Last Updated on 01/30/2021 by Desmond
Since Starbucks promoted white tea bags and related drink-products, white tea getting known by more and more people. Many tea lovers tasted them and feel disappointed, and they said it’s very far from the authentic white tea flavor. What is authentic white tea? And what is it different from green or black tea? Let’s understand this charming leaf from China thoroughly.
Tea originated in China, green tea is recognized as the earliest tea. Even though white tea in the record appears later, some people thought that white tea might be the earliest one due to its processing method.
White tea got the most simple processing in all types of teas, and this is the standard to distinguish it from other teas; It only been through withering and drying. When humans found tea initially, they would not process the leaves in a complicated way like nowadays. Most probably, they just to have it by a chew or cooking way. In this situation, leaves have only been lightly oxidated, just the same as white tea processing.
According to the literature review, modern white tea was born in the reign of Emperor Qianlong 37 to 47 of the Qing Dynasty(1772-1782) found by a tea master named Xiao. Fujian is the birthplace and still be tea primary producing region of white tea now. In the most beginning, the tea master produced white tea from the leaves of Xiaobai variety Camellia Sinensis. Later they found that the leaves from Dabai and Narcissus variety are better, which became the primary source leaves of white tea now.
Dabai Tea trees’ buds and the back of leaves are full of tiny white fuzz, which are the primary source of white tea flavor. People called these fuzz Hao and the aroma after brewed as Hao Aroma. These Hao are rich in amino acids, let white tea got a fresh mouthfeel and lightly sweet taste.
Related Reading: What Is The Fuzz On White Tea.
White tea hasn’t been fixation and rolling steps during processing(they will break the leaves physically), so almost all the fuzz are retained. That also makes white tea leaves look like cover with a layer of snow, which is how the name comes.
Although the processing degree is low, white tea hasn’t stopped oxidizing by fixating like green tea. During the storage, white tea can also keep on fermenting and get a new better flavor by transforming the internal ingredients. Typically, people call this process aging. White tea that has been aging over 3 years is also called aged white tea.
Traditional white tea produced in Fujian, China; Fuding and Zhenghe are both the primary regions. These two places are close, but the different environment makes a different flavor of white tea.
Except for Fuding and Zhenghe, Yunnan, India, and Sri Lanka also produce white tea. But their flavor is much different from the traditional one because they are from another Camellia Sinensis variety. Many white tea lovers do not admit they are authentic.
Fuding. It is located in the east-north of Fujian, in front of the mountain, and faces the sea, mild climate. The tea plantations are mostly built at 500-100 meters altitude high. White tea produced from Fuding has a thin and long bud, full of fuzz, show a grey-green.
Zhenghe. It is located in the north of Fujian, most of it is hilly, the tea plantations are built at 400-1300 meters altitude high. Although it doesn’t as famous as Fuding, the high-land white tea produced from the mountain over 1000 meters high got a top-grade flavor. Zhenghe white tea’s bud is fat and flat, full of fuzz, and whiter.
Yunnan. Yunnan primarily produces Pu-erh tea; the local tea masters also produce moonlight white tea with the leaves from the large-leaf tea tree. This type of white tea got a strong flavor, shows a black-white strange look.
India and Sri Lanka. The white tea produced in India and Sri Lanka is also made from the large-leaf type tea tree. Thanks to the higher altitude cultivate environment, and they got a much stronger flavor. But white tea is not the primary product here(black tea is), so the yield is low and with a high price.
White tea got the lowest processing degree in all types of teas, only has been withering and drying; that makes most of the natural ingredients in the leaves are retained. Even though the job is less, every step during processing should take much care; it’s a challenging test for the tea masters.
Typically, tea masters will grade the leaves’ quality according to the picking time and the part they grew on the branch, then further process in different types of white teas.
- Baihao Yinzhen(Silver Needle Tea.) Only made from the tenderest buds in the year;
- White Peony(Bai Mu Dan.) Made with one bud and the first or to the second leaf;
- Shou Mei(Gong Mei.) Made with the one bud and to the fourth or to the fifth leaf;
Spring is the best season for tea picking. Tea farmers will pick the tenderest buds before Qing Ming(a Chinese Solar Term, 4th April) to produce into Baihao Yinzhen. The time is short, only about a dozen days.
Then the tea farmers will pick again before Guyu(a Chinese Solar Term, 20th April.) At this time, most of the buds have grown into the first leaf or the second; the new buds also grow again. Tea farmers will pick them all and for producing white peony tea.
And the following seasons, the leaves on tea plants have matured. They are for producing Shoumei tea.
Due to the time for picking is very limited, the white tea year yield is low—especially the high-quality spring white tea, they usually got a high price.
During picking, tea farmers need to take it very carefully. Once the leaves break, it will let the fermented speed up(in oolong tea processing, tea masters will do that deliberately) and affect the next picking.
After picking, the leaves will be placed on a big bamboo sieve for the withering job. Withering is for letting the leaves get a certain extend fermented and reduce the water content down to about 25%. Besides, withering also can remove the grassy smell.
