What's White Tea, Really?
We get a lot of questions about white tea. To begin, let's clarify what white tea is. Like green tea, black tea and oolong tea, white tea is made from the camellia sinensis plant. What defines it as white tea is NOT the part of the plant used; "white tea" is the uncured, unfermented tea leaf.
Unlike green tea, which is heat cured in a pan or an oven, white tea is simply fast-dried using ovens, steam or direct sunlight. (Black and oolong teas are fermented before curing.) Like green tea, white tea is most often made from the young tops of the plants, picked in spring and summer. Typically white tea is made from the top bud and leaves, the tender new growth that's about two weeks old.
White tea is the specialty of China's Fujian Mountain area, known for the best white tea in the world among tea officionados. Fujian produces very little black tea and flavored teas, focusing mostly on traditional green, white and oolong tea. Mountain farms ensure the purity of air, soil and water, and provides and ideal growing environment for organic tea. Coastal mountain breezes keep the tea cool (photosynthesis stops when hotter than about 97 degrees F) and nighttime temperatures are mild for proper glycolysis.
Tasting White Tea
In the West, especially America, white tea is certainly misunderstood. Most people haven't tasted white tea because flavors are added to most kinds of white tea available in stores. The reason? Most white tea that makes it to America is extremely low grade, leftover tea that is cheap. It doesn't taste good, and it's stale. It isn't pure, and teas of low grades used in most teabags test high is pesticides and lead. And if you have had white tea with orange, lemon, blueberry, pear, or any other flavor, you did not taste the white tea.
Many people mistakenly think that white tea is "the baby tea leaf" (new tea leaves are used in most varieties for green tea as well) and are often drawn to the yin zhen bai hao white tea, which is made from just the tiny new tips of the plant that are only 1-3 days old. However, these tiny tips, while lovely, have not developed the flavor, color or potency. During the day, photosynthiates are built up in the leaves from the conversion of carbon into high-molecular-weight compounds of flavor, aroma, and structure. New leaves that have two weeks to absorb and convert sunlight to plant polyphenols are not only more potent in their health benefits, but also much more flavorful, reflected in the darker color of the bai mu dan style (natural whole-leaf) white tea.
White Tea and Caffeine
White tea tends to be lower in caffeine (technically called theine in tea) than black, oolong or green tea. However, remember that any tea can be decaffeinated naturally by pre-steeping, and it might be a good idea to pre-steep (that is, pour out the first steeping) if you're drinking any tea at night. Even white tea, if it's fully potent, can keep you up late.
White Tea and Health Benefits
A great interest about tea has arisen in the Western medical community, especially green and white tea. Real tea contains high levels of plant polyphenols, which many scientists believe fight illness. As most people have heard, tea--especially white and green tea--has been found to contain high levels of Epigallocatechin Gallate, or EGCG, which is a powerful anti-oxidant.
Human bodies produce unstable molecules called oxidants, or free radicals, which cause tissue damage and cancer. EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) is a flavonoid that has been shown to destroy cancerous tissues in vitro (in a test tube) and in animals. Currently medical authorities are reluctant to connect tea directly with the healing of cancer because definitive studies take time, and only long-term results will allow us to understand specific benefits.
Another recent article about white tea and health:
Title: White Tea Beats Green Tea In Fighting Germs
Publisher: Science Daily
New studies conducted at Pace University have indicated that White Tea Extract (WTE) may have prophylactic applications in retarding growth of bacteria that cause Staphylococcus infections, Streptococcus infections, pneumonia and dental caries. Researchers present their findings today at the 104th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.
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