Green and Black teas are the two most well known true teas but there is another variety quickly gaining popularity in the West – White tea. It is called White tea because of the fine white hair that covers the buds – it is harvested before the leaves fully open. It doesn’t have the “grassy” taste many green teas have but is usually described as having a light and sweet flavor. It also doesn’t have as much caffeine as its Green or Black counterparts at 15 mg per serving (Black has 40, Green has 20). Because it is so new, is a specialty tea, and so much less is produced White tea can get rather expensive. That being said, there are many different varieties available in many different price ranges. Previously it was only available for purchase from specialty stores or online, but it is increasingly available in your local grocery store.
Both the leaves and the processing make this tea special.
White tea undergoes similar processing as Green tea. After harvesting, it is withered, steamed, and dried. This means that no fermentation occurs (fermentation doesn’t refer to actual fermentation but to the chemical changes that occur). What makes it so different is the tea itself. White tea (like the Snapple commercial shows) is made from buds that are harvested before the leaf fully opens – “a baby tea leaf…that’s it”. This results in the light, non-grassy, sweet flavor White tea is known for.
To best enjoy your cup of White tea – that you might have paid dearly for – make sure the water is less than boiling before you steep it. Like Green tea, the leaves are less processed than Black tea and so the leaves are much more delicate. The temperature doesn’t need to be as low as it is for Green tea though. 170-185 degrees is best. Basically, bring water to a boil and then let it sit for about a minute before pouring the water over the leaves. White tea is less dense than other teas; you might want to add more leaves than you normally would. However, this is completely up to taste.
Unlike Green tea, you can steep this tea as long as you like! Five to eight minutes is a good rule of thumb, although many specialty brands recommend as much as fifteen minutes. Again, this is to taste.
Finally, it is again similar to Green tea in that it is traditionally drank without milk or sugar added. One reason is that it is naturally sweeter tasting. It is also often blended with various herbs and flowers which typically are not taken with milk. Guess what…it’s up to you!
White tea shares many of the same health benefits as Green and Black tea. It is considered more potent by many as the tea leaves are so young when picked and are so unprocessed. This increased potency is due to a higher level of anti-oxidants including polyphenols. Antioxidants are substances that neutralize free-radicals which are naturally and environmentally occurring compounds which damage, alter, and even destroy cells. They are thought to contribute to the growth of cancer, the aging process, and skin damage.
White tea is thought to be beneficial in weight control. An isolated compound has been shown to actually break down fat cells, but it is not known if drinking White tea produces the same effect. That being said, drinking White tea (as well as Green or Puer) has often been suggested as part of a weight loss regimen.
A recent study suggested that White tea was more efficient in prevent cancer and slowing progression than Green tea. This is because it is thought to hinder the DNA mutations and destruction caused by free-radicals. Colon cancer prevention studies have shown particular promise. A study by Gayle A Orner, PhD at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University showed that White tea (and Green as well) has been associated with a lower development of tumors in mice. Mice given nothing had about thirty tumors, whereas those that consumed White tea developed thirteen. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (now you know what NSAIDs are) and aspirin were also tested. Although they had similar benefits they also have serious side effects, such as bleeding and ulcers. The study recommended three mugs of tea daily.
Finally, White tea is also thought to be beneficial in preventing skin damage and even healing existing damage. There are many tea skin products available on the market today – and they might actually be worth the money. Tea has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties which can help in skin care. There are not many studies to back this up yet, but as its popularity increases there are sure to be studies done.