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The Extraordinary Benefits of Drinking White Tea

30 Mar, 2021

Why drink white tea? For us, the number one on the list of white tea benefits is enjoyment. An intentional moment with a warm cup of delicate, elegant Bai Mudan brings a sense of peace and clarity all its own.

Yet it would be remiss not to mention the other significant - and yes, extraordinary - benefits of white tea. Feel free to put the kettle on, settle into a comfy spot and join us while we explore the many reasons to love this special tea.

Dragonfly White Tea

What is White Tea?

Like green and black tea, white tea comes from the leaves of Camellia sinensis. This shrub grows natively across Asia and is cultivated the world over, but only the specific variety of tea plant growing in the distinct conditions of the Chinese Fujian province yield leaves acceptable for true white tea.

Timing of the harvest (early spring, before the fresh buds are fully open) and processing (minimal, to reduce oxidation and preserve the delicate flavours) are also key to the uniqueness of this tea. And that’s not all that sets it apart.

Little wonder that in his dissertation on tea, Emperor Hui Tsung declared white tea the rarest and highest quality of all1. (It is told that Emperor Hui Tsung became so fixated on white tea, the Mongols were able to sneak in and overthrow his empire!2 But that’s a story for another time.)

It’s this exceptionally careful production process that reveals the tea’s mellow fruity-floral notes and allows the young leaves to retain their pale silvery colour: colour that gives this tea its name and is created by an unusual abundance of soft, white hairs under the buds.

It’s also what keeps the high levels of polyphenols3 intact, thought to be at the root of many of white tea’s remarkable health benefits.

Types of White Tea

Well known types of white tea include Silver Needle (Bai Hao Yinzhen), White Peony (Bai Mu Dan), Tribute Eyebrow (Gong Mei), Long Life Eyebrow (Shou Mei).

Dragonfly Tea - Bai Mudan Tea

Properties of White Tea

A little more on those polyphenols, since they’re so important. Many compounds occur naturally in the Camellia sinensis leaf, including caffeine, amino acids (such as L-theanine) and polyphenols. Catechins are a group of these polyphenols, and include individually beneficial compounds, such as epigallocatechin (stay with us!). These natural chemicals can act as antioxidant agents in the body4, key to the wonderful properties of tea. As the least processed of the teas, white tea is said to boast the highest concentration of these natural compounds.

White tea - Dragonfly

Health Benefits of White Tea

Prized for its healthy properties long before the birth of modern science, white tea has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine5.

Recent scientific research on white tea and its compounds have linked it to an impressive range of health benefits. Let’s take a look at ten of the most studied white tea benefits relating to:

1. Antioxidant Effect

Antioxidants are agents that protect against the effects of free radicals: harmful molecules created by oxidative stress in the body linked to the effects of aging and many illnesses, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes6.

Polyphenols, especially catechins in tea, are known to have antioxidant effects in the human body. Recent research found that white tea had the most powerful “radical-scavenging” effect of a number of teas7. This antioxidant action underpins many of the other beneficial effects of drinking white tea.

2. Weight Loss

One of the most popular white tea benefits is that it might aid weight loss, according to research. A study found that human fat tissue treated with white tea extract both decreased growth of new fat cells and increased the breakdown of fat they already contained. Researchers believe the high levels of the polyphenol epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) present in white tea explained these effects8.

White tea can also support healthy weight loss as a calorie free alternative to high-sugar and fat drinks.


3. Immune function

Science had previously lauded green tea’s ability to support the immune system in fighting disease. More recent studies find that white tea is even more effective, demonstrating antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal effects9.

White tea can also protect immune cells. Langerhans cells - a key part of the immune system in detecting cancerous by-products - are very sensitive to sun damage. Researchers tested how skin protected with white tea extract responded to sunlight, and found that the white tea restored the Langerhans cells’ immune function10.

