White tea is the elegance of tea. Its golden pale liquor makes one pause in anticipation of what may unfold. As the smooth texture swirls around your mouth, the weight of the world seems to lift. The flavor is mild, yet strikingly subtle with floral, fruity, and even nutty tinges. White tea is more abundant in recent times, but traditional quality and true exquisiteness rarer for it. If you would like to course a different path to your day, white tea has promises to be fulfilled.
What is White Tea?
Like all teas such as green tea, oolong, or famed English milk tea, white tea comes from the same Camellia sinensis plant. There is no definitive line to draw for what a ‘white tea’ is, but there are a couple of variations on a theme.
The best known white tea comes from the buds of immature leaves before they fully open. Either that, or they are the very first pick of a new season. In the former case, the leaves will have those distinctive silvery hairs that give the tea its name.
Unlike other teas, this tea is not rolled, roasted, steamed, nor subjected to any induced oxidation. Traditionally, the leaves are sun dried and withered over a longer period of time. In this sense, white tea is pure and virginal.
These days, sun dried white tea is a rarity. Most harvests are cured indoors under carefully controlled parameters to maximize yields. Some varieties may even be charcoal ‘roasted’ over very low temperatures for a more complex flavor. All the same, the delicate leaves are treated with gentle care and attention not afforded to those other teas.
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Different Types and Common Names
The best of white teas, not surprisingly, come from the southern tea regions of China. Depending on the variety or region, these teas also go by the name of Silver Needle, White Peony, or Silvery Pekoe. Other areas that produce these teas are Taiwan, but more so Darjeeling in India.
Silver Needle or Silvery Pekoe is also known as Bai Hao Yin Zhen tea. Bai Mudan tea has a richer flavor and stronger potency, otherwise known as Peony. Another Chinese tea called Shoumei is not a silver needle tea, but top picked leaves similar to the Japanese variety.
Japanese White Tea?
You will find tea that is produced and marketed in Japan as ‘white tea’ or 白葉茶 (hyakuyouchya). However, it is by no means a silver needle tea. Japanese white tea is procured from the first leaves of the harvest, but are generally not as white-haired buds.
The yield is limited, and therefore harder to obtain. Generally, the product consists of larger types of whole leaves that are naturally sun-dried. The taste and texture is still distinctly more genteel.
A couple of producer names are Kanayamidori (金谷みどり) from Gokase town in Miyazaki, and Hoshinomidori (星野緑) from Fukuoka. Others include Koganemidori (黄金みどり), Yamabuki (山吹), and Kiraka (きら香) all from Shizuoka Prefecture.
Benefits of Drinking White Tea
There are no studies showing that white tea, or any other tea, can cure you of anything. However, the compounds present in tea have been researched and found to have numerous potential health benefits.
All teas are processed in different ways. These processes determine the percentage and ratio of potentially beneficial compounds. A 2013 study shows that white tea overall contains more antioxidant activity, especially catechins.
The levels of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) are similar to green tea. It is therefore promising in terms of weight control and increased metabolism.
More interesting and hopeful studies show that white tea is particularly strong in anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties effective on pneumonias. More research is needed in this area.
Finally, depending on the type of white tea, how, and how long you brew it, the caffeine content can be considerably less than green tea. A light brew is the perfect tea for drinking in the evening.
How to Brew Your Needle Tea
There different opinions as to what temperature to brew your white tea at. Some recommend a temperature of as low as 70℃. One misconception is the fragility of the buds. Buds are actually quite compact, so in that sense they can withstand higher temperatures. Some people will brew their tea at 95℃, or even close to 100℃.
Brewing your tea in a clear glass pot is also recommended. Not only does it complement the color, but when the leaves start to fall to the bottom, you know your tea is ready to pour. If you brew at 85℃, the brew drop time should be around 5 min. If you brew at 95℃, around 3 min is long enough.
The softer brew will highly floral flavors and fruity touches with a smoother texture. The harder brew brings out woody, nutty, or vanilla flavors with a dryer finish. 90℃ will bring out the sweet medium. Therefore, how you brew your tea, really depends on your mood and what kind of tea you need.
Best White Tea Worth Buying in Japan
Although our best selections of white tea in Japan may not always be in stock, we will do our best to keep you in the know with the next best choices in town.
Sun-dried Pure Funding White Tea – 福鼎白茶
If you want to treat yourself to the promise of traditional flavor, the goodness of sun-dried needle tea is a little harder to come by. This tea comes from the surrounds of Funding City (福鼎市) which is the epicenter of white tea production.
The 煕渓 (Sunshine Valley) brand is a fairly popular and they produce a lot of other teas.
Aged 300g White Tea Cake – 福鼎白茶
To enjoy the full aesthetics of Chinese tea, there’s no better way than to pick your way through a tea cake. This 2017 year tea cake comes from the same producer (煕渓 ) as above. For the price, you will notice that this is not a full white needle tea, but mixed in with broader leaf types.
If you really want to put your money were your mouth is, you can try their premium white needle cake.
Pekoe Tea Bags (2021) from Fujian
This tea in Chinese is Baihao Yinzhen (白毫银针) – which just means ‘white needle tea.’ It also comes from Fujian province. Because white tea is not fermented like Puerh Tea, it is quite safe to package in a tea sachet. There are 31 bags for a long month, and the price is reasonable. It appears this tea is repackaged from a bulk supply of loose leaf.
This tea is well-priced, but not for the connoisseur. It’s a nice everyday drinking choice and well-reviewed.
Yan Hou White Tea for Gifting
This Yan Hou tea is also the one we recommend in our 5 Best Superfoods Review. It’s a quality product available in over 30 countries. The tea also carries global SGS certification for health safety standards. It’s a loose tea (not bags) and comes nicely package and sealed in a wooden box.
This tea usually ships from abroad so may take up to a week to arrive. The company has good product and customer care.
Fujian Toucha Tea Cakes
Another convenient, and quite delightful, tea experience is the mini ‘toucha’ tea cake. Each disk is 5g which is enough to brew for two people. They’re also great for taking on a business trip or to the office. This is also a Funding tea, but the tin is nicely labelled for the Japanese market.
Although the suggested brew temperature is 100℃, you may want to review our tips on how to brew white tea.
Kaito Brothers Fermented White Tea
White tea is usually unprocessed, but this tea is slightly fermented. It has a richer and fuller taste, but not as distinctive as Puerh Tea. Unlike other teas featured, this one is from Yunan Province. The serving size is 2-3 grams to 250cc of water between 80-85℃ for 2-4 min. Although you can flush the leaves once, it is not recommended for a second brewing.
Kaito Brothers (海東銘茶) is a Japanese company with a range of popular organic certified bottled teas.
See Our Other Reviews of Healthy Teas and Superfoods
- Pu’er: The Weight Loss Tea Everyone is Talking About [ プーアル茶 ]
- Best Superfoods Worth Buying in Japan: 最高のスーパーフード