White tea 101: Beginner’s Guide
Green tea and black tea are very popular, yet we don’t even know the world of tea much. What’s even white tea? Tea is deep and great quality tea is sincerely refined and tasteful. Let’s dig into the world of tea – white tea 101.
Table of Contents
Definitions of “True Teas”
Not all the tea we know is true tea. Let’s clarify the difference between true teas and herbal teas.
“True teas” are made using leaves from the tea plant known as Camellia sinensis. Teas made from any other plants are not technically true teas.
5 types of true teas
In fact, herbal teas aren’t actually real teas. Instead, herbal teas are infusions. They are made either from steeping spices, herbs, and roots in hot water. These ingredients can also be combined with true teas at which point they’re known as flavored teas.
What makes it white tea?
All the tea originate from the same exact plant species – Camellia Sinensis. In China, white tea is defined by the plant sub-species it is derived from viz. Camellia sinensis var. Khenge Bai Hao and Camellia sinensis var. Fudin Bai Hao. These plant species are only found in Fujian province of China and traditional methods of tea processing are followed to produce these whites.
In other tea-growing regions white tea is defined by the style of plucking. The ‘imperial pluck’ refers to the bud and first leaf of the plant, and some white tea is made using this pluck withered under the sun.
White tea is one of the most delicate tea varieties because it is so minimally processed and low oxidation. White tea is made from the young buds (still covered by fine “white” hairs) and unfurled leaves from the newest growth on the tea plant.
The leaves are handpicked then quickly and meticulously dried, so they are not allowed to oxidize (be exposed to oxygen) as long as leaves plucked for green or black tea production.
White tea origins
White tea was first made in the Fujian province of China in the early 16th century from the unopened buds of Camellia sinensis var. Khengo Bai Hao and Camellia sinensis var. Fuding Bai Hao plants. However, over the last few years, many tea growing regions of the world have started producing white teas using local tea cultivars that are strikingly different from those grown in China.
Where to produce
- China – all white teas are produced in the Fujian province.
- Sri Lanka
White tea processing
White tea varieties
All the tea originate from the same exact plant species – Camellia sinensis.
How white tea is made
The plants that are plucked for making white tea are typically grown at a very high elevation (usually 5000-6500 ft above median sea level). The rigors of such a terrain and the cold air surrounding it intensifies the aromatic compounds within the plant, most of which exist in the concentrated form within the young buds and new leaves.
To extract flavors from such buds/young leaves, very little processing is required and white tea is the least processed – no pan firing, no rolling. Tea leaves and buds from the Camellia Sinensis plant are harvested, steamed or fried to stop the oxidation process. Then the leaves are dried outdoors immediately in natural sunlight.
- In some cases, as with silver tip and silver needle teas, white tea is harvested from the very first tips and buds of the tea plant, before they open to form full leaves.
- Other white teas, like White Peony, are harvested after the leaves unfurl and grow.
In both cases, white teas experience minimal amounts of oxidation. Since the leaves are not shaped by rolling the finished product tends to be quite bulky, but because they are not pan-fired there will be some incidental oxidation. White tea can be aged, too.
Flavors & Colors
White tea is one of the more mild true teas when it comes to flavor: delicate, subtle, floral, fruity, naturally sweet and rounded with a crisp, clean finish. As a result, white tea is a universally good choice for tea drinkers.
It is a light yellow tea though some varieties can have hints of green as well.
Buying and storing white tea
Buy tea from a reputable company that can tell you when and how the tea was processed and packaged. And ask your tea purveyor for directions on how to brew the particular tea variety.
White tea is very delicate, and the freshness of the tea can remain its best for up to 11-12 months if stored properly.
- Store your white tea in an airtight container. If you leave your white tea out in the open, it will ‘breathe’ absorbing oxygen and the quality of the tea declines.
- Store your white tea in a relatively cool (20 to 25°C or 68 to 77°F), dark place. Heat and light can make certain enzymes in white tea which then begin the deterioration process of the tea.
- Don’t keep it in the fridge or freeze it, either.
- Avoid moisture by keeping your white tea in an airtight container that is either made of steel, aluminum or glass (opaque, not transparent, or even translucent to avoid light).
