White Tea is the least processed varietal of the Camellia sinensis plant. Produced from the tender, white downy buds, white tea is hand-plucked only a few days of the year, right before the leaf opens. Fragile buds must be carefully monitored as they are withered and dried. This labor-intensive process produces a delicate and faintly sweet tea with a light grassy flavor. Because the tea is minimally processed, white tea retains the highest levels of antioxidants of all the teas.
White tea gets its name from the silvery-white hairs on the unopened buds of the Camellia sinensis plant, but the tea itself is not white. When steeped, the tea retains a pale yellow color. The rarest white tea is Silver Needle White Tea, which is grown high in the mountains of China’s Fujian Province. This tea is only harvested two days a year. With small yields and high demands, this tea remains one of the world’s most rare teas.
It is unclear the exact origin of white tea; however there are several stories as to how white tea came about. Some claim that the original white tea referred to times when impoverished Chinese villagers could not afford tea and instead simply boiled and served water. Others claim white tea was created when tea makers tried to get an early start in the year on tea-making by picking the immature buds and making the tea into “tea cakes”.
Regardless of the origin, white tea was known as the Emperor’s Tea during the Song Dynasty and was reserved solely for the royal court. Cakes of white tea were ground into a fine powder then whisked into water, oftentimes along with jasmine or spices. It was later during the Qing Dynasty that white tea was steeped in water.
During the late 1700’s, Silver Needle Tea was first developed and cultivated in the Fujian Province of China. This became known as the most superior of all white teas.
White tea today is sold as a whole leaf tea or in tea bags and is often blended with other flowers, teas, or flavorings to produce a unique taste. Some of the most exquisite white tea blends are Orange Blossom 100% White Tea, Asian Jasmine 100% White Tea, Honey Mango 100% White Tea, and Cucumber Mint 100% White Tea.
The caffeine in white tea is approximately one-third the amount of caffeine per cup than in a similar-sized cup of coffee. On average, a six-ounce cup of white tea has approximately 20 milligrams of caffeine.
Because white tea is unprocessed and unfermented, it retains higher levels of polyphenols. This gives white tea an advantage over other tea varietals when it comes to antioxidants.
How to Steep
Steeping white tea is easy. Simply heat fresh, filtered water to just short of boiling, then pour water over tea and steep for 30-60 seconds for a tea bag or 1-2 minutes for whole leaf tea.
White tea can be used to make a variety of recipes including iced tea, spritzers, and healthy, refreshing popsicles. A favorite white tea recipe is our Emperor’s 100% White Cucumber Mint Refresher.