Ultimate Guide to White Tea

To start enjoying white tea, one of the lightest, healthiest and tastiest tea types, make sure you read our full guide. We love sipping on a cup of delicate white tea and so will you. From marvellous health benefits to unique and satisfying flavours, white tea is a drink you should always have in the cupboard!

What is White Tea

white tea

White tea is the least processed type of tea. By that we mean, from the time the unopened shoots and buds are plucked from the tea plant to the time it’s packaged and ready to drink, very little time has passed.

While green tea and black tea go through stages of rolling, crushing, withering, oxidising, etc. white tea is barely handled.

After the tea leaves and buds are plucked, they are quickly withered and dried on large mats. No crushing, rolling or excess heating necessary.

By doing this, the white tea leaves remain delicate, fresh and full of the natural antioxidants found in tea leaves.

History of White Tea

White tea was one of the last tea types to make it around the world, due to its delicate nature being difficult to transport.

It has been produced in China for centuries along with the other popular tea types. But white tea, almost like yellow tea, has a more significant meaning. White tea is held with respect and awe, first being cultivated and harvested for great Chinese Emperors. At this time only the finest white buds and top leaves were harvested, but now you can find all kinds of tea grades made into white tea.

You don’t need to be a Chinese Emperor to get your hands on some white tea either!

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Types of White Tea

types of white tea

Most white teas available to buy are exported from China, the biggest grower of white tea in the world. You might expect to find white tea grown all over the world, particularly in Japan where similarly fresh green tea is consumed widely, but you’ll struggle to find anything but a few specialty white teas outside of China.

Chinese tea growers are masters of white tea and know exactly how to handle the fragile buds and leaves to create a magnificent tea. Here are a few of the best (and our personal favourite) white teas from China and around the world.

Chinese White Tea

White tea is grown in various locations all over China, notably in the Fujian Province and occasionally in the Yunnan Province too. Chinese white teas are soft, delicate and can be very expensive. You can also find these white teas in various tea blends, such as Jasmine White Tea.

Silver Needle – This is the highest grade of white tea you can find from China, made with only the top buds of the tea plant. These buds are pure white or silver, without any chlorophyll to turn them green. Once brewed, Silver Needle tea is typically light, sweet and rich with woody and floral notes – this can vary a little depending on the tea plant cultivar and where it is grown.

White PeonyThe second highest grade is equally as delicate, soft and delicious as Silver Needle, but this tea contains the first shoot off the tea plant as well as the bud. Both the shoot/unopened leaf and top bud are still white and young. White Peony tea is typically light and sweet but with a fuller body compared to Silver Needle. You might notice floral and nutty notes.

Tribute EyebrowHarvested later than the first 2 top grades of white tea, Tribute Eyebrow is bolder with a strong white tea flavour and floral/fruity notes. Although harvested later, the buds and top leaves are still silver white rather than green.

Long Life EyebrowAlthough this is the lowest grade of white tea and often the grade used for tea bags and subpar blends, don’t turn your nose up! Long Life Eyebrow white tea is fresh, fragrant, sweet and bold. Unlike the other white teas, this grade brews up into a warm golden liquor rather than a very pale-yellow liquor.

White Teas from Around the World

Any tea plant can technically produce white tea, so long as you harvest the top buds and shoots before they turn green… yet few tea cultivars and growers have the flavour and skill needed to produce a fine white tea. Around the world, there are a few notable white teas you can try.

Ceylon White Tea A rare white tea grown and hand plucked in Sri Lanka. This is an expensive and hard to come by white tea that you should try if you have the chance. It’s typically delicate and floral with notes of honey and cream. It brews up into a pale yet bright yellow colour.

Malawi White TeaGrown in Malawi, Africa, this white tea is commonly referred to as antlers, thanks to the long twiggy appearance of the white tea leaves. White Tea from Malawi is often graded in the same way as Chinese white tea so you might come across Malawi Silver Needle, for example. Typically, Malawi White Tea is smooth, soft, naturally sweet and slightly floral.

Darjeeling White TeaFinally, there’s India’s Darjeeling White Tea which is handpicked at high altitudes, making it another expensive and rare tea type. Even when produced as black tea, Darjeeling is typically light and floral. As a fresh, young white tea, Darjeeling is exceptionally light, mellow, sweet and has a delicate aroma.

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White Tea Health Benefits and Side Effects

white tea benefits

Tea plants are naturally full of a few exceedingly healthy nutrients, from antioxidants to amino acids. The process of turning the leaves into tea, however, tends to leach away some or all of those healthy nutrients. So, as white tea is the least processed and least handled of all tea types, it often contains the highest levels of healthy nutrients.

Basically, if you are looking for the healthiest type of tea you should take white tea straight to the checkout!

