When you think about teas, you may imagine green (or even dark) leaves – but that is not the case with white tea. Cultivated in the early days before the leaves are fully opened, white tea buds are still covered by fine white hairs, which is why it is named “white tea”. During processing, this type of tea is the least processed tea. It is not oxidized nor rolled, creating a very pure and delicate type of tea.
You might be wondering now, why did white tea come into existence in the first place? What does white tea taste like? Are there many types of white tea, and what are the differences? Does white tea contain any caffeine? And is white tea healthy for our body? Read on to learn more about this unique yet delicate type of tea.
The history of white tea
The history of white tea goes back almost 1,500 years ago to the Tang Dynasty era (618-907 CE) in Fujian Province, the birthplace of Silver Needle (Baihao Yinzhen) white tea. In that era, white tea was a special kind of tea picked in early spring – the perfect time to get the silver needles. Those young tea leaves were then steamed, crushed, and made into molds, which are then baked into cakes to dry. Before drinking, the cakes were roasted in fire and crushed into powder.
However, it was not until the Song Dynasty era (960-1279 CE) that white tea became the choice of the royals. White tea was given as a tribute to the emperor in a very fine powder form, whisked in boiling water until it became a frothy liquid, just like the preparation of the Japanese tea ceremony.
In the Ming Dynasty era (1368-1644 CE), powdered white tea lost its popularity as the royal court ruled that only loose leaf white tea is allowed to be given as a tribute to the emperor. This forced the Chinese tea farmers to find new ways to store and preserve white tea. They then used drying and fermentation techniques, which are used to process all teas nowadays. These refined techniques involved better ways of storing white tea, making white tea easier to transport and trade, allowing people from all around China (and now, the world) to enjoy white tea like the emperors in the old days.
What does white tea taste like?
Delicate, light, and sweet. Those are the common traits of white tea. Although the specific flavors may vary from region to region, generally, white tea tastes softer and sweeter than other types of tea – thanks to the young Camellia sinensis leaves that are minimally processed.
Some white teas are more floral, others are more fruity or citrusy. However, white tea will never be as grassy or earthy as green tea, nor as deep as black tea or pu-erh tea. If you are looking to enjoy your free time with a light, fragrant, and naturally sweet drink, then white tea is your way to go!
Types of white tea
White tea may have originated from Fujian, but it is now grown in various parts of China (and the world)! Some tea experts may say that white teas that are not made using the big leaf variety of Camellia sinensis cannot be classified as true white teas – but it is still being discussed too. Here is the complete list of types of white tea from all around the world:
Chinese White Tea
- Moonlight White Tea
Moonlight White Tea is an excellent example of white tea from Yunnan Province. It is called Moonlight White because, in the past, the leaves were withered at night – or under the moonlight, not the sun. The raw leaves of Moonlight White Tea are from Yunnan’s Jinggu big white leaf cultivar teas, which are unique to the area.
Moonlight White Tea tastes clean and refreshing with a smooth and creamy texture. It has some floral and fruity notes, especially maple sap and sweet hay (unique to Yunnan teas!) can be found in Moonlight White Tea through its multiple infusions.
- Silver Needle White Tea (Baihao Yinzhen)
Silver needle, the OG white tea from Fujian Province. Most Silver Needle white tea is made only by using the buds of the big leaf variety of Camellia sinensis, the parent plant of most teas. The shape of Silver Needle tea leaves must be uniform with no stems or leaves, with its long and silver needle tips as the unique characteristic. This tea is golden in color, tastes light and sweet, yet still woody and rich.
- White Peony White Tea (Bai Mu Dan)
White Peony white tea is made by combining young tea buds and leaves. It is more affordable than Silver Needle white tea but still tastes high-end. This tea exclusively picks the top two leaves of each tea plant.
Though more affordable, White Peony white tea tastes stronger than Silver Needle white tea. It has a stronger, fuller flavor with delicate floral hints that are unique to white tea. This tea is has a pale green liquor and has a slightly nutty, roasted aroma and aftertaste.
- Tribute Eyebrow White Tea (Gong Mei)
Still grown in Fujian Province, this tea can be classified as the third in grade and quality – with Silver Needle and White Peony being first and second, respectively. Because Tribute Eyebrow white tea is harvested later than Silver Needle white tea, it has a bolder flavor compared to the latter. Its strong fruity flavor may resemble oolong tea, but of course, they differ in the process!
- Long Life Eyebrow White Tea (Shou Mei)
Long Life Eyebrow white tea is made using the lower quality leaves from those tea leaves that are not high-quality enough to become Silver Needle and White Peony white teas. Same as Tribute Eyebrow white tea, because Long Life Eyebrow white tea is harvested later, it has a stronger, darker, and bolder flavor than the higher-grade white teas.
Sri Lankan White Tea Ceylon White Tea
Ceylon white tea is the white tea variant of the famous Ceylon tea. Although famous, Ceylon white tea is actually rare – it is only made using the longest (at least 25 millimeters), silver Ceylon tea buds. Just like other types of white tea, Ceylon white tea tastes light, with hints of honey and fruity flavors.
African White Tea Malawi White Tea
Tea is really taking over the world – at first, it was only grown in China, and now it is grown everywhere in the world. Malawi white tea is unique from other types of white tea because it is only made by using tea twigs or stems. This makes Malawi white tea tastes stronger, with a slightly grassy flavor accompanied by hints of honey.
