What is White Tea? Come Discover This Amazing Tea

Updated on: December 1, 2023
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What is White Tea and Types of White Tea

White tea is a type of tea that features delicate flavors and unique processing methods.

It is made from the youngest and most tender leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, which are carefully handpicked and minimally processed to preserve their natural flavor and aroma.

Unlike other types of tea, white tea is not oxidized or rolled, but instead dried and withered in the sun or indoors to produce a subtle and nuanced taste that is highly prized by tea connoisseurs around the world.

In the article, we will explore what white tea is, its history, production, types, and health benefits, and discover why it is one of the most extraordinary and revered teas in the world.

What is White Tea?

White tea is a type of tea that is made from the leaves and buds of the Camellia sinensis plant (the tea plant) that is minimally oxidized.

Only the youngest, tender parts of the plant are used, which have fine white hairs growing on them giving white tea its name. They are always handpicked before new growth even has time to fully open.

What is White Tea

The young leaves and buds are allowed to naturally wither in natural sunlight or in a cool, dry indoor environment for a short period of time. After withering, the leaves are gently dried to prevent oxidation, which is the process that causes tea leaves to turn brown and change their flavor.

The minimal processing involved in the creation of white teas preserves the natural taste and delicate aroma of the tea, resulting in a light and refreshing taste that is highly sought after by tea lovers. It’s the least oxidized true tea, followed by green tea, oolong tea, and black tea from least to most oxidized.

White tea is primarily produced in China within the Fujian province, which is known for producing some of the finest white teas in the world. Within Fujian, the most famous tea growing regions include Fuding, Zhenghe, and Jianyang.

White Tea Comes from Fujian

In recent years, other countries have started to cultivate, process, and export white tea. Countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Taiwan all offer varieties but these regions are less well-known for their white tea production.

The growing conditions for the young tea leaves of white tea are very specific, and the tea plants require a cool, misty climate with high altitude, nutrient-rich soil, and abundant rainfall to produce the delicate, tender leaves that are used to make this highly prized tea.

Quick History of White Tea

White tea as we know it today is a relatively new tea. It dates back to 1857 when the first Da Bai tea tree was discovered. This new varietal is also known as the Fuding white tea tree.

By the late 1800s during Emperor Guangxu's rule, silver needle white tea started to become popularized and exported to the West.

However, something like white tea already existed during the Song Dynasty (960 to 1279). Significantly, Chinese Emperor Huizong wrote The Treatise on Tea in 1107, where stated he liked to drink "Bai Cha", which translates to white tea. The tea he was referring to was a type of unprocessed green tea that looked white.

Traveling further back into the past to the Tang Dynasty (618-907), young first flush tea leaves were picked, steamed, dried, and compressed to make tea cakes. The tea cake was then finely ground to a powder, like matcha. The teas were then mixed with water and whisked - again, like matcha.

To me, this matcha-like white tea is extremely intriguing; I'll try one day to replicate it and report back!

Types of White Tea

Traditionally, white tea was produced from the Da Bai and Da Hao tea varieties in Fujian China, due to their large and beautiful buds.

Nowadays white tea production has expanded to encompass more varietals and regions. This has resulted in different types of white tea emerging from regions outside China. For example, the Darjeeling region in India, famous for its Darjeeling black teas, or the Uva region in Sri Lanka produce their own white tea.

So when shopping for white tea, don’t be surprised to notice that there are many white tea types, each with its own unique flavor profile and processing methods.

Let's explore the most popular types:

Silver Needle (Bai Hao Yin Zhen)

Silver Needle (Bai Hao Yin Zhen) White Tea

Silver Needle is considered the most prized and expensive type of white tea. Originating from the Fujian Province in China, it is made only from large unopened buds of the tea plant, which are covered in white hairs giving the tea its “silver” look. These are gathered in early spring.

Silver Needle tea is known for its delicate, floral smoothness and aroma. Only the youngest buds from the Da Bai tea variety are carefully handpicked and processed with minimal handling to preserve their natural flavor and aroma.

The brewed tea has a pale yellow color and features delicate floral notes with hints of sweetness.

White Peony (Bai Mudan or Pai Mu Tan)

White Peony (Pai Mu Tan) White Tea

White Peony is the second most expensive white tea. Originally cultivated in Fujian, China, its production has now expanded outside of China. This tea is made from a combination of the youngest leaves and unopened buds of the tea plant.

It has a slightly stronger flavor than Silver Needle, with a floral aroma. When brewed, it takes on a beautiful medium-golden hue.