4. Heart

Research suggests that one of the most valuable of white tea benefits is that it could support heart health. Catechins in tea have been found to reduce the risk of mortality from heart disease11. Further study in this area found that tea catechins reduce absorption of ‘bad’ cholesterol from the intestine, while enhancing desirable (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels, improving the condition of the cardiovascular system12.

5. Cancer

DNA mutations are the first step leading to cancer. Scientists can determine whether a compound can prevent these mutations, and tested white tea having found promising results with green tea. White tea was found to be even more effective in inhibiting DNA mutations, and researchers concluded it might have a protective effect against cancer13.

6. Skin

Drinking white tea could have anti-aging effects on skin. White tea has been shown to block the enzymes that break down collagen and elastin (the chemicals in our skin that keep it supple). Its antioxidant action also helps protect skin from day-to-day damage14.

7. Diabetes

Research suggests that drinking white tea could relieve symptoms of diabetes, such as polydipsia, high plasma glucose levels and reduced insulin secretion15.

8. Energy/Alertness

We all know that caffeine is a stimulant that can help perk you up (or keep you up when overused!). Studies back this up, demonstrating the positive cognitive effects of small amounts of caffeine, such as improved mood and reaction times16.

More recently, studies have focused on the combined effects of caffeine and another compound found in white tea: L-theanine. The two together have been shown to improve attention and focus17.

9. Inflammation

Animal studies demonstrate the power of tea – especially white tea – in suppressing inflammation18. Researchers have found that regularly consuming tea catechins can speed up muscle recovery and suggest this is because of their antioxidant properties19.

10. Teeth

Drinking white tea can support oral health. As well as catechins, white tea also contains tannins and fluoride. Catechins fight the bacteria that form plaque (Streptococcus mutans) and tannins can protect against enzymes that wear down teeth over time20. Fluoride is known to be effective in tackling tooth decay, which is why it’s widely used in toothpaste21.

While evidence supporting the benefits of white tea grows stronger with each study published in the scientific literature, the effects of drinking white tea is still relatively under-investigated. More high-quality research is needed in order to produce conclusive evidence.


Side Effects of White Tea

With all these wonderful benefits of white tea, you might be wondering whether there’s a flip side. Questions about side effects often centre on caffeine and calorie content of white tea. Let’s take a look:


Caffeine Content of White Tea

Tea leaves, including those used in white tea, all contain some naturally occurring caffeine. However, the concentration of caffeine in a cup of white tea is lower than in other teas, and generally less than a third of the quantity in coffee. The amount of caffeine in your cup of tea will depend partly upon how you make it. To avoid scalding the leaves and preserve the delicate flavour of white tea, use water a few degrees under boiling and brew briefly. These measures have the added benefit of releasing less caffeine from the leaves. We recommend that you do as the Chinese do, steeping your leaves for two or three drinks to experience all the nuances of the elegant flavour profile. The bonus of this is that each consecutive cup will also have much less caffeine.

As mentioned above, small amounts of caffeine can actually have beneficial effects on mind and body. White tea contains little enough that most people can drink even a few cups a day without having to worry about caffeine’s less desirable effects.


Calories in White Tea

Any calories in a cup of tea come from added milk and sweeteners. The subtle, pure flavours of white tea are best unadulterated anyway, meaning a good cup of white tea will always be zero-calorie.

So, Is White Tea Good for You?

Well. We tend to think you are the expert on your own body, so we’ll leave it to you to decide what’s good for you. Personally? We think the evidence speaks for itself.

Dragonfly White Tea
How Does White Tea Compare to Other Teas?

As one of the five ‘true teas’ derived from Camellia sinensis, white tea does share some properties with green, black, oolong tea and pu’er teas. If you’re wondering how it compares to its most widely drunk siblings, read on.


