What is White Tea?
White tea may not have commanded the same global attention that both black tea and green tea are getting throughout these years. Truth be told, however, it edges past these major tea types (and any type of tea for that matter) as to the sheer number of antioxidants it harbors. In the tea world, it’s the king of antioxidants ━ with a matching price tag to send your heart racing.
Logically, it follows that if you want to make the most of the benefits of tea, making a conscious choice of choosing white tea is paramount.
Truth be told, millions all over the world favor the freshness of the unoxidized nature of green tea. What these tea buffs don’t know is that white tea is a lot fresher.
That may raise an eyebrow for you. But it’s rather simple actually. The secret to white tea’s superiority lies in the leaves used. Here, you’re looking at the youngest tea leaves processed in the market today, so young these are leaves picked before the buds have fully opened. As immature as these tea leaves are, they carry much fine white hair — hence the name. Mind you, white tea buds are handpicked to retain the best taste possible. All that allows white tea to hit the ball out of the ballpark when it comes to antioxidant power. That can only mean one thing for you: more antioxidants for your greater benefit.
But that’s not all. The choice of younger leaves and the meticulous processing means you have a tea that’s much softer and much more delicate in the flavor profile. For any tea connoisseur worth his name in salt, that indeed is priceless. Read on.
History of White Tea
Generally speaking, you really can’t put an exact timeline as to when white tea was first concocted in China. For one, we could be talking about thousands of years ago. Take note, however, that the written text that alludes to the exact date is scarce ━ if at all.
What’s more, this is confounded by the fact that there’s hardly an
international agreement as to what constitutes white tea. More often than not, however, most definitions agree on one thing: white tea is made up of unrolled and unoxidized young buds of the Camellia Sinensis plant and that such a concoction has a flavor that’s far lighter than most of the green teas available on the market today and of traditional black teas.
As per Chinese tradition, true white tea comes out as the least processed of all the tea types, being handpicked and air-dried without any other heat source whatsoever than the sun.
Plus, you can’t have just about any tea plant to get the job done. True white tea comes only from select cultivars of the tea plant. We’re talking about the Da Bai and the Da Hao Camellia Sinensis tea varieties from Fujian Province, specifically from Fuding County. You can’t mistake these two tea types as they’re very much alike. What sets them apart is the small, silvery-white hairs surrounding the young buds and leaves of the plant. It’s from the color of these hairs that white tea got its name.
Then there’s the “tea tax” origin of white tea. According to custom, Chinese citizens paid a yearly tribute to the emperors (between 600 BC and 1300 AD) in the form of fine, rare teas. It’s through this tradition when the finest tea in the land was offered to China’s rulers as claimed that white tea from the younger and most delicate tea buds emerged.
It is said imperial tea gardens were cultivated, often in secret, as an answer to these yearly tributes of long ago. Accordingly, poets of the times described such special teas as “white like the clouds, green like a dream, pure like snow, and as aromatic as an orchid.”
Some scholars point out white tea came to the fore in the last two centuries. As per record, white tea appeared in an English publication no later than in 1876. But it was then categorized as black tea as the leaves were not the steaming process so common to that of green tea.
In the Western market, white tea is often marketed as Silvery Tip Pekoe according to the tea leaf grading system. Usually, it is placed under the designation of Fujian White or China White.
White Tea General Information
To a large extent, Fujian plays a central role in the white tea we have today. The first commercially produced white tea came from the province in the 1700s, specifically from the Da Hao and Da Bai cultivars. These tea plants are notable for their beautiful larger-than-usual tea buds, prompting farmers to market a loose-leaf variety of white tea initially.
But there was a problem. Like the unoxidized green tea, white tea’s short shelf life made storage and transport a huge challenge. Indeed, it was an uphill climb. It’s no surprise then that for some time there, white tea circulated only in the Fujian Province and was rarely enjoyed outside that region of China.
Nevertheless, you really can’t keep something so good for yourself. True enough, better loose leaf production methods were discovered as time went by. As a result, the exquisite flavor of white tea spread outside the region giving tea buffs all over the world a better shot at health.
These days, white tea is being cultivated by a host of countries outside China. And as expected, their version of white tea is distinct from the original in more ways than one. Small wonder, you get a wide selection of white tea concoctions in the market today. Some of the most common are:
Know that some experts only consider those white tea from Camellia Sinensis Da Hao and Da Bai cultivars as the true white teas. These tea connoisseurs look up to China’s concocted white teas as the standard white teas.
Cultivation and Processing
Indeed, purists would insist that true white teas should come only from the Chinese big-leaf varieties of the tea shrub, the Da Hao and Da Bai cultivars. Their assertion is valid to a certain degree. However, as there is no global governing body that monitors such a stringent quality of tea, defining what constitutes true white tea can be a tall order. It’s like drawing a line in the sand.
Over time, many cultivars other than the ones prescribed in China are used to create white tea. It must be noted, however, that even when these non-Chinese white teas come from different variants of the tea shrub, the production method remains basically the same.
