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What is white tea?
White tea is about as natural and delicate as tea can get. This unique, minimally processed variety of tea is made from the fresh, half-closed leaves and young buds of the tea plant Camellia Sinensis. Produced primarily in China (where its history of consumption dates back to the Tang Dynasty), it is also grown in the mountainous regions of India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. Cool, misty weather conditions in these high-elevation growing areas favor the cultivation of white tea.
Why is it “white”?
White tea gets its name from the fine silvery-white hairs that cover its young tea buds when they are harvested. But the ‘color’ of your tea is also an indicator of the level of oxidation it has gone through. Though all tea types originate from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis, their production methods (and by extension, their flavors) are quite different from each other. The longer the tea is oxidized, the darker it gets. Black teas, the darkest of them all, represent one end of the oxidation spectrum. Green teas and oolongs have low to moderate oxidation levels and are lighter as a result. White tea, on the other hand, goes through very little processing, if at all. For white tea production, the tea leaves are just naturally dried in the sun.
Types of white tea
There are two traditional types of white tea – Silver Needle and White Peony.
- Silver Needle (Baihao Yinzhen), the finest variety of white tea out there, is native to China’s Fujian Province. It gets its name from the fine ‘silver’ hairs that cover its young buds. Silver Needle is made solely of delicate tea buds, which are generally handpicked. The first flush (the early spring harvest) yields the most delicate and sought-after Silver Needle white tea.
- White Peony (Bai Mudan), a relatively newer variety of white tea, consists of a mix of young tea buds and half-closed tea leaves. It produces a slightly fuller body and stronger flavor as compared to Silver Needle white tea.
New exotic and very special white teas from high altitude regions of Darjeeling in India are just starting to make their appearance.
High-quality white tea is usually “sweet and floral”. By comparison, lower grades can be “darker” and have a “smoky and woody flavor”. Regular white tea drinkers describe its taste as “lovely, lingering, delicate and floral”, and often find it “lighter, milder and more refreshing than green tea”. It can be brewed into a hot cuppa if you’re looking to “wind down after a long day”, or whipped up into a tall glass of iced tea for a “quick energy boost” in summer.
So little processing, so many health benefits
According to holistic medicine, all teas are rich in antioxidants. However, not all antioxidants are alike; each type has its own set of potential benefits. Antioxidants in Silver Needle white tea (catechins, in particular) are believed to have the ability to metabolize fat and regulate blood sugar. This makes the tea detoxing, slimming and cleansing in nature. In other words, it’ll serve you well if you’re looking for the health benefits of green tea but dislike its strong flavor. Many tea drinkers consider White Peony to be as rich in antioxidants as Silver Needle. In the holistic medicine community, it is believed to improve circulation by reducing unhealthy levels of cholesterol and preventing the formation of blood clots.
Caffeine content in white tea
There are quite a few misconceptions surrounding the caffeine content of tea. The relation between the ‘color’ of your tea and its caffeine levels is one of them. Contrary to popular belief, the caffeine levels in a specific type of tea have nothing to do with its color. White tea, being made of young tea leaves, actually has a fairly high caffeine content. Like other teas sourced from the Camellia Sinensis plant, it also contains L-theanine. Together, caffeine and L-theanine are believed to boost alertness and learning capabilities. Just what you need to get through those dreaded pre-test study sessions!
- If you’re new to white tea, and have a preference for strong teas or coffee, white tea might initially strike you as ‘bland’ or lacking in taste. However, there are countless varieties out there, many of them featuring floral infusions, fruit extracts or spices to add depth to the flavor and complement its basic notes. Try them out!
- When correctly brewed, white tea should have a warm, pale golden color. Re-steeping the tea usually takes away its delicate flavor and is thus not recommended.
- Enjoy your white tea as a soothing hot brew or a refreshing iced drink; it works well in both cases!