White tea is not as popular in the United Kingdom as black, green, and even matcha tea. It’s one of the least appreciated teas, but it’s popularity seems to be on the rise as more tea drinkers discover the unique taste of this fresh, flavourful, and healthy tea.
What is White Tea?
White tea is harvested from the Camellia sinensis plant, the same place we get black, green, oolong, matcha, and Pu’er tea. The processing methods are what provide these teas with their own unique colour and flavour, and as white tea undergoes the least amount of processing, it is often said to be the purest type of tea.
Most white tea comes from China, from the Fujian province in particular. It is harvested in the spring when the buds are young before being gently dried. It does not undergo oxidation like oolong and there is no fermentation like Pu’er, and this produces a lighter colour and a fresher taste.
White tea is often consumed without milk, and just like other types of tea, its taste can differ significantly depending on the variety.
The Benefits of White Tea
All types of tea contain antioxidants known as catechins, and these are at their highest in white and green tea. (1) They are said to be responsible for many of the purported benefits of tea, including immune support and disease prevention.
Other potential health benefits of white tea include:
- May Reduce Risk of Heart Disease: The anti-inflammatory properties come into play here as well, as chronic inflammation is a known contributor to heart disease. Studies have also shown a more direct benefit, suggesting that plant polyphenols like those found in tea can improve heart health. (3)
- May Help Fight Cancer: The Big C makes an appearance in most tea and plant discussions, because a diet rich in antioxidants is thought to reduce the risk of many forms of cancer. Such is the case with white tea, with one study suggesting that it had more direct anticarcinogenic and antimutagenic properties after extracts were shown to cause the death of lung cancer cells under controlled conditions. (4)
- May Prolong Lifespan: Consumption of plant polyphenols is thought to be one of the main reasons people in the Mediterranean live longer. They consume large amounts of fresh vegetables and fruit, as well as herbs and Greek mountain tea, thereby getting their fair share of these healthy compounds. These compounds are not confined to tea, or even herbs, but white tea, green tea, and herbal tea contain significant quantities of them.
White Tea and Weight Loss
Green and white tea extracts are often added to weight-loss pills, and we have been outspoken on the ineffectiveness and overselling of these in the past. But there may be something to them. Some studies suggest there is an increased fat oxidation with green and white tea consumption, and it’s from these studies that many nutritionists extract the claim that white tea can significantly increase the metabolism and burn hundreds more calories a day at rest. (5)
This is simply not true. Even if you focus only on the positive studies, the results have been slight at best, accounting for an extra 50 to 100 calories in the average person. But even then, there are issues, as just as many studies show no marked improvements in metabolisation or weight loss.
We’re inclined to err on the positive side, as a lot of positive studies regarding white tea’s catechin content have been completed, and we also know that even small amounts of caffeine can increase the metabolism. Also, if you drink the tea in its natural form and don’t take it as an extract, there is no risk of abuse or side effects and you can also reap the many other benefits of white tea.
You might lose weight, you might not, but at least you’ll benefit in other ways while you try. It’s a win-win.
The Best Varieties
Purists will tell you that white tea only comes from the Fujian province in China, and most will agree that this region produces the very best. It’s not the only source of white tea, as it’s now being produced in many other tea growing regions, but it’s where the bulk of white tea is produced and sold and it’s where you should start your search if you want a good quality product.
Silver needle is arguably the best premium white tea. It has a subtle sweetness and the tea itself is long and thin, like needles. Not only does it taste like a premium product, but it looks like it too.
White Peony is also very popular and tends to produce a more robust taste. It’s actually one of our favourites and a great introduction to anyone looking to try this tea for the first time.
One cup of white tea contains about 25mg to 50mg of caffeine. It has less than Pu’er, black, oolong, and green but not by a great deal. A strong cup of white tea can be equal to a weak cup of black tea in terms of caffeine content, so if you are sensitive to this common stimulant, caution is advised.
White Tea versus Green Tea and Black Tea
These three teas differ quite considerably in terms of appearance and flavour. The flavour profile of green tea is much more developed, as it has undergone some oxidation, and the flavour of black tea is more developed still, as it has undergone signifiant oxidation.
This oxidation process is the same thing that happens to fruits and vegetables as they age. A banana is a great example. It’s green when it is harvested, and it’s not very pleasant to eat, but then it turns yellow, at which point the taste develops. Eventually it will turn brown, and while you probably won’t want to eat it as this stage, it’s technically fully ripened and has developed a richer flavour profile, as all of the starches have turned to sugar.
It’s a similar story with tea. We’re not saying that white tea is unpleasant—far from it—it just doesn’t have the intensity or richness found in green or black. It is better for you, though, because the oxidation process also destroys some (but not all) of the antioxidants.