By Kim O’Hare
In recent years, tea has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. There’s nothing better than a hot cuppa to relax the body and restore the soul after a long day.
Green tea has become quite popular among the health conscious, but white tea is now earning accolades for its potential health benefits.
White tea is produced from the same tea plant as black, green and oolong teas. Each is distinctly different in flavour and colour and the nutritional components vary as well. White tea is delicate, slightly sweet and doesn’t have the weedy aftertaste that is sometimes associated with green tea. A coup of white tea contains less fluoride than other teas and only 15mg of caffeine, compared with 40mg for regular tea and 20mg for green tea.
White tea is brimming over with natural polyphenols, health promoting antioxidants that strengthen immune systems and suppress free-radical activity. A recent issue of the African Journal of Biotechnology found that the antioxidant properties of white tea are similar to those of green tea. Lab tests on the four varieties of tea found that white tea inhibited mutations in DNA, the earliest stages of progression of a healthy cell to a cancerous one, more efficiently than green or black teas.
In 2003 a study by the Linus Pauling Institute found that white tea was as effective as sulindac, a prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug in suppressing pre-cancerous tumours in mice.
They also found that lab mice treated with a combination of white tea and sulindac had significantly fewer tumours than those treated with either substance alone. There is also evidence to suggest that white tea may be beneficial fighting viruses, bacterial and fungal infections.
The early research is encouraging, making white tea an attractive alternative for both flavour and health benefits.
How tea is processed
Black Tea: Mature leaves are withered to remove moisture, then they are rolled and left to fully ferment or oxidize. The darkened leaves are then dried again to stop the fermentation process.
Oolong Tea: The process is the same as that for black tea, but with a shorter fermentation stage.
Green Tea: The leaves are not subjected to the fermentation process and are withered, steamed, rolled and dried to stabilize their natural green colour, flavour and nutrients.
White Tea: This involves the least processing of all. Immature leaves are harvested in early spring with the silvery white buds unopened. Leaves and buds are steamed together and air dried to prevent oxidation and the preserve more of the natural plant nutrients and antioxidants.