Withering will cost about 2 or 3 days. Traditionally, white tea will be withering outdoor, which is called sun-drying, and it’s hard. Senior tea masters have to do some related operates in time according to the weather and the fermented degree, avoiding the leaves damp by rain or fermenting too deep.
Nowadays, white tea typically is withering indoor. The temperature in the withering workshop will be controlled at about 22-27℃, 67-75% humidity. Compare with sun-drying, withering indoor will not be affected by the weather, got a larger yield, and cost much less time. Different withering ways will also make different white tea flavor; some tea factories even wither the leaves in both ways.
After withering, tea masters will dry the leaves with a machine, further reduce their water content. The standard stipulates the white tea water content must under 8.5%. In fact, most of the time it will be much lower, about 5%. These rough tea will be sent to further processing like screen, blend, compress, and package.
White Tea Nutrition Ingredients
Simple processing makes white tea much close to the original natural state and retains more natural nutrition ingredients. Including:
Tea polyphenol is the generic term of the tea leaves’ polyphenols, also the primary source of tea benefits. Tea polyphenols will transform into other nutrition ingredients during the leaves’ fermenting. The deeper it ferment, the darker color it gets, and the more polyphenols transform.
The total amount of tea polyphenols in tea mainly depend on which part the leaves pick. White tea typically made from tea tenderest buds and leaves, plus the low-degree processing, makes it contains more tea polyphenols than others, just second to the non-fermented green tea.
Related Reading: What Are Tea Polyphenols & 8 Excellent Benefits.
White tea is true tea, so it contains caffeine natively. The tenderer the part of the tea tree, the more caffeine it contains. White tea is primarily made from tender leaves, exclude other factors, it got more caffeine than other teas.
During withering, by enhancing enzymatic activity, the protein in leaves will be hydrolyzed, transforming into amino acid. That brings a full fresh taste and sweetness.
In the middle and later periods of withering, most polyphenols in leaves redox and lost the balance, ortho quinone will increase. It will take a synergistic effect with amino acids to create the white tea flavor and aroma.
Tea polysaccharide belongs to a kind of acidic proteins, a compound of saccharides, pectin, and proteins, and combined with lots of mineral elements. It’s a great nutrient of white tea, with excellent help on manage diabetes. Besides, most tea polysaccharides are contained in the tea stems, so the old leaves and aged white tea have more.
The flavonoids in white tea are the part of tea polyphenols, mainly are catechins and tea pigment, which affect the infusion color and benefits.
During white tea storage, some polyphenols will be transformed into flavonoids. So the aged white tea contains more than the new one. The longer it be stored, the more flavonoids and benefits it will get.
White tea has the lowest processing degree; vitamins and carotene, which are easily broken by heat, are retained. Include vitamin C, B1, B2, B11, E, and K. These vitamins can supplement the lack of vitamins in the diet and have various health benefits on the human body.
What Is White Tea Good For
Tea is a recognized health drink. And, white tea is the closest to the original state, consistent with the healthy idea that modern people advocate a natural diet. According to researches, put white tea in your daily diet can get the following benefits:
White tea contains fluoride and tea polyphenols. Fluoride can protect the teeth effectively and inhibits dental plaque. Tea polyphenols have an excellent anti-inflammatory ability, reduce the rate of getting an oral inflammation. Now many oral care products like toothpaste and mouthwash also take the white tea extract as one ingredient.
Reduce Blood Pressure
The flavonoids, caffeine, and vitamins are richly contained in white tea. Under their synergistic effect, the blood’s cholesterol concentration will be reduced, and the lipid accumulates less on the vascular wall. That dilated the blood vessels and makes the blood flow more smoothly, thus reach a normal and stable blood pressure, which is helpful to Hypertension treatment.
Protect Your Heart
Cardiovascular disease(CVD) is mostly caused because of inflammation and atherosis. Tea polyphenols in white tea have anti-inflammation and antioxidant effects, effectively reducing myocarditis and myocardial infarction.
Many studies show that a man who has a long-term tea diet got a much lower rate of getting CVD. Besides, having tea also helps with weight loss; it favors reducing the CVD risk.
Tea polysaccharides play an important role in diabetes management. Studies showed that tea polyphenols could inhibit amylase and sucrase activity, thereby preventing the blood sugar from increasing. Tea polysaccharides can enhance insulin secretion, help fix blood sugar metabolism disturbance, and reduce its content in the blood.
White tea is rich in tea polysaccharides, especially the aged ones. Many Chinese patients also took white tea as an assist in the diabetes treatment.
Scientists keep studying tea’s anti-cancer effect all the time. The rich tea polyphenols in white tea have a significant antioxidant ability, removing the excessive free-radicals in the body, thereby inhibiting abnormal cell proliferation and canceration.
Although it can’t prove that tea can cure cancer, many studies showed that tea helps prevent cancer and adjuvant therapy; it got a promising potential.
The catechins in white tea also a kind of tea polyphenols, an awesome natural antioxidant. It can fix the oxidative damage of skin caused by external influence(like UV) and reduce the risk of inflammation. Through enhancing the skin cells’ activity to slow the aging speed and remove the winkle. Many skin-care products also take white tea extract as the main ingredients.
