Tea is the world’s most popular beverage, next to water. But, some people are still fairly new to tea drinking and are still learning the popular varieties and deciding which ones are they like best.
One of the tea varieties that are most popular today is white tea. White tea comes from the same plant as black and green teas, the camellia sinensis. What makes white tea different is when it is harvested and how it’s processed. White tea is harvested much earlier than other teas before the leaves are fully open.
At this point in the growing process, the tea buds are still covered by fine white hair, which is why it’s referred to as white tea. Unlike other types of tea, both buds and leaves are used in white tea. White tea undergoes very little processing and is not fermented.
The leaves are simply steamed (or occasionally fired) and then dried. Sometimes, tea harvesters will even steam the leaves right in the field, and then let them dry in the sun.
Fewer people are familiar with white tea in part because over the years there’s been far less white tea grown and processed than other teas. In fact, many years ago white tea was reserved for use at the highest tea ceremonies and was considered tea for the elite.
Even today, less white tea is grown in the world than other types of tea. However, as it gains popularity, it’s likely that more of a tea garden harvest may be devoted to white tea. However, at least for now, white tea is rarer than black and green teas, and therefore more expensive.
White tea is a very healthy beverage. Because it undergoes very little processing, white tea retains its anti-oxidants. In fact, it’s estimated that white tea contains an even higher and more effective anti-oxidant level than green tea. There have been very few studies on white tea’s ability to prevent and help treat disease.
However, since white teas anti-oxidants are similar to those of green tea, about which much research exists to suggest health benefits, it’s assumed that white tea carries those same benefits. Green teas anti-oxidants have been shown to fight diseases like cancer, heart disease, and high cholesterol. In addition, white tea has been shown to boost your immune system, improving your body’s ability to fight diseases, particularly infections.
So, What Does It Taste Like?
White tea is paler and has less aroma than black and green tea. Its flavor is light and slightly sweet. You won’t find a white tea with the bold flavors you can find in black and green teas. If brewed properly, it has no bitterness and no after-taste. In addition, it lacks the grassy flavor that you often find in green tea.
How to Brew
You’ll brew white tea in much the same way as black or green tea. Use fresh, cold tap water, or filtered water. Put the water in a clean tea kettle and put it on the stove to heat. While the water is heating, put hot tap water into your teapot to warm it up. Bring the water to a boil and then remove it from the heat for sixty seconds.
White tea should be brewed with water that is somewhere between 170 and 185 F. By bringing the water to a boil and then letting it sit for one minute, you should ensure just the right temperature for white tea.
During this sixty-second lull, remove the hot tap water from your teapot and add the white tea leaves. White tea is less dense and compact than black and green tea, so you’ll need to use more. Begin with two teaspoons per cup as a starting point, adjusting to your taste.
White tea should be steeped for about 5-8 minutes, depending upon your taste. It will be pale; don’t expect it to gain the color you’re used to seeing with black tea. Read the steeping directions carefully, white teas steeping recommendations can vary greatly. There are even some white teas that should be steeped for up to 15 minutes.
Because of its slightly sweet flavor, it’s recommended that you not sweeten white tea. In fact, tea connoisseurs suggest that white tea be consumed without any additives for the best flavor. In addition to being delicious hot, white tea is also very good iced.
As you experiment with white tea, you’ll find varieties you particularly enjoy. Some will have a bit more of a floral flavor and some will be fuller-bodied than others, though none will match the body of a black or green tea.
As you get to know white tea, buy just a little of a variety until you decide whether or not its right for you. Since white tea (particularly in loose form) is so expensive, it’s not wise to buy a large quantity until you know whether or not you’ll like it.
White tea is available today in bag form and ready to drink bottles, as well. However, nothing matches the flavor of brewing a cup of white tea at home from loose tea leaves and drinking it while it’s still steaming. Give white tea a try; you’re sure to love its sweet and refreshing flavor.