- Avoid storing your fresh white tea in a container that already had another food item such as coffee or cinnamon powder stored in it. Doing so will most certainly infuse the flavor of the previously stored food item into your white tea, which will ruin the flavor of your tea.
Preparing white tea
General tea brewing tips
- In order to brew 1 cup of white tea, bring a cup of water to a boil at about 80-85 C (176-185 F)
- Let it sit for 2-4 minutes
- Place 1-2 tsp of white tea leaves into a tea infuser basket or a tea ball, then pour the hot water over the tea
- Steep the tea for about 4-6 minutes, then strain it and pour it into a tea cup
High-quality white tea leaves can be brewed again, up to 3 times, without any deterioration in the quality of the flavor, color, or fragrance of the tea.
The common types of white tea
- Silver Needle (Bai Hao Yin Zhen): Prized delicate, woodsy, floral, sweet golden tea made from small silver buds only (very rare) and mainly produced in China’s Fujian Province.
- Bai Mu Dan (White Peony): a slightly stronger flavor than Silver Needle thanks to the inclusion of young leaves as well as buds. Full-bodied, floral, and pale green-hued tea made from the buds and top two leaves of a young plant shoot.
- Gong Mei (Tribute Eyebrow): derived from more mature leaves and has a richer, earthier flavor than most other styles of white tea. Mid-grade white tea grown in China’s Guangxi and Fujian Provinces.
- Shou Mei (Long Life Eyebrow): derived from more mature leaves and undergoes a longer oxidation process than other types of white tea. Strong golden-yellow tea from China’s Guangxi and Fujian Provinces made from the low-quality leaves leftover from previous harvests.
- Darjeeling White: grown at altitudes up to 2000 meters in Darjeeling, India, and is usually less expensive than white teas grown in Yunnan. The leaves are fluffy and light – an airy aroma and a mellow flavor with notes of sweetness. They are generally in pale gold color.
- Ceylon White: produced in Sri Lanka, India. This is made from the longest silver tea buds that are at least 25 mm in length and is considered rare. Ceylon white is light and has a fruity flavour that features hints of honey.
- Imperial Himalayan White tea: named after the Himalayan mountains in India, they are cultivated in the Himalayan high altitude tea estates and produced during the autumn harvest. These teas tend to have a strong fruity note.
- African White: also known as Malawi, the most popular African tea made from tea twigs and stems. It has a distinct grassy flavor with hints of honey but is more potent than classic white tea.
Caffeine content in white tea
White tea is generally thought to be lower in caffeine than green or black tea, although some silver tip teas may be slightly higher in caffeine.
Benefits of white tea
- help you lose weight
White teas have similar levels of caffeine and catechins like epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) linked to burning fat and boosting metabolism. Together, these compounds seem to have a synergistic effect.
- help fight against cancer
White tea extract suppresses the growth of colon cancer cells and stops them from spreading. The antioxidants in white tea extract also protected normal cells from damage by harmful molecules.
- help support the body’s response to inflammation
Because it’s minimally processed, white tea has the highest levels of antioxidants. White tea is loaded with a type of polyphenols called catechins reducing inflammation.
- lower the risk of insulin resistance
Insulin resistance is a harmful condition linked to many chronic diseases. Studies showed that polyphenols like those found in white tea may lower the risk of insulin resistance and improve blood sugar control.
- help against skin aging
The compounds in white tea may help protect your skin from the effects of both internal and external aging.
- help support dental health
It contains fluoride, catechins, and tannins. Fluoride is known to support teeth strength, while catechins and tannins may support the management of plaque bacteria in the mouth.
- help support brain health
EGCG found in white tea, has been linked with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. EGCG may help fight inflammation and prevent proteins from clumping and damaging nerves, two conditions linked with these disorders.
- reduces the risk of heart issues
White tea contains ‘Polyphenols’ to help relax the blood vessels – leading to reduced strain on the heart while pumping the blood, and therefore longevity in the good health of the heart. Polyphenols can prevent the ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) from oxidation, which causes risk and adds to our heart issues.
Conclusion: You might have not known the existence of white tea - till now. Try it and expand the horizon of the amazing tea world!
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