White Tea vs Green Tea

Unlike white tea, which as described above is a very specific designation, green tea is a more general term that comprises a huge variety of origins (from Japan to Kenya), harvesting practices (from Spring to Autumn) and leaf types (from buds to larger leaves).The processing of these leaves is different, too. White tea, which is never rolled and always handled with utmost delicacy, undergoes just two processes: careful withering and drying. With green tea, the oxidation process is quickly cut short through baking, pan-firing or steaming, and the leaves are then shaped and rolled. While both are prized, white tea is the rarer of the two.

Benefits: As two lightly processed teas from the same plant species, green tea shares many of white tea’s properties. White tea boasts higher concentrations of catechins, however, which is why it is hailed by some as the ‘world’s heathiest tea’.

Flavour: Both teas can have nutty and sweet and notes, but green tea can also have a bittersweetness, while white tea is totally free of bitterness. White tea is delicate, light and smooth, while green tea is often more complex tasting, with vegetal and floral flavours.

    White Tea vs Black Tea

    As with green tea, black tea comprises a whole range of different origins and taste profiles (from rich malty Assams to delicate, fruity Darjeelings) whereas authentic white tea is something very specific. But the biggest and most obvious difference between white and black tea is how the tea leaves are treated after picking. To make black tea, the leaves are dried and bruised or gently ground to allow them to fully oxidise – a further level of processing that gives them a dark colour and rich, strong flavour with bitter notes.

    Benefits: Studies haven’t directly compared the benefits of white and black tea, but it’s thought that the polyphenols – and therefore the health benefits – in black tea are reduced by comparison to white and green tea.

    Flavour: Black tea is a stronger drink than white tea, with an earthy, woody, flavour profile.

      How to Drink White Tea

      For every cup of tea, we like to practise a little

      tea mindfulness.

      Delicate white tea calls for careful brewing – a great reason to press pause on the day and attend to your own tea ritual.


      To Make the Perfect Cup of White Tea

      • Click the kettle off before it fully boils, or allow it to cool for a couple of minutes after boiling.

      • Pour the water over the leaves and allow to briefly brew – a minute or two will release the subtle flavours and beneficial compounds. Longer could cause the tea to ‘stew’ and become bitter.

      • Re-infuse up to three times to experience the full array of fragrances and flavours of this special drink.

      • Leave the milk in the fridge and the sugar in the cupboard – the subtle beauty of this fruity-floral drink is best unadulterated.

      Are you ready to become a white tea enthusiast? Find our quality, authentic Bai Mudan white teas here. Share your #PressPause moments with us on our Social channels, we’d love to hear what you love about white tea.

      Dragonfly Tea - Swirling Mist

      Sources
      1. https://books.google.co.uk/books?hl=en&lr=&id=mZ0TUWvE9qQC&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=history+of+white+tea&ots=HCfa_gQGep&sig=jGHNZfhiui8NPqBERt5l_sRU60k&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=%22white%20tea%22&f=false
      2. https://www.squamishchief.com/opinion/for-all-the-tea-in-china-3335590
      3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0308814607010631 
      4. https://juniperpublishers.com/ctbeb/pdf/CTBEB.MS.ID.555925.pdf  
      5. https://www.acupuncturetoday.com/mpacms/at/article.php?id=28505
      6. https://www.livescience.com/54901-free-radicals.html#:~:text=Oxygen%20in%20the%20body%20splits,to%20cells%2C%20proteins%20and%20DNA.
      7. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0308814607010631
      8. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090430194803.htm 
      9. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/05/040526070934.htm
      10. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.696.8743&rep=rep1&type=pdf 
      11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11470725/ 
      12. https://juniperpublishers.com/ctbeb/pdf/CTBEB.MS.ID.555925.pdf 
      13. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/04/000410084553.htm 
      14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3214789/
      15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22279681/
      16. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1467-3010.2007.00665.x
      17. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/138/8/1572S/4750819 
      18. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S138357690800010X
      19. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23470311/
      20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3491343/
      21. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/fluoride/

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