Longevity Eyebrow (Shou Mei or Sow Mee)

Shou Mei White Tea (Longevity Eyebrow)

The Longevity Eyebrow tea, also known as Shou Mei, is made from the mature leaves of the tea plant, which gives it a slightly stronger taste and darker color than other types of white tea.

When brewed, the tea features a pale brown color. It has a nutty and slightly sweet flavor with a floral aroma - a flavor profile that is similar to an oolong tea.

Gong Mei

Gong Mei is made from a mix of young leaves and mature leaves of the Da Bai variety of the tea plant. It has a slightly stronger flavor than Silver Needle and White Peony, with a fruity and slightly sweet taste.

Gon Mei is often confused with Shou Mei (above tea). However, despite the similarities, Gon Mei tea is of higher quality. It is considered a third grade tea, whereas Shou Mei is considered a fourth grade tea.

Moonlight White Tea (Yue Guang Bai)

Moonlight (Yue Guang Bai) White Tea

Moonlight White tea is one of the most unique-looking teas. It features large tea leaves from the Jinggu tea cultivar that are covered in white hairs. The back side of the leaves is dark - a color resulting from wilting. The contrast of dark and white colors likely gives this tea its name.

Moonlight white tea has good aging potential so it’s often compressed into cakes - think of it as a white tea pu’erh cake.

Moonlight white tea is mildly fermented and features a smooth floral flavor with hints of sweetness and earthiness.

White Darjeeling

Darjeeling White Tea

White Darjeeling tea is a relatively new tea grown in the Darjeeling district of India. It is made using the fuzzy white tips of the tea plant.

The perfect cup has a deep color (despite being a white tea). It is highly aromatic with hints of muscatel grape flavor, a taste note that is typical of the region.

Kenya White Rhino

White Rhino white tea is produced in the Nandi Hills region of Kenya, Africa, and is made from the leaves of the tea plant that have been allowed to wither and dry in the sun.

It has a slightly floral flavor with mossy notes and with hints of sweet corn.

Ceylon White

Ceylon White Tea

Ceylon white tea originates from the Uva region in Sri Lanka. There are two types of Ceylon White: Ceylon Silver Tips and Ceylon Golden Tips.

The Ceylon Silver Tips tea is made from small unopened leaves and buds harvested early in the morning. These are white in color thanks to the hairs that grow on them.

The Ceylon Golden Tips tea is very similar to the Ceylon Silver Tips. The main difference is that the former is cultivated at higher altitudes. As its name suggests, this tea has a pale white-golden color.

Ceylon white features a floral taste with hints of Jasmine.

Caffeine Content in White Tea

White Tea Caffeine Levels

At 6 to 75 mg of caffeine per cup, white tea generally contains slightly lower levels of caffeine compared to other types of tea such as black tea, green tea, and oolong tea. For reference, the FDA recommends a daily caffeine intake of no more than 400 mg.

However, as you can see, the caffeine content range is quite wide. This is because many factors dictate the amount of caffeine that makes it into your brew.

As such, white tea could have higher caffeine levels than other teas. When it comes to caffeine, it's all about understanding which factors impact the caffeine content of your white tea:

  • The tea varietal has a high impact on the caffeine content. Chinese white teas are made from the Camellia sinensis sinensis variety of the tea plant, which has significantly less caffeine than non-Chinese white teas made from the Camellia sinensis assamica plant.

  • Different parts of the tea plant have different caffeine levels. Unopened young tea buds and young leaves contain higher levels of caffeine compared to larger more mature leaves. As such, Silver Needle white tea is likely to have more caffeine than Shou Mei white tea.

  • The leaf size also impacts caffeine levels. Using whole-leaf teas will result in less caffeine than tea bag tea. This is because tea bags contain crushed leaves and dusting which have a very high surface area that the water can interact with when brewing.

  • The steeping times and temperatures also impact caffeine levels in tea. Longer steepings times lead to higher caffeine levels. Higher steeping temperatures (especially above 194°F (90°C) lead to more caffeine being released into your cup. However, don’t steep white tea in overly hot water or you’ll ruin its delicate flavor.

Like all other true teas, white tea contains a unique amino acid called L-theanine. L-theanine is believed to have a calming effect on the body, which helps reduce anxiety and stress. This can create a sense of alertness and focus without the jitters or crash commonly associated with caffeine from coffee.

Undoubtedly, white tea can be a great choice for those who are sensitive to caffeine or looking for a more gentle energy boost.

How Do You Choose a Low Caffeine White Tea?

