All About White Tea

White Tea in Five Minutes Infographic

White tea is named for the beautiful white down hairs covering the leaf and is known for its subtlety of fragrance, taste, and color. White tea is the freshest and most delicate type of tea, but it is subject to controversy and contradiction – even within China, there are differing opinions about what white tea is, where it comes from, the caffeine in white tea, and how it’s made. Learn all about what differentiates white tea from other types of tea made from the Camellia sinensis plant.

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Discover the best white teas as rated by Sips by's 1,000,000 tea-loving Members. From loose leaf white tea to bagged white tea, flavored white tea to pure white tea, these are the best white teas from different tea brands around the world. Explore our collection of premium white teas that you'll love for their subtle aroma and intricate taste. Rich in antioxidants, white tea is a delicate tea of luxury and is nominally processed. Relax and sip these different types of white teas any time of the day.

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History of White Tea

Pan-fired green tea production was well established in China before white tea was first devised in the late 1700s in the Fujian Province. To make white tea, the leaves were not pan-fired like green teas or heavily oxidized like black teas. Instead, white tea leaves were harvested in early spring, carefully sun-dried for several days if conditions allowed, and given a brief roasting to remove residual moisture and prevent degradation of the leaves while being stored. Otherwise, they needed to be brought inside to a room where heat and windows could be used to regulate ambient temperature.

When white tea was first crafted, it was so precious that only the emperor could afford to drink it. However, during the 19th century in Fujian, cultivation of the Da Bai Hao bush (a cultivated variety of the Camellia sinensis plant) increased, and it was discovered that certain types produced large, fleshy buds and leaves covered with fine white hairs (called down) – these cultivars were designated as authentic white tea cultivars. Authentic Silver Needle is a type of white tea that still comes from these cultivars in Fujian today.

Around 1922, a new type of white tea was developed – White Peony – which includes not only buds but also two leaves along with each bud plucked.

In 1968, another new white tea was developed – Shou Mei – in Fuding, Fujian province. This tea is often made from older leaves lower on the branch and allowed to oxidize in order to create deeper, oolong-like flavors.


White Tea Processing

Although white tea undergoes the least amount of processing of any tea, it still requires care and skill to perfect the process!

PLUCKING: Silver Needle traditionally comes from Fujian Province, China and only consists of the leaf tips or buds of the Dabai cultivar when they first appear in early spring. Only buds may be plucked, or they could be separated from other leaves after plucking. White Peony and Shou Mei white teas also include plucked leaves.

WITHERING: The leaves are laid out to wither after they are plucked, in order to reduce their moisture content. They may be withered outside, if the weather is warm and dry enough. Otherwise, they can be weathered indoors in temperature-controlled rooms.

DRYING: The moisture content is reduced further in order to stabilize the leaf while it is packed and stored. It could either continue to be withered outdoors, or baked dry.

White Tea Production Infographic


Health Benefits of White Tea

The health benefits of white tea are very similar to the benefits of green tea, which is one of the healthiest teas you can drink. Because white tea is the least processed type of tea, it retains a ton of antioxidants in the form of polyphenols, catechins, and ECGC. Examples of these powerful antioxidants in white tea include protecting against free radical damage in the body, reducing inflammation and disease, reducing blood sugar, increasing metabolism, strengthening bones, and inhibiting oral bacteria growth. The compounds in white tea are also excellent for skin health and to help reduce skin aging, so if you want to get your glow on this summer try out a DIY tea beauty White Tea Acne Treatment!


Types of White Tea

SILVER NEEDLE (BAI HAO YIN ZHEN)

Authentic Silver Needle is one of the rarest and most expensive teas. Traditionally from the Dabai cultivar of Fujian, China, only the finest tea buds are plucked – it takes more than 4,500 hand-sorted leaves to make a pound of this tea! Silver Needle is known for its potent health benefits because the bud is where the tea plant stores most of its antioxidants and other beneficial compounds (including caffeine!).

WHITE PEONY (BAI MUDAN)

Bai Mudan or White Peony tea is a Chinese white tea that includes both leaves and buds of the tea plant, generally picked later in the season than Silver Needle. The leaves have multiple colors due to varying degrees of oxidation – green, gray and brown – and a silvery bud. White Peony tea benefits from producing a stronger infusion than Silver Needle and is thus preferred for making white tea blends.

SHOU MEI

Translated directly as “Longevity Eyebrow,” Shou Mei is produced from leaves and buds that may have been plucked later than Bai Mudan, making it darker and coarser. The leaves may have colors ranging from green, golden, black and red. The flavor is also stronger, reminiscent of some types of oolong tea. Shou Mei is considered a lower grade white tea because of fewer buds and later-harvested leaves. Also, Shou Mei also may contain the lowest amount of caffeine of all white teas. It is sometimes pressed into cakes and allowed to age like pu-erh tea.

White Tea Growing Regions Infographic

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Left: Silver Needle | Middle: White Peony | Right: Shou Mei

Flavored White Tea Blends

Though white teas have a delicate and smooth flavor on their own, you can find a variety of deliciously blended, scented, or flavored white teas. White Peony is commonly used as the base tea for flavored blends because it is fuller-flavored and more easily accessible than Silver Needle. Often, companies will sell only pure Silver Needle because it is such an exquisite tea, best appreciated in its pure form. However, you may find some very subtle Silver Needle blends with flowers such as jasmine, osmanthus or chrysanthemum.

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Pictured: Zhi Tea White Rose Tea, photo by Tea Thoughts and Wight Tea Co Sage Rose White Tea

What Does White Tea Taste Like?

White teas are revered for their delicate, floral aromas and naturally sweet and fruity flavors. White tea often tastes lightly floral, honey, fruity, and silky with peach, apricot, oats, or hay notes. Note any silvery hairs that appear on the surface of your cup – this is a sign of high quality white teas!

