What is white tea?

Ahhh... white tea - the least processed and mildest of all of the teas. Why is it called white tea and what happens to the leaf after it is picked? Let’s find out!

Mandala Silver Needle white tea, Spring 2017

Mandala Silver Needle white tea, Spring 2017

Everything we call tea here at Mandala Tea (and in China, for that matter) comes from one plant, Camellia Sinensis. From that one plant and it’s various hybrids, we get white, yellow, green, oolong, black (aka red), and both raw and ripe pu’er tea. Wow, talk about versatilitea! In this blog post, I’ll focus on defining what makes a white tea a white tea. Thank you for joining me on this journey.

First off, why is it called “white” tea? Is it because of a clear tea liquor? No. As seen above, the tea is a pale yellow and some white teas can even yield an amber colored cup. The reason it is called white tea is made evident in the photo I took below. See the fine, silvery-white hairs? They give the unopened buds a whitish appearance, hence “white” tea!

Mandala White Peony, Spring 2017

Mandala White Peony, Spring 2017

White teas are comprised mostly of young buds and very young leaves. Some are made up only of the buds (such as the Silver Needles in a previous photo) and can only be picked for a day or two each year. Certain famous and very expensive white teas are picked during a very short few hours in a picking season when the weather and the moon are just right. 

I wrote that white teas are the least processed all the teas. Most white teas are simply allowed to wither for a bit and then are dried in the sun. The pile withering allows for a slight maturation of flavor/aroma and the sun-drying allows the leaf to dry completely so that it can be packaged without fear of mold or degradation of the leaf occurring. White teas are not rolled, shook, fired or oxidized (fermented) like other teas and I will cover other teas and their production in further blog posts.  

White teas are usually the mildest flavored of teas but that should not imply that they aren’t as complex in flavor and aroma. On the contrary, good white tea leaf, when brewed properly, can be quite aromatic and flavorful yielding fruity, flowery, savory, thick tea liquors that beg to be lovingly appreciated.

While all the styles of tea are healthful, white tea, due to the lesser processing, is shown to have higher concentrations of polyphenol and antioxidant properties. This means that white tea contains a stronger ability to help rid the body of the free radicals that cause cell damage and may even be able to squelch the growth of cancer cells. White tea is also the least acid-forming of the teas which benefits people who may have excess acidity in the body or deal with stomach or heartburn issues.

Hydration, as with all teas, is another incredibly healthful benefit bestowed unto our bodies when we take tea. The presence of l-theanine allows mind and body to relax while the caffeine present in the tea allows for elevation of alertness. Tea really is the “calm awake” of stimulating beverages. 

In regard to caffeine content, many people assume that white tea has lower amounts. Generally, all tea has roughly similar amount of caffeine in the leaf and while there are some factors which can affect caffeine content of certain leaves, for the most part it is the temperature of the water and the brewing time which affects the caffeine extraction. Typically, white teas are brewed with water temperatures of 175/185°F whereas as black teas are brewed at 208°F making for a more complete extraction of caffeine and this is why black teas are considered “stronger” teas. White teas are perfectly capable of giving one a kick in the adrenal department, though, simply by steeping them for longer and/or with higher temperature water. 

I hope this has been an informative post for you and that you’ll let me know if you have any questions or need any clarification. I’m wishing each of you great joy and vibrant health!