In a cup of white tea, you’ll find:

  • High levels of polyphenols and antioxidants that bind to free radicals to deactivate them. White tea has the highest levels of polyphenols and antioxidants of all tea types.
  • EGCG catechins, which are another polyphenol, found most commonly in green tea and white tea. These have many health benefits that we’ve explained below.
  • Low levels of potassium, fluoride and tannins.

Health Benefits of Drinking White Tea

The health benefits of white tea are very similar to those of green tea, but with a stronger effect. We wrote a complete guide to the health benefits and side effects of green tea, so here’s just a quick rundown of the main health benefits from regularly consuming white tea.

Skincare

clear skin

White tea can help skincare in numerous ways, either by applying an extract to your skin or enjoying a cup of white tea each day.

  1. Antioxidants reduce inflammation, helping to reduce red marks, acne and blemishes.
  2. White tea extract has been found in a study to protect the skin from the effects of UV rays.
  3. White tea has anti-aging properties, as the antioxidants it contains deactivate free radicals and certain enzymes that break down the cellular structure of your skin. So, the white tea could keep your skin firm, plump and elastic for longer.

Cancer

Anti Cancer Health Benefits

There is limited evidence that white tea can prevent or slow down the spreading of cancer. We know that antioxidants bind to free radicals to deactivate them, and we also know that these free radicals can cause cancer. However, more research is needed into how tea in general can prevent cancer from developing in humans.

As for current cancer patients, there is no evidence that drinking white tea will cure your cancer… however, it is a very relaxing and often therapeutic tea to drink. You might find other psychological benefits to drinking white tea when you’re suffering a potentially terminal illness.

Heart Disease

Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

From relaxing your blood vessels to removing bad cholesterol, white tea can do wonders for heart health.

Once again, it’s the anti-inflammatory effects of tea that can reduce the chances of developing heart disease. From smoking to an unhealthy lifestyle, many heart diseases start with chronic inflammation.

The main effects of drinking white tea are reduced inflammation, lower free radicals, and an improved immune system. Other benefits, from the anti-bacterial fluoride that can improve your oral health to strengthening bones to the enzymes that can help you lose weight, are minimal and still need further research. What we do know for sure is that drinking white tea regularly will really boost your health!

Potential Side Effects of Drinking White Tea

There are very few side effects to drinking white tea. Some you might experience include:

  • An upset stomach. This can occur if you consume a catechin-rich tea on an empty stomach.
  • Dizziness and insomnia. This could happen if you consume a large amount of any drink that contains caffeine. You really shouldn’t worry about caffeine in white tea though – scroll down to our explanation why.
  • Jealous friends! White tea has an enticing aroma that will have even your closest non-tea drinking friends begging for a cup.

That really is the worst that can happen from drinking a cup of white tea.

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What Does White Tea Taste Like

white tea taste

White tea is soft, light and delicate. Depending on the grade, it can have a full body or a delicate body – nonetheless, it will still be smooth and very light in comparison to black tea and even green tea. In fact, if your white tea tastes bitter and dark, you’ve probably over-brewed it or used water that’s too hot!

Typical notes you’ll find in white tea are cream, honey, floral notes (e.g. jasmine), nutty notes, and woody notes. You might also find a few fruity notes in some special blends.

Although these are all very similar tasting notes to many green teas, there’s nothing grassy about white tea. It’s smooth and soft and mellow. If you enjoy jasmine tea, light iced teas, gentle Chinese green teas and other floral blends, you’ll love drinking white tea.

It’s the opposite of a dark Pu-erh tea.

To get the best taste out of your white tea, you should brew it a little differently to your ordinary cup of black tea.

How to Brew White Tea for The Best Flavour

  1. You need to use water that’s between 75°C and 85°C. So, either set your kettle to heat fresh water to 80°C or boil your water and let it cool to 80°C. A kitchen thermometer is a handy tool! If you want to cool the boiled water quickly, try pouring it from one cup to another a few times, or leaving a spoon in the water to transmit the heat away quicker.
  2. Check the ratio of tea to water. If this isn’t written clearly on the packet or on the seller’s website, a good rule of thumb is 1 teaspoon (2g) of loose leaf tea per 8oz cup.
  3. Gently pour your hot water over the tea and leave it to infuse for around 5 minutes. If the tea is high quality (Silver Needle) or composed of a high volume of tea buds, you can add an extra minute or two to help the flavour infuse.

Some white teas can be brewed multiple times with the same leaves. You might also want to try a gongfu session with your white tea, to detect the intricate flavour notes as the tea steeps.

Whichever your preferred method, store your tea in a dark, airtight container to keep it fresh for longer!

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Should You Care About Caffeine

A Cup of Hot Tea with Smiley Face on Table

Generally, the darker and more oxidised a tea is the higher the level of caffeine. That’s why black tea has approximately 50mg of caffeine per cup while green tea has only approximately 30mg of caffeine per cup.

