If you’re a fan of tea, you will no doubt have come across a myriad of different tea varieties available at the grocery store.
We are blessed with an abundance of options these days when it comes to drinking tea, yet it can be tempting to stick to what you know! But sometimes it is fun to try something new, like white tea.
But what is white tea, and what does it taste like? White tea has a delicate and intricate taste that is far fresher and grassier than green or black tea as the buds are picked earlier and air-dried to prevent oxidization of the leaves. White tea is normally drunk without any additives, as these tend to overwhelm its subtle, aromatic flavor profile.
If you’re intrigued to find out more about white tea, we’ve got everything you need to know right here! We’ll tell you exactly what white tea tastes like and how it gets this flavor, as well as how to serve and enjoy this premium tea blend.
What Is White Tea?
If you asked for a white coffee, you would get a coffee with milk. So, does this mean that white tea is normal tea with milk? Absolutely not!
White tea is the name for tea leaves processed with a specific method for their early harvest and long-term storage.
All types of tea come from the same plant (Camellia Sinensis) — it is how they are processed that creates the different flavors. This means that black tea, green tea, oolong tea, Pu’erh tea, and white tea all come from the same plant.
During most tea processing methods, the Camelia Sinensis leaves are harvested when mature and then dried out. As the leaves dry out, they turn darker due to a process called oxidation.
White tea gets its name from the fact that the tea leaves are harvested when they are young buds, covered in fine white hairs.
It undergoes minimal processing and the drying method is adapted to keep oxidation to a minimum.
This creates a tea with such a delicate and fresh flavor that it is often regarded as the gold standard when it comes to tea processing!
How Is White Tea Made?
Normally, tea leaves are harvested when they are fully mature and are allowed to oxidize before they are dried. This oxidization turns the leaves into a deep brown color, creating the rich, intense flavor of black tea.
For green tea, the process is similar, but the leaves are heated and dried after harvesting to prevent them from fully oxidizing.
When it comes to white tea, the aim is to prevent the leaves from oxidizing at all.
The leaves are picked when they are very young before they get a chance to fully open. These pale green leaves are softer and covered in delicate white hairs.
The aim is to then dry the leaves with as little oxidation taking place as possible.
This is achieved by allowing the freshly picked buds to air dry in the sun, or a specially designed dryer.
Drying the buds may involve the use of low heat, but this must be carefully balanced to prevent the buds from darkening.
What Does White Tea Taste Like?
Due to how white tea is picked and processed, the flavor is quite unlike any other type of tea. It is delicate and fresh, tasting like the tea leaves were just picked from the garden!
The flavor of white tea is very complex — expert tasters claim to be able to identify flavors of honey, melon, peach, apricot, vanilla, chocolate, and herbs. It is also said to have floral notes, as well as a hint of citrus and grassiness.
No matter what flavors your taste buds can identify, you will notice straight away that white tea tastes very delicate and has a beautiful aroma.
Most white teas are still picked and processed by hand, ensuring that the leaves are kept in pristine condition. This also explains the higher price tag of white tea, but tea connoisseurs will tell you that it is definitely worth it!
How Strong Is White Tea?
White tea is not a strongly-flavored tea — you won’t get the punchy, strong hit of tannins that you find in black or even green tea.
However, the flavor of white tea is incredibly complex, and a wide range of taste notes can be detected.
The delicate flavor of white tea also makes it more refreshing than black or green tea.
Does White Tea Contain Caffeine?
Like all true tea varieties, white tea does contain caffeine. It is made from the same plant as black and green tea, which has naturally occurring caffeine within the leaves.
However, some types of white tea may contain less caffeine than others.
This is because white tea is often picked from a specific variety of Camelia Sinensis: the Fujian white tea plant, native to China. This variety is lower in caffeine than other varieties of the same plant.
Although this is the traditional variety of tea plant used for white tea, other varieties of tea plant are now also cultivated for white tea around the world. These often contain as much caffeine as tea leaves grown for black or green tea.
How white tea is brewed can also affect the caffeine levels of your drink. The longer the tea is steeped in hot water, the more caffeine will be released into the beverage.
What Can You Add To White Tea?
Tea connoisseurs will tell you that the flavor of white tea is so delicate and subtle, that it should only ever be enjoyed plain, without any additives.
This tea is less bitter than black or green tea due to the low levels of tannins, so many people do enjoy drinking it plain.
However, if you find that this is not to your taste, white tea can be flavored in the same way as any other tea. Just remember to add the bare minimum of extra ingredients to avoid overpowering the delicate flavor of the white tea leaves.
How Does White Tea Compare To Other Teas?
White tea is considered to be the queen of tea varieties, due to its subtle and complex flavor profile. It is far more aromatic than black or green teas, and also much less bitter.
The reason for the flavor difference is due to the oxidization process, or lack of it. Black and green teas are exposed to oxygen as they are dried, which darkens the leaves and creates a richer flavor profile.
In contrast, white tea is intended to taste as close to freshly picked leaves as possible. The grassy, floral aroma should smell like the leaves that came straight from your garden!
The other main difference is the lack of bitterness in white tea.
Many people struggle to drink black or green tea without adding milk or sugar, as the taste can be quite bitter and unpleasant. In contrast, white tea is normally drunk alone to enjoy the complex flavor notes.
How To Make White Tea
White tea is considered to be a delicacy and should be treated as such. This is not a quick brew to make when you’re in a rush — white tea is the queen of teas, and should be treated as such!
The optimum brewing technique can vary slightly according to the specific tea you purchase, but generally speaking, white teas are brewed slightly longer and at hotter temperatures than green or black teas.
If your tea has specific instructions as to how it should be steeped, follow these. Otherwise, use around 2 grams of loose white tea leaves for every 8 ounces (1 cup) of water.
The optimum brewing time for white tea is to steep it in hot water for around 3–5 minutes.
Longer steeping times can lead to a bitter, astringent flavor, so it is preferable to err on the side of caution and steep it for a shorter time if you are unsure.
The temperature of the water is also critical to brewing white tea to perfection. If you have an electric kettle with temperature control, set this to 190°F.
If you don’t have any means of controlling the temperature of your water, 190°F is the point where water just starts to gently simmer. Bring your water to a gentle boil, turn off the heat and pour it onto your white tea leaves.
Cover the tea with a lid while it brews to prevent the water from losing heat. Leave the brew to stand and steep for no more than 5 minutes, then serve.