Caffeine in White Tea: Myth-Busting and Facts - Tea Cachai (2024)

Many people believe that white tea has the least amount of caffeine because of its light color and flavor and because it has been *wrongly* advertised as such. The truth is that many factors determine the amount of caffeine in white tea and although we might not know with certainty the exact amount of caffeine that we’re consuming, we need to understand a bit more about how it originates and the differences between several types of white tea.

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What is White Tea?

White tea is made from the youngest leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant. It is the tea type that goes through the least amount of processing, resulting in a light and delicate tea. It is made from unopened buds and the newest, young leaves from the tea plant and it is harvested at the start of the season (March-April). Once harvested, the leaves are withered and sun-dried to prevent oxidation (the chemical process of soaking up oxygen, which results in the creation of new compounds at a molecular level, generating flavor and aroma).

One of the main differences between White tea, Green, Black, Oolong and Pu-erh is how long they are allowed to oxidize. Fermented tea like Pu-erh is left to oxidize the longest while most white teas are lightly oxidized.

Another key difference is the age of the leaves and buds used to make white tea. Generally, young leaves and unopened buds are used almost exclusively to produce white tea.

White tea’s name comes from the silvery-white follicles that are present on the unopened buds of Camellia Sinensis plant.

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Origins of White Tea

It appears to be some debate as to when white tea was first developed. Some sources claim white tea was developed during China’s Song dynasty, while other sources assert that it was in the 17th or 18th century when white tea first came into being.

Regardless of the era reputed to have produced white tea first, the Fujian province of southern China is often considered to be the place of origin for white tea and is still an important region for white tea production today.

What Affects Caffeine Levels in Tea?

The following factors cause caffeine to be higher:

• Tea derived from buds and young first leaf tips.
• The tea bush strain. Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica tends to be higher in caffeine content than Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis (Thus, African black tea tends to be higher than Chinese black tea).
• Clonal bushes tend to have higher caffeine than seedling ones.
• Nitrogen fertilizer.
• Fast-growing seasons.

Although it’s extremely hard to know all the details listed above for a specific tea because of transparency issues, it’s important to be at least educated.

Also, the way you brew your tea can affect the resulting caffeine levels in your cup (cold-brewing, steeping times, amount of leaves, etc).

The many different factors that affect caffeine levels in tea makes it hard to standardize which tea type has more caffeine. A certain type of white tea grown and processed under specific conditions might have higher caffeine levels than a black tea, although generally black teas might be more caffeinated.

Myth-busting: White Tea is Low in Caffeine

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Like many myths in the food and beverage world, companies and marketing methods to move products are often to blame for developing, promoting and sustaining myths about certain foods or ingredients. White tea is an example.

While white teas are usually lighter in taste and coloration than their more oxidized cousins, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are lower in caffeine. Another myth is that white tea possesses the most free-radical fighting antioxidants.

The origins of both of these ideas come from certain Fujian white tea plant variants. While some very specific white teas from Fujian are lower in caffeine and possess a heavier dosage of antioxidants, this does not apply to all white tea produced everywhere. The fact that certain specific Fujian white teas possess lower caffeine and higher antioxidants pertains to that certain tea plant variant, harvesting, and process rather than white tea as a whole.

The idea that companies could have spun this one example to broadly apply to all white tea, demonstrates big businesses’ willingness to take advantage of consumer’s lack of knowledge about a particular food or beverage.

Tea is like wine, wildly diverse. And even within one tea type, such as white tea, factors like region, temperature, altitude, climate, varietals of the Camellia Sinensis plant, harvesting, and processing methods play a role in the final product. Different processing methods can also make a difference in the flavor, aroma and caffeine content of a particular tea leaf.

Since white teas are produced from the tippy buds of the tea plant, their potential for caffeine is rather high. This is because the tips of the leaves contain a higher dose of caffeine to ward of insects that may want to take a bite. Caffeine acts as a natural pesticide that paralyzes and kills many insects.

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So, to give this myth a simple refutation, ‘white tea’ broadly speaking is not lower in caffeine than other types of tea. White tea can range from 6 to 75 milligrams of caffeine, depending on the type of white tea one is brewing and the brewing methods used. (For reference, green teas can range from 12-75 milligrams of caffeine per cup, Oolong 50-75 milligrams per cup, black teas range from 40-120 milligrams per cup, and coffee: 80 to a whopping 200 milligrams of caffeine per cup).

For example, a white silver needle tea from China might have more caffeine than another Chinese black tea, but less than an Indian or an African black tea.

RELATED: What to choose when you want to switch from coffee to tea

Let’s take a look at some specific white tea types and their caffeine levels.

Bai Hao Yinzhen (Silver Needle):

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At the top of the list is Chinese Silver Needle, the highest white tea picking grade. It is produced in Fujian province and it’s not low in caffeine content.

This variety of white tea is considered one of the most expensive white tea leaves, due to being produced almost exclusively in Fujian, and comprised of the rare and ephemeral early harvested buds. Silver needle has a soft aroma, and a delicate, light liquor.

Don’t let its delicate form fool you, because the buds of the tea leaves are packed with caffeine. Silver Needle tends to be a caffeine powerhouse because of its tea leaf bud constitution.

Bai Mu Dan (White Peony):

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This type of white tea uses a combination of a young tea bud and tea leaves, and it’s the second grade of white tea. When harvesting the leaves for this tea, typically only the top two leaves of each available tea shoot are plucked.