Right from the get-go, know that the creation of white tea doesn’t happen by chance. Thus, to produce a perfect white tea, care, and due diligence must be exercised. To get a consistent taste that’s exquisite to the palate yet filled to the brim with antioxidants, certain parameters need to be observed.
Typically, the tea plants hand-plucked for white tea are grown in high elevations of about 5000 to 6,500 feet (1524 to 1980 meters) above sea level. You can only imagine how tedious growing these plants are.
But it’s not for naught. These terrains are a challenge but they are perfect for growing the best tea on the planet surrounded by cool air and mountain fog that shields the plants from the sun. As a result, the tea plant grows slower, intensifying the aromatic compounds in the plant while reducing its inherent astringency. Even better, this encourages the formation of more concentrated plant nutrients in the plant’s young buds and newly grown leaves.
To get the most of these young buds/leaves, as little processing as possible is used. Usually, white tea processing involves no more than a two-step process: withering and drying.
High-grade white teas need to be sourced right. It’s essential. Thus, care must be undertaken that only the young unopened buds of the first leaves of a tea plant are used.
In addition, the state of the plant also matters. Plucking for the best white teas is only carried out during the best flush when the tea plant is at its prime.
Also, timing is everything. The pluckers must do the picking under temperate conditions during the first days of the flush. Needless to say, observing the right timing ensures only the best tea leaves are utilized.
Withering is a natural process that allows the leaves to wilt under specific conditions. To get it done, buds are spread out in withering pans right after plucking. Here, they are left to wilt for a period of 72 hours.
The wilting process is carried out to the letter, under controlled conditions. Nevertheless, many farmers observe a slightly different procedure. For instance, some choose to wilt the young leaves under the sun while others choose to do it in natural ambient conditions.
Sometimes, rolling is used to come up with more exquisite tastes. This is done by rolling the leaves by hand. For the most part, however, rolling is not used in processing white tea.
The long hours spent on withering ensures that much moisture out of the tea leaves.
However, to extend the shelf life of white tea, moisture must be held to the utmost minimum. To do that, buds/leaves are oven-dried at temperatures of 110°C. Alternatively, they’re fired. The goal is to bring down moisture content to as low as 1%.
White Tea: King of Antioxidants Health Benefits
The careful processing of white tea has made it the most precious of all tea types on the planet. For one, great care is observed during plucking so young immature buds are not fractured. Plus, not only are you getting the youngest uncurled buds/leaves but also you are limited by the number of buds/leaves you can take per tea shrub. On the other end of the spectrum, you can avail of more leaves to source from in a tea plant to make green tea or black tea.
Right from the onset, it must be understood that while processing for both green tea and white tea is minimal, white tea’s process is much gentler. Its goal is to come up with a purer product. And so, white tea is basically air-weathered then dried.
Many, in fact, call white tea a type of green tea. To some degree, it makes sense as both are minimally processed.
In general, white tea harbors the lowest caffeine content compared to every tea type on the planet. A regular-sized cup of white tea has around 15 to 20 milligrams of caffeine while green tea on the same cup would have about 35 to 70 milligrams. Black tea can go as high as 90 milligrams per serving. On the other side of the fence, a cup of brewed coffee can have as high as 140 milligrams per serving.
No doubt, both white tea and green tea top the charts in terms of antioxidants, nutrients and trace minerals. But as it’s a lot fresher and less processed, white tea rules supreme in the antioxidant and nutrient department. In this regard, it has a slight edge when we talk about health benefits.
Some of the essential health benefits of white tea are:
Filled to the Brim with Antioxidants
All the hard work spent on plucking and processing white tea has certainly paid off. It is filled to the brim with polyphenols dubbed as catechins.
Indeed, polyphenols are a treasure trove. Simply put, polyphenols are plant-based molecules that fight free radical damage in the body. As antioxidants, their protection comes down to the cell level giving you greater chances to be free from the clutches of disease. Many of the health woes experienced by man can be traced to free radical damage. For starters, we’re talking about chronic inflammation and a compromised immune system, even aging. Left to its own devices, free radical damage ultimately results in sickness. Fortunately, catechins in white tea can help contain this. One in-vitro study showed white tea extract is instrumental in protecting animal nerve cells against the onslaught of hydrogen peroxide, a free radical.
Help Protect Your Heart
Heart health is everyone’s concern. Heart complications alone claim more lives than any worldwide. Since the year 2000, deaths due to heart disease have risen from 2 million yearly to over 8 million in 2019, WHO data shows. And this sobering data holds true both in America and in the U.K. A deeper study shows chronic inflammation has a lot to do with heart disease. Some of the key factors that contribute to the complication include smoking and poor diet. This is where polyphenols in white tea can be of great help in reducing the risk of heart disease in more ways than one. To boot, a slew of studies show polyphenols can actively relax blood vessels, boosting immunity in the process.
Secondly, studies have shown polyphenols could counter the oxidation of “bad” LDL, another detrimental factor for the heart. What’s more, there are studies that point out the positive effect of tea on people. Those who drank at least 3 cups of tea daily lowered their heart disease risk by as much as 21%. Drinking white tea plus incorporating lifestyle changes should be paramount in keeping a healthy heart.