So, it would be easy to assume that white tea has even less caffeine. That’s mostly true, as the young leaves will have less caffeine… but it’s not true for the buds. The buds of the tea plant contain the highest levels of caffeine, so a cup of fine white tea only made from tea buds could be higher in caffeine than you thought.

The side effects of consuming a high level of caffeine every day are not great. They can range from increased blood pressure to chronic migraines to insomnia. It’s generally advised by health authorities to consume no more than 400mg of caffeine per day, or 200mg if you’re pregnant.

So, you really don’t need to worry about caffeine levels when drinking a cup of white tea unless you’re severely sensitive to caffeine!

A low caffeine cup of white tea might contain as little as 6mg… and a high caffeine bud white tea might contain as much as 60mg. Either way, you’re still well under the recommended limit and highly unlikely to see any long term or short term side effects unless you consume a vast amount in a short period of time.

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How to Choose the Best White Tea

white tea how to choose

Picking a white tea isn’t an easy task considering how varied their flavours will be from one cultivar to the next. If you’re completely new to white tea, our recommendation is a simple Silver Needle. It will give you the purest white tea flavour and allow you to pull out subtle notes from the delicate balance.

If you’ve got something more specific in mind, you might want to branch out a bit.

I’m Looking for Something Like Green Tea…

Many green tea drinkers migrate to becoming white tea drinkers. It’s a natural step! If you enjoy the grassy freshness of green tea, you should try:

Long Life Eyebrow, for its bold flavour.

Ceylon White Tea, for its floral, honey and cream notes that aren’t too dissimilar to a Kukicha green tea.

I Want Something Delicate…

Tired of the bold, brash black tea? White tea is the complete opposite. If you’re craving something light and delicate enough for the summer months, you should try:

Chinese Silver Needle, as it’s the most delicate and pure white tea. If you want bright and delicate, you need to buy the highest grade.

Darjeeling White Tea for its supreme delicacy, mellow notes and natural sweetness. A great option if you have a large tea budget.

I Love Floral Teas…

From sweet and fragrant jasmine to delicate rose, mellow marigold and chrysanthemum, if you love these floral flavours and fragrances in your teas, you should try:

White Peony, as it has more pronounced floral notes compared to Silver Needle yet is still very light.

Jasmine White Tea, as the fragrant jasmine blooms work particularly well with the delicacy of white tea without overpowering it.

I Have A Sweet Tooth…

One of the most attractive qualities of white tea is the natural sweetness it has. You’ll rarely need to add any honey, sugar or sweetener to your white tea. The best way to drink it is straight! If you want something especially sweet, you should try:

Malawi White Tea for the mellow sweetness and floral notes. Choose the highest grade you can afford for a supreme flavour.

Tribute Eyebrow, despite being the lowest grade, has noticeable fruity notes that are often quite sweet and bold. A good option if you enjoy fruity sweetness in your teas.

Where to Buy White Tea

where to buy

Most tea lovers and all experts will agree, tea bags are not the best quality or the best way to infuse tea. This is especially true for white tea, which needs to be handled gently not crushed and chopped for a quick infusion. If you’re looking for a true white tea taste and quality, you need to shop for loose leaf.

As loose leaf white tea is one of the rarer tea types and hard to come by in your local coffee shop, you’ll eventually need to buy it from a specialist store.

If you can’t buy your tea in person at a store or with a seller, you’re left with the only option of buying online. Buying white tea can be a tricky business, even for an expert. When you’re shopping for tea online, it’s so hard to check the quality and know exactly what it is you’re buying.

Our Best Tips for Buying White Tea Online

  • Don’t be put off by high prices. Good quality white tea, Silver Needle, is going to cost a lot more than a bog-standard black tea. Compare the price of the white tea to other teas on the seller’s website. It should be proportional and give you an idea of how much better the quality is to other teas.
  • But don’t throw your money away. Make sure that if a seller is pricing their white tea high, they have the evidence of quality to back it up. Whether it’s an impressive Trustpilot page or a detailed and evidence-backed story of the farmers who supply it.
  • Check where and how the tea is grown. A Silver Needle white tea grown with herbicides at low altitudes in Yunnan might look visually identical to a Silver Needle white tea grown and hand-picked in Fujian, but the quality is vastly different. Location matters!
  • Don’t bother with the 2 low grades of white tea. When you’re buying online, you’ve usually got import costs added to the price of the tea, plus the delivery to your home. It’s not cheap to bring rare tea around the world from China, so why bother with low grades when you’ll need to pay a fair amount anywhere? In our opinion, if you’re going to try a fine white tea you should go for the best of the best!
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You’ll Love White Tea

White tea is not only a delicious and flavourful type of tea but it’s also the healthiest. Don’t let the price tag and reputation for being rare put you off. Anyone can enjoy a cup of white tea and it’s so easy to get right when you brew it correctly. Make sure you bookmark this page in your web browser so you can check back when you’re buying or brewing white tea for the first time.