As we noted though, not all white teas are created equal. So make sure you follow these tips for a low-caffeine white tea.

  • Look for Chinese white tea since it's made from the Camellia sinensis sinensis variety.

  • Look for white teas made from more mature leaves, such as a Shou Mei.

  • Look for loose leaf white tea.

  • Steep your tea for as little as possible (1 minute is okay!)

  • Steep your tea at the lowest possible temperature. Some white teas can take temperatures as low as 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius).

There you have it! Selecting a low-caffeine white tea is easy peasy.

Health Benefits of White Tea

White tea is considered one of the least processed teas, as the leaves are simply withered and dried in the sun or in a low-temperature oven. This makes it extremely appealing for people who are seeking a healthy beverage.

Some potential health white tea benefits include:

  • High in antioxidants: White tea contains high levels of antioxidants, which can help protect your body from damage caused by free radicals. Due to its antioxidant content, drinking white tea may help lower the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer (1) (2).

  • Improve skin health: White tea may help improve skin health by protecting it from damage caused by UV rays and reducing inflammation (3) (4) (5).

  • May Help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease: The polyphenols in white tea may help protect the brain from damage and reduce the risk of age-related neurological disorders (6)(7).

  • Oral health: Unlike sodas and high-sugar fruit juices which are bad for your health, white tea is actually fantastic for your teeth and gums. The antimicrobial properties in white tea may help reduce the risk of dental cavities, bad breath, and gum disease (8).

  • Lower blood pressure: Drinking white tea may help lower blood pressure levels due to its ability to relax blood vessels and improve blood flow (9).

  • Assists cardiovascular health: Some studies suggest that drinking white tea may help improve cardiovascular health by reducing cholesterol levels, improving blood vessel function, and reducing inflammation (10)(11)(12).

  • May help you lose weight: White tea is just as effective as green tea for weight loss. The tea’s catechin-polyphenols and caffeine in tea can help you burn fat with adequate exercise and diet (13).

  • Bone health: Some studies suggest that white tea may help improve bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis due to its high catechin content (14)(15)(16).

How to Brew White Tea

Brewing white tea is a simple process, but there are a few things you should keep in mind to ensure that you get the best flavor and experience.

How to Brew White Tea

Here are the steps to follow to ensure you can appreciate the delicate flavors of white tea:

  1. Choose your white tea: White tea comes in different varieties, so choose the one that you prefer. Some popular white tea varieties include Silver Needle, White Peony, and Shou Mei. Always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions as different white teas will have different steeping temperatures and times.

  2. Heat fresh filtered water in a kettle to a temperature of 160-180°F (71-82°C). You can also use a thermometer to check the temperature.

  3. Measure one teaspoon of white tea leaves per cup of water. Place the tea leaves in a tea infuser or a teapot.
    Tip: larger leaves may not fit in a teaspoon so sometimes it is best to weigh your tea leaves. You are aiming for about 2 grams of tea leaves for 8 oz (237 mL) of water.

  4. Pour the hot water over the tea leaves and let them steep for 2-3 minutes. Be careful not to over-steep the tea as it can become bitter.

  5. After steeping, remove the tea leaves from the water by straining the tea through a tea strainer or removing the infuser from the teapot.
    Tip: do not leave the tea leaves in the teapot, or your tea will get bitter.

  6. Pour the tea into a cup and enjoy it as is. Take the time to inhale the aroma before you savor each sip.

Remember, white tea has a delicate flavor, so it's important to not use boiling water and not to over-steep it. Enjoy the subtle flavors and aromas of your white tea!

The Difference Between White Tea vs Green Tea

White tea vs green tea differences

Let the battle lines be drawn!

You are going to find people who are diehard green tea enthusiasts and those who prefer white tea. Luckily, you can actually enjoy both distinct tea types and reap double the benefits!

It's true, white tea and green tea come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. The differences between white tea and green tea lie in the processing method and the parts of the plant that are used.

As already mentioned white tea is usually made from the young leaves and buds, which are harvested before they are fully open. Also, white tea is the least processed of all teas, which means that it retains the most antioxidants and nutrients.

Green teas, on the other hand, are usually made from more mature leaves that are fully open. The leaves are first rolled, crushed, or shaped, to speed up oxidation. This is a key step that does not happen with white tea. The leaves are then withered and then heated, either by pan-frying or steaming, to stop the oxidation process. This helps to retain the natural green color and the delicate flavor of the tea.

So as you can see, green tea is more processed than white tea, but it still retains many of the antioxidants and nutrients that are found in the plant.