Because of their unique flavor profile, white teas are perfect for making specialty tea-infused beverages or cocktails. We recommend trying this White Tea Vodka Smash recipe for a unique and refreshing cocktail or this Ginger Pear White Tea punch for a spicy-yet-sweet sip.

Try out these premium white teas in your next tea-infused recipe!

Is White Tea Caffeinated?

How much caffeine is really in white tea? White tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, which naturally contains caffeine, so it should never be referred to as “decaf” or “caffeine-free” unless it explicitly says so on the package – and even then, there will be at least trace amounts of caffeine.

There is a lot of misinformation circulating in the US regarding white tea – such as the myth that all white tea is 'lowest in caffeine and highest in antioxidants.' White tea does contain caffeine. While some white teas may have the least amount of caffeine when compared to other types of tea, some cups of white tea can have just as much caffeine as green tea.

A better way to estimate relative caffeine content is not based on the tea type, but rather how "tippy" the tea is - meaning how many tips of leaves it contains - or the proportion of the tea that consists of tea leaf tips and buds.

The tip-top buds are the part of the tea plant that contains the highest caffeine concentration because the tea plant produces caffeine to defend the delicate buds against insects. The bud also contains high levels of antioxidants and l-theanine which counteracts the effect of caffeine on your body by creating a relaxed calm – meaning you might not feel the higher caffeine levels in tippy white teas like Silver Needle.

White tea caffeine levels depend on a range of factors – the specific type of white tea, if it’s loose or bagged, where it comes from, how you steep it, and so on. In general, white teas contain anywhere from 10-75mg of caffeine per cup (compared to ~100-200mg in a cup of coffee). If you’re trying to avoid caffeine as much as possible, go with less tippy types, such as Shou Mei or White Peony, or white tea blends that have a lower proportion of actual tea. Also, try to avoid tea bags as they generally contain more caffeine.


How to Buy & Store White Tea

HOW TO BUY WHITE TEA

When choosing a white tea to purchase, there are a few factors you should keep in mind to choose the best types of white tea:

SILVER NEEDLE (BAI HAO YIN ZHEN): Should only consist of buds - the buds should be plump, consistent in size and shape, have silvery soft hairs, and there should be no bud or leaf pieces or open/hollow buds. In the cup, high grades will be a pale yellow with a subtle aroma and flavor, and you may be able to see some little hairs floating up to the surface.

WHITE PEONY (BAI MUDAN): High quality White Peony should have two intact greenish-gray leaves attached to a bud covered with silvery hairs. They should be uniform and mostly unbroken. The liquid should be clear with a fresh, mildly sweet flavor with little or no astringency.

SHOU MEI: May have a light amber color when steeped and a sweet flavor. While Shou Mei is sometimes regarded as a “lower grade” white tea, that doesn’t mean it’s low quality – its fuller flavor may be preferable in iced teas and to accompany foods.

How to Store White Tea

White tea should be treated similarly to delicate green teas when storing, ideally being consumed within 6 months to a year of purchase (if it’s relatively fresh when you buy it) so your tea doesn't expire. However, some Shou Mei white teas can last longer and may even be intentionally aged. To be certain, you should check with the tea vendor or on the package for guidelines specific to the tea type you are purchasing. As with most teas, you should store your tea in a cool, dark place, away from moisture and strong smells, and ideally in an airtight container or sealed package.

How to Brew White Tea

While it’s always best to check with your tea vendor or look on the brand's package or website for brewing instructions specific to your white tea type, here are a few general guidelines to help you brew a delicious cup of white tea!

Steeping White Tea

WHAT YOU'LL NEED

  • Kettle or pot to heat filtered water
  • White tea leaves, sachets, or bags
  • Teapot with filter, teacup, or your favorite mug with an infuser

STEP ONE: HEAT THE WATER

  • 160℉-190℉ // Below boiling

White Tea Water Temperature: The exact temperature depends on the specific type of white tea - some white teas can be brewed a bit longer and with hotter water than green teas, but others are more delicate and should be treated like green tea.

Pro Tip: If you don’t have a way of setting the temperature on your method of boiling water, bring the water to a soft boil (tiny bubbles) and then allow it to cool down or transfer into another pitcher before pouring into your tea. Never use boiling water for white tea!

STEP TWO: MEASURE THE TEA

  • 2-3 g leaf per 8 oz water. White teas are generally fluffier than other sorts, so instead of 1 tsp leaf, you should measure closer to 1 tbsp of leaf.

Pro Tip: Add white tea leaves to a large infuser that lets them open fully, or you can put them straight into the teapot and use a strainer when you're pouring your cup!

STEP THREE: STEEP THE TEA

  • Steep 1-3 minutes depending on the type and your strength preference. Cover your white tea while it steeps to keep all the heat and aroma in the steeping vessel.

Pro Tip: Don't let your tea steep for too long! It's best to take the leaves, sachet, or tea bag out when the steeping time's up so you aren't left with a bitter cup. Taste your tea after the recommended steeping time and then decide if you’d like it to steep a little longer.

STEP FOUR: ENJOY :)

Additions: Try the tea by itself first and then see if you want to add a touch of honey or other natural sweetener to accentuate the flavor. We don’t recommend adding milk or cream because the flavor of white tea is so delicate already.

Note: Try cold brewing white tea to help bring out more of the sweet, fruity, or floral notes in some white teas! Or, make this tasty Coconut Peach Smoothie with white tea!

Want to learn how to steep other types of tea perfectly? Check out our how to make loose leaf tea guide that covers all types of tea!

* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Check out this short video on how to prepare white tea:

Learn how to steep white tea from Sips by


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