavor after a year, but many of them can be aged, and with proper aging conditions, will develop a distinctive and mellow flavor. Gentle high-quality Silver Needle is as light as the first fresh Long Jing, but with more airiness and sophistication. The lower the grade and the more leaves and stalks it contains, the stronger both color and taste will be. However, neither of them should be pungent and bitter with moldy hay notes.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is not to diagnose or treat any diseases, or to replace an opinion of a professional doctor. Never self-treat any diseases, or drink large quantities of tea, real or herbal, if you are suffering from serious diseases, are pregnant or breastfeeding. Every person is different and it’s impossible to make a general statement about the benefits or side-effects.

References:

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4787341/

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28640307

[3] https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/white-tea

[4] https://www.hevs.ch/media/document/0/antioxidantcapacityoftea.pdf

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11448643

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3990861/

[7] Dillenburg Meinhart, Adriana & Miranda, Lucas & Mateus Damin, Fernanda & Teixeira, Jose & Godoy, Helena. (2018). Analysis of chlorogenic acids isomers and caffeic acid in 89 herbal infusions (tea). Journal of Food Composition and Analysis. 73. 10.1016/j.jfca.2018.08.001.

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3214789/

[9] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/01/030130081227.htm

[10] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/314287468_The_antiplaque_efficacy_of_white_tea_extract_mouthrinse

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