White tea may look gentle and delicate, but it's more colourful than you may think.
In fact, there are many types that come from many countries.
This type of tea is less common than green or black tea, but it's far from rare.
These are the 10 things you need to know about white tea.
1. White tea may contain more caffeine than black tea
It's a common misconception that white tea is the gentlest type of tea in terms of caffeine content. A reason for this is that, when brewed properly, has a very delicate colour and flavour, especially when it contains lots of silver buds.
But studies have shown that white tea may have more caffeine than green tea (1) and even more than black tea.
2. Some types will never be available in classic tea bags
While there are white tea bags available on the market, not all are suitable for tea bags. That's because classic tea bags contain tea dust and small leaf particles, rather than whole or even broken leaves.
One of the most popular white teas in the world – Chinese Silver Needle – is a tea made of young tea buds and attached leaves, covered in fine silver hair. This tea would lose all its charm and flavour if it was simply a dust.
However, Silver Needle tea is often available in pyramid tea bags, a type of tea bag suitable for whole leaf teas.
Another reason you won't find all white teas in tea bags is that teas that are available in classic tea bags are usually the most popular types of teas. That's why some rare teas will only be available as loose tea.
3. It is produced in many countries
Although the most popular white teas come from China, this tea type is not produced in many other countries as well, including Rwanda, Sri Lanka, India, Kenya, Japan and Malawi. Many other countries are producing it in small batches too.
The largest producer of white tea is still China, which also has the widest assortment of this tea type, and some of the most exquisite teas in the world. What's even more interesting is that teas from different countries will have a very different flavour, even if they are produced in the same way. And finally, all this actually makes it not rare as a type, but instead, it's produced in lower quantities than green or black tea.
4. You can brew white tea with nearly boiling water
This type of tea may look gentle, but it can tolerate high temperatures better than green tea. High quality white teas won't become bitter when you use nearly boiling water, but don't over-steep them. Over steeping with boiling water can ruin any tea.
One tea you absolutely can steep in very hot water is Chinese Silver Needle tea. Even at 90 degrees Celsius, it will still brew into a pale and beautifully gentle cup.
5. You CAN drink white tea with milk
Some white teas are suitable for adding milk. Not all are gentle, and in fact, some may have a colour similar to black teas. But it's not only the colour that tells you if the tea is suitable for adding milk, it's the flavour too. Choose teas with a stronger flavour and yellow colour, such as Shou Mei Chinese tea or Kenya Rhino white tea.
6. There are many types of silver needle tea
Just like there are many types of sencha green tea, there are many types of silver needle teas. Name silver needle implies a plucking standard and a processing method, rather than just one type of tea.
In fact, many countries are producing silver needle teas, including India, Malawi, Rwanda, Sri Lanka and Kenya. The most popular silver needle teas come from China, especially Fujian province and Yunnan.
What does silver needle tea look like? It will contain mostly small buds covered in fine white hair. These buds may be thinner or plumper and bigger, white-green or green-grey. The fewer leaves it contains, the better.
7. It may contain more antioxidants than other tea types
If you want to enjoy the potential benefits of catechins but don't like the flavour of green tea, this may be a perfect tea type to try. Although the total amount of polyphenols will be different in different white and green tea, they are both a good choice.
This tea type is often called a beauty tea, because it may contain more antioxidants than other types of tea. (3) It's is rich in polyphenols, and especially catechins – just like green tea.
Studies showed that these two tea types have a very similar total polyphenol content, which may sometimes even be slightly higher in white tea (up to 25.95 grams per 100 grams, compared to up to 24.7 grams in 100 grams of green tea) (4).
8. White tea will have a longer shelf life than green tea
Properly stored white tea will probably taste good even after a year, and some may keep for years. However, to enjoy the best flavour, drink teas that have very green leaves (like Japanese white tea) or silver-green leaves (like high quality Chinese silver needle) within 6-12 months.
9. And, it can be aged
Not only can white tea stay fresh longer than green tea, but it can also be aged. Properly aged tea will keep even longer than unaged tea. White tea leaves are commonly pressed into brick or disk shapes and then aged. They look similar to aged pressed pu'erh tea. Which teas are aged? Beautiful Chinese Yue Guan Bai tea, Bai Mu Dan, Shou Mei and Gong Mei teas.
10. It doesn’t need to look white
Neither the colour of dry white tea leaves nor the brewed tea needs to look bright. In fact, they may come in different colours – white-grey, green-grey, vibrantly green, dark brown, or as a delicious Chinese Yue Guang Bai, white, grey and purplish. And when it comes to brewed tea, a very fine quality silver needle will look almost transparent. White Peony may have a vibrant yellow colour, and some, like Shou Mei and Gong Mei may brew into a darker yellow-brown liquor.
White tea is an absolutely unique type of tea. Just like other tea types, it comes in a whole range of flavours, colours and shapes and is usually gentler in flavour than green or black tea. Since there's more than just one type, if you decide to become a white tea drinker, you're going to have lots of fun tasting unique flavours. Plus, you may even enjoy some really wonderful benefits.