White teas and green teas might come from the same plant, but they are processed differently and come from different parts of the plant.

Why is Green Tea More Popular Than White Tea?

Okay, now you are probably scratching your head and wondering why green tea is more popular than white tea because it sure sounds like white tea is better (some of you gyokuro green tea drinkers might be shaking your head).

Green tea is more popular than white tea for several reasons, including:

  • Availability: Green tea is more widely available than white tea in many parts of the world. This is because white tea is made from unopened young tea buds which are rarer than the more mature leaves. Another reason is that making white is highly labor intensive.

  • Taste: Green tea has a more pronounced flavor than white tea, which some people find more appealing. Green tea can have a grassy, nutty, or even slightly bitter taste, while white tea is more subtle and delicate.

  • Price: White tea is often more expensive than green tea because it is made from young leaves and buds that are more delicate and require more labor-intensive processing. This makes green tea a more affordable option for many people.

Green tea's availability, taste, health benefits, and affordability have contributed to its popularity over white tea. However, white tea is also gaining popularity in many parts of the world, as people are becoming more interested in the health benefits of tea and are seeking out different flavors.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How is white tea different from other types of tea?

White tea is different from other types of tea because it is made from the young leaves and buds of the tea plant and undergoes very little processing; it is the least processed tea. This means that it retains more of its natural flavor and nutrients compared to other types of tea.

What does white tea taste like?

White tea has a subtle, delicate flavor with floral and fruity notes. It is less bitter than green tea and has a slightly sweet aftertaste.

Is white tea more expensive than other types of tea?

Yes, white tea is often more expensive than other types of tea because it is made from young leaves and buds that are more delicate and are often handpicked.

Can I add milk and sugar to white tea?

It is not recommended to add milk to white tea as it can overpower the flavor of the tea. I also don't recommend adding sugar or sweeteners White tea is one of the most delicate teas and should be enjoyed on its own.

How should I store white tea?

Store white tea in an airtight container in a cool place away from light, heat, and moisture. Do not store it in the refrigerator.

White tea in a cup

Bottom Line

Why not try something a little different, like white tea?

Although it is less well-known than other types of tea, such as green or black tea, white tea is gaining popularity due to its health benefits and unique taste.

If you are looking for a refreshing and healthy beverage that is both delicious and good for you then you'll want to brew up a cup of white tea.

Felipe is a tea expert with an engineering background! He loves to drink and learn all about tea and coffee. His love for tea was discovered while living in Japan and his favorites are Sencha & Pu'er!

This article is intended for informational purposes only. It is not meant to replace professional medical advice, treatment or diagnosis. Do not consume any type of coffee, tea or herbal infusion if you are allergic to it. The information in this article is not intended to treat serious medical conditions. Please seek professional medical advice before using home remedies.

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  2. Plant polyphenols as dietary antioxidants in human health and disease - PubMed (nih.gov)
  3. Inhibition effects of (+)-catechin-aldehyde polycondensates on proteinases causing proteolytic degradation of extracellular matrix - PubMed (nih.gov)
  4. Matrix metalloproteinase inhibition by green tea catechins - PubMed (nih.gov)
  5. Green Tea Polyphenols Inhibit Metalloproteinase Activities in the Skin, Muscle, and Blood of Rainbow Trout | Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (acs.org)
  6. Association of Tea Consumption with Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and Anti-Beta-Amyloid Effects of Tea - PMC
  7. Association of Tea Consumption with Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and Anti-Beta-Amyloid Effects of Tea - PMC
  8. White tea: A contributor to oral health - PMC
  9. Effects and Mechanisms of Tea Regulating Blood Pressure: Evidences and Promises - PMC (nih.gov)
  10. Tea and Cardiovascular Disease - PMC (nih.gov)
  11. Prevention of coronary heart disease and cancer by tea, a review - PubMed (nih.gov)
  12. Polyphenols: Benefits to the Cardiovascular System in Health and in Aging - PMC (nih.gov)
  13. https://www.nature.com/articles/0801101?utm_medium=affiliate&utm_source=commission_junction&utm_campaign=CONR_PF018_ECOM_GL_PHSS_ALWYS_DEEPLINK&utm_content=textlink&utm_term=PID100090071&CJEVENT=785ab9cbe5e511ed821700100a82b832
  14. Tea and bone health: steps forward in translational nutrition - PMC (nih.gov)
  15. Inhibitory effects of green tea polyphenol (-)-epigallocatechin gallate on the expression of matrix metalloproteinase-9 and on the formation of osteoclasts - PubMed (nih.gov)
  16. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3463305/
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