As we age, the bone substance will get lost gradually and lead to osteoporosis. Studies showed that catechin could prevent this situation, promote bone cell growth, and inhibit osteoclasts’ formation. The rich minerals in white tea also can help supplement the lost bone substance.
White tea also got an awesome weight loss benefit. Studies showed that under the catechin and caffeine synergistic can effectively burn fat. Caffeine also can stimulate the intestines and stomach, promote gastric juice secretion and help digestion.
Besides, the flavonoids in white tea can improve cholesterol metabolism, lower their content in the blood, and reduce lipid accumulation in the body.
Potential Side Effects
For the caffeine reason, white tea inevitably has some side effects; the most common is insomnia.
USDA and EFSA both define the safe caffeine intake per day as less than 400 mg, single time intake not more than 200 mg. Even though most tea products will note the caffeine content on the package, in fact, many factors influence the caffeine in your cup; you can know more about that here.
Except for avoiding having white tea before bed, pregnant women and people who during medications also not recommended having it.
White Tea Types
Baihao Yinzhen is regarded as the highest grade white tea because it is only made from the tenderest buds. The buds are full of tiny white fuzz that makes it look like silver needles. One interesting thing is when you brew it with a glass cup, and these buds will suspend standing in the water, like a beautiful picture.
It got a flower name, but it is not a herbal tea but white tea. Compare with Baihao Yinzhen, white peony tea also has one or two leaves with the bud, sometimes with stems. The flavor of white peony tea typically stronger and with a rich floral aroma.
Shoumei tea is made from the leaves picking later than the white peony tea, one bud with the fourth or the fifth leaf, and little more stems. Many of the times, Shoumei tea is regarded as the lowest grade, but it’s not right. Every type of white tea got its own flavor; the maturer taste of Shoumei may be more suitable for some people. And due to the larger yield, it got a reasonable price and usually is regarded as the best entry-level white tea.
Moonlight white tea is made from the Yunnan large-leaf type Camellia Sinensis. Its leaf’ backside is covered by the white fuzz, the white-black looks like the moon in the night. Even though it has been through the same processing as white tea, the moonlight white tea flavor is totally different from the traditional ones. So tea lovers always arguing whether it belongs to white tea.
Just like dark tea, white tea can also get a new better flavor by long-term storage, so-called aging.
There is a large difference between aged white tea and the fresh one on the aroma, mouthfeel, and even benefits. Because the nutrients and aromatic substance in white tea will be transformed. The longer it is stored, the more the unique nutrients of aged white tea it gets. After years-long aging, the aged white tea will be at an unbelievable price and get a collection value like dark tea.
But the white tea aging way is largely different from the dark tea. Take Anhua Dark Tea as an example; its aging very relies on the microorganisms’ help, so during storage, it needs enough air circulation to keep the microorganisms alive. And white tea’s aging is more from the transformation of the internal ingredients, and a sealed environment will be more suitable.
Most of the white teas are sold in a compressed tea style. Compare with the loose-leaf, tea cakes will be more convenient on storage because the surface area is less to absorb the water in the air. Before aging white tea, you should check the water content of it first. Take some leaves and pinch them with your fingers; they will be broke into powder if dry enough. If just be curly but not break, that may mean it is not dry enough or already be damped and no longer fit for long-time storage.
The white tea storage method is simple. Several points need to pay attention to on the environment; it needs to be dark, dry enough(lower 45% air humidity,) and cool(lower than 25℃.)
There are some white tea products with a small individual package. You just need to pack it with a non-smell cardboard box, then put it in a proper place. And, to the loose-leaf or tea cakes, you should pack them with a non-smell aluminum foil sealed bag, then to the cardboard box; it’s better to seal the box with tape later.
Some people may store the white tea in a fridge directly; it’s a bad idea. The dry leaves can easily absorb the water from the air and the smell from other food in the fridge. It will be a huge side effect to the white tea flavor; even let it go bad.
How To Make White Tea
White tea should be brewed according to the specific type. When we are making other types of tea, we usually pour the first brewed away as wastewater. But to white tea, its flavor mostly from the fuzz on leaves, especially the tender buds like Baihao Yinzhen, which is full of fuzz. So when we are going to make the new white tea, to pour away the first brewed looks like a little waste.
And to the aged white tea, most of the fuzz on leaves had fallen; if you mind the sanitation problem, you can pour the first brewed away.
The new white tea can be brewed directly in an ordinary way:
- Pre-heat the teawares. Glass teaware and porcelains are fit for white tea;
- Take moderate leaves, put them into a Gaiwan;
- Add 80-90℃ water in, cover, and steep for about 10 seconds;
- Pour the infusion into a fair cup to equal the concentration;
To the aged white tea, cooking will be a better brewing way:
- Prepare a teapot that can be heated directly, like the cast iron one;
- Add water to 3/5, heating;
- Put the leaves in before the water going to boil, cooking for about 2 minutes;
- Serve the infusion into the teacups, but not to pour all it out;
- Refill water, heat to boiling again. Take 1 more minute on every round;
- To the new white tea, after you brewed it 3 times,
- you can also transfer it from the Gaiwan to the teapot for cooking;