Help You Lose Weight
Green tea has taken the limelight when it comes to losing weight. But you should know that white tea contains the same group of antioxidants, if not more. So white tea can certainly hold its own to those flabs at bay. Take note that like green tea, white tea also harbors epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a most sought-after plant compound that has been linked to fat loss.
A recent in-vitro study pointed out that white tea extract helped stimulate fat breakdown while at the same time prevent new fat cells from forming. Even better, pundits detail white tea can boost metabolism by as much as 4 to 5%. In fat-burning, that would be equal to burning 70 to 100 calories daily.
Anti-bacterial Protection for Your Teeth
Right from the get-go, know that you get fluoride protection from drinking white tea. Plus, all those tannins and catechins can also help fight the damaging effects of sugar and bacteria in the molecules of your teeth.
Fluoride makes your teeth’ surface more resistant to the harmful acid attacks of bacteria in the mouth which binds with sugar. Take note that catechins in white tea can effectively inhibit the activity and growth of plaque in the mouth.
Helps Fight Cancer
Cancer is one of the most feared diseases all over the world. In the UK alone, over 367,000 new cases of cancer develop every year. That’s about 1,000 cases daily.
The good news is in vitro studies found out that white tea does have strong anti-cancer effects. One striking study shows how white tea extract was able to effectively trigger cell death in a number of lung cancer cases.
Even better, more studies have shown how white tea can positively impact colon cancer cells. It revealed that white tea extract was able to suppress the growth and proliferation of colon cancer cells. Moreover, said antioxidants in white tea protect healthy cells of the body from getting damaged from harmful cancer cells.
Helps Lower the Risk of Insulin Resistance
Insulin in the body serves a vital purpose. It is essential in moving nutrients in the bloodstream and storing them for later use as energy. But due to certain complications, top of which is high sugar consumption, people inhibit such useful insulin responses. In the process, their body looks for alternative sources of energy in your body. The condition is called insulin resistance.
You may not be very familiar with insulin resistance but it’s highly likely, you’ve heard it dangerous results in the body. Top of this list is type-2 diabetes and heart disease.
What’s amazing is polyphenols such as those found in white tea may effectively lower the risk of insulin resistance. Studies done on animals reveal that these polyphenols coupled with EGCG can help enhance the work of insulin and effectively prevent the formation of high blood sugar levels.
As many as 17 studies looking into 1,100 patients also revealed that active molecules in teas can lower insulin and blood sugar levels
Helps Fight Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is one negative effect of aging. It occurs when the bones weaken and become porous and hollow. As the bones become brittle, life can become really tough. Even simple daily activities such as picking things up and bending over can cause your bones to fracture. Sadly, 44 million Americans over aged 50 and above are affected by osteoporosis.
Fortunately, catechins that flourish in white tea can help fight the risk factors associated with osteoporosis. Specifically, it counters the damaging work brought about by chronic inflammation and free radicals, two major factors that hasten up osteoporosis. It’s important to note that these essential catechins are more abundant in white tea than in any other tea on the market these days.
Help Combat Skin Aging
Skin aging is caused by two factors, internal aging and external aging. External aging is caused by external factors such as UV damage from the sun while internal aging is the body’s natural aging process.
The good news is both internal and external aging can be helped by white tea. To boot, experts discovered that applying white tea
extract on our skin can help protect us from the harmful damage of the sun’s UV rays.
Plus, the polyphenols in white tea can also cause internal damage by suppressing cellular components that sabotage the fiber network of the skin. In the long run, these active compounds are instrumental in keeping the skin firm and tight.
Help Boost Protection against Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
Help Boost Protection against Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Active compounds found in white tea, specifically EGCG polyphenol, may help lower the risk of degenerative diseases particularly Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
In vitro animal studies reveal that ECGC in white tea can counter free radical damage, not to mention reduce inflammation. Both of these are two major factors that help reduce the risk for both health anomalies.
A host of test-tube studies revealed that ECGC is effective in the prevention of the untimely folding and clumping together of the body’s proteins. To note, both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s show abnormal protein activity.
A Taste Like No Other
As it comes from the young buds/leaves of the Camellia Sinensis shrub, white tea has the most delicate of flavors of all tea types. It’s slightly sweet to the palate. It’s easy to taste the ‘grassy feel’ of green tea which usually borders on being astringent. But white tea is a class of its own. It doesn’t harbor such issues
And as subtle and light as white tea is, it’s no accident many tea buffs drink it all throughout the day. Its light taste will expose a wide variety of fruity and floral blends. More often than not, white tea will please you. Every time you sip on a cup, you’re bound to enjoy a feast of these fruits and floral ingredients which could include:
● Lavender ● Grape ● Dew ● Honey ● Apricot
Over the years, white tea has become a perfect pair for a long line of foods. Even better, tea is a spot-on compliment to any dessert. Put in the mix all the health benefits it puts on the table and you know your tea experience won’t be complete without a cup of white tea in your hand.