Indian White Tea Darjeeling White Tea
You may know Darjeeling black tea, but do you know that Darjeeling has a white tea variant too? Darjeeling white tealeaves are fluffy and light, creating an airy, smooth, and sweet flavor.
Himalayan White Tea Imperial Himalayan White Tea
It might be hard to pinpoint a place in the Himalayas because of its vast area, so let’s classify it as its own tea! Imperial Himalayan white teas are produced during the fall harvest. As it is grown in the Himalayas, it is cultivated in high altitudes, producing a strong yet fruity tea flavor.
The caffeine content of white tea
Although white tea may seem like a light and delicate drink, it still contains caffeine. One 8oz (~240mL) serving of white tea contains 6-55 milligrams of caffeine. This large variation comes from the white tea type and size of the buds and leaves; brewing temperature; and steeping time. But, you don’t need to worry! Even with this large variation, white tea still contains much lower caffeine than coffee, which contains 95-200 milligrams of caffeine per 8oz serving. If you want to reduce your caffeine intake from white tea, make sure to follow the best ways to consume white tea here!
Health benefits of white tea
Just like any other type of tea, white tea has tons of health benefits thanks to its high antioxidants.
- Protecting your body from free radicals
White tea has tons of catechins, a type of polyphenols. These catechins protect the cells in your body from damages done by free radicals. Free radicals can cause many damages to your body, from chronic inflammation to weak immune. If you drink white tea regularly, you can prevent those damages!
- Reducing the risk of heart disease
Still because of the catechins, the risk of heart disease – which is linked to chronic inflammation – can be reduced if you consume white tea regularly. White tea helps prevent heart disease by relaxing blood vessels, boosting immunity, and preventing bad cholesterol from becoming oxidized.
- Helping you lose weight
Ah, this one is everyone’s cup of tea (pun intended!). Caffeine and catechins like epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) in white tea can help you lose weight because these two compounds work together to burn body fat and boost metabolism.
- Protecting your teeth from bacteria
White tea contains a lot of fluoride, catechins, and tannins. These three combined can help strengthen your teeth by fighting bacteria and sugar, which can prevent dental cavities and plaques!
- Fighting cancer
Although this one is still on a test-tube study stage, white tea shows promising results in fighting several types of cancer – from lung to colon cancer. The tea does so by suppressing the growth of the cancer cells and protecting the healthy cells from damages by harmful molecules.
- Lowering the risk of insulin resistance
Insulin resistance is very common and can lead to many chronic health conditions, from type 2 diabetes to heart disease. Polyphenols in white tea can lower the risk of insulin resistance and improve blood sugar control, hence lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease!
- Protecting against osteoporosis
Osteoporosis can be accelerated by free radicals and chronic inflammation, which can be reduced by the catechins in green tea.
- Combating skin aging
Yes, aging is normal, but you sure want to have supple skin as you age, right? White tea contains compounds like antioxidants that can prevent internal (natural, caused by free radicals and enzymes) and external (environmental, caused by UV rays) aging.
- Protecting against Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases
Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) – a type of catechins in white tea – helps fight inflammation and clumped proteins, which are linked to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
The best way to consume white tea
Just like (almost) everything in life, you have choices in enjoying your cup of white tea. There are two ways to enjoy your favorite cup of white tea: the cup method and the gaiwan method. Each one of them is the best way – it just depends on your situation and time.
1. Cup method
If you are in a rush or just want to drink your white tea easily, you can use the cup method.
First, preheat your teacup with hot water, and then discard the water.
Brew 2 teaspoons (2g) of tea with 8.8oz (250ml) hot water (175°F/ 80°C). Brew it for 3-5 minutes.
There you go. Your black tea is ready!
2. Gaiwan method
In the mood of going traditional? Try the gaiwan method!
Gaiwan – which literally means “lid and bowl” in Chinese – is a traditional Chinese tea brewing vessel that can elevate your Chinese tea drinking experience.
To get your cup of white tea using the gaiwan method, you need to first preheat your gaiwan by pouring hot water into it, and then discard.
Put 4 grams of white tea in the gaiwan and pour some hot water into it, then discard the water. This process is known as “awakening the tea,” or opening up the tea leaves. You can discard the water into your teacup to preheat it.
Pour hot water (175°F/ 80°C) into the gaiwan to brew your tea. For the first steep, you can do it for 15 seconds.
Serve your tea using a teacup (4oz/120mL size). You should not drink your tea directly from the gaiwan. Now your traditional white tea is ready!
(You can steep your white tea eight times. Each additional one will take a longer time to steep. From the first steep to the sixth steep, we encourage you to take 15s, 25s, 40s, 60s, 60s, 80, 80s, 100s)
Where to buy white tea
Because white tea is very delicate and unique, try to find the authentic sellers of white tea – be it online or offline.
In BornTea, we offer a very unique type of white tea that comes from Jinggu, Yunnan Province – Moonlight White Tea. Moonlight White Tea has light green tea leaves with white-silvery hairs, and it looks pale golden in the cup. It has a fresh fragrance with floral notes, perfectly accompanying its smooth and sweet flavor – both floral and fruity.
BornTea’s Moonlight White Tea comes from a 1260 meter elevation, which means it comes from a fresh and pollution-free environment. Our farmers have been cultivating white tea for generations, and they treat white tea as a piece of their tradition. Get yourself a cup of BornTea’s Moonlight White Tea now to treat yourself with the abundant benefits and support the local farmers at the same time.