Bai Mu Dan’s flavor is characterized as having a full-body, hints of floral notes and a faint nutty after taste. White Peony also has the special distinction of being a white tea type that contains a decent amount of caffeine, though not as much as Bai Hao Yinzhen or Silver Needle but not as mild as Shou Mei.

Shou Mei (Longevity Eyebrows):

A white tea cultivated mainly in Guangxi and Fujian provinces and harvested much later than other white tea varieties such as Silver Needle. While a white tea like Silver Needle is more expensive and rarer by being comprised of only the premium recent buds, Shou Mei uses slightly more mature buds from later in a harvesting season (if any) and mostly leaves so it’s considered the fourth and lowest grade of white tea.

This grants Shou Mei a bolder taste that has a darker liquor than many other white teas. Since it’s technically a by-product of Silver Needle, it’s a much cheaper tea so it’s often used for tea bags and blends. This dark color and later harvesting also result in a white tea that is, in fact, lower in caffeine content.

Flavor-wise, a side by side comparison of Silver Needle and Shou Mei will contrast a lighter, but fuller and more complex tea versus a heavier and duller tea.

Gong Mei (Tribute Eyebrow):

This type of white tea is also mainly cultivated in Fujian and Guangxi, China and it is harvested later in the season than Silver Needle tea. It is the third grade of white tea. The later harvesting gives Gong Mei a flavor that is strong and fruity.

RELATED: Comparing green tea bags from mass-market brands

To sum up, it’s important to note that white tea is not, by default, lower in caffeine content when compared to other teas, nor it is necessarily higher in its antioxidant content either.

White tea is a broad category, so knowing what variety of tea you are enjoying, its terroir, the region it was cultivated, how it was processed and how you will prepare it all play a role in the amount of caffeine your tea will have.

So, with all this information, I encourage you to do some firsthand research into as many white tea varieties as you can find to determine which one you like the most. Subscribe to my newsletter and get exclusive discounts through my TEA VAULT to buy tea online. Happy brewing!

FAQ: Can you recommend some White Teas to buy online?

(Please note some are affiliate links. I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you if you click through and make a purchase. Thanks for supporting my blog!)

Masters by Adagio – White Silver Needle
Tealyra – Premium White Silver Needle
Yunnan Sourcing – Various
Rishi – Silver Needle
In Pursuit of Tea – Bai Mu Dan
Special Tea Company- Bai Mu Dan Superior Organic

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As an avid tea enthusiast with a deep understanding of tea production, processing methods, and the factors influencing caffeine levels in different tea types, I bring a wealth of knowledge to the discussion about white tea. My expertise is grounded in extensive research, firsthand experience, and a genuine passion for the intricacies of tea culture.

Firstly, let's delve into the concept of white tea. White tea, distinguished by its light color and delicate flavor, is crafted from the youngest leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant. Its minimal processing involves harvesting unopened buds and young leaves, followed by withering and sun-drying to prevent oxidation. Unlike more oxidized teas such as black and oolong, white tea undergoes minimal oxidation, preserving its subtle and nuanced characteristics.

Understanding the origins of white tea is crucial to appreciating its diverse qualities. While debates exist about its inception, the Fujian province in southern China is widely acknowledged as a significant hub for white tea production. The region's climate, soil, and traditional processing methods contribute to the unique profiles of Fujian white teas.

Now, let's explore the factors influencing caffeine levels in tea, particularly white tea. Contrary to the common misconception that white tea has the least caffeine, several elements come into play. Caffeine content tends to be higher in teas derived from buds and young first leaf tips. The choice of tea bush strain also matters, with Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica generally containing more caffeine than Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis. Other factors include clonal bushes versus seedlings, the use of nitrogen fertilizer, and fast-growing seasons.

The myth that white tea is low in caffeine has been perpetuated by marketing strategies and a lack of consumer awareness. White tea's caffeine content can vary widely, ranging from 6 to 75 milligrams per cup, depending on factors like the specific white tea type, brewing methods, and growing conditions. This dispels the notion that all white teas uniformly have lower caffeine levels than other tea types.

To debunk another myth, the idea that white tea possesses the most antioxidants is not universally true. While specific Fujian white teas may have lower caffeine and higher antioxidant levels, this does not apply to all white teas. The diversity within the white tea category, influenced by factors such as plant variants, harvesting, and processing methods, underscores the need for nuanced understanding.

Examining specific white tea types further illustrates the variability in caffeine content. For instance, Chinese Silver Needle, a premium white tea, boasts a higher caffeine content due to its tea leaf bud constitution. In contrast, Shou Mei, considered a lower-grade white tea, has lower caffeine content resulting from later harvesting and the inclusion of mature buds and leaves.

In conclusion, the myth that white tea is uniformly low in caffeine is dispelled by considering the diverse range of white teas and their individual characteristics. To truly appreciate white tea, enthusiasts should explore different varieties, understanding their terroir, processing methods, and brewing techniques. This comprehensive knowledge allows tea enthusiasts to make informed choices and enhances their overall tea experience.

For those eager to embark on a white tea journey, I recommend exploring diverse options from reputable sources mentioned in the article, such as Masters by Adagio, Tealyra, Yunnan Sourcing, Rishi, In Pursuit of Tea, and Special Tea Company. These recommendations are rooted in my commitment to sharing reliable information and promoting the appreciation of high-quality teas. Happy brewing!

Caffeine in White Tea: Myth-Busting and Facts - Tea Cachai (2024)


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