How to Brew: White Tea

As discussed in our What is White Tea blog, White Teas are often perceived as the most enigmatic of the tea types.

Hailed as delicate, yet comprised of sturdy, frost-resisting downy buds, it's no wonder that White Tea as a category can feel somewhat ambiguous. That's why we like to liken White Teas to ballet dancers - they are delicate in appearance and performance in a way that belies their inner strength. 

White Tea is the least processed of the tea types, undergoing only withering and drying with no step to either prevent or encourage enzymatic oxidation. So, you might say that White Teas are delicate because they are handled delicately. Indeed, White Teas are delicate in that they are more subject to the vagaries of storage conditions than other teas due to their processing. But it is the aroma, liquor, and flavor of White Teas that truly contribute to its delicate reputation - and those three factors depend heavily on how you brew your White Tea. 

Silver needle white tea brewed in a glass infuser and served in a white cup

The Best Way to Brew White Tea

The best way to brew White Tea is going to depend on what White Tea you're brewing. We will spend some time discussing how to brew both the popular Silver Needles and White Peony teas, as well as scented White Teas like our Sweet White Peach or The Canfield in Red

Weight vs. Volume Measures in Brewing White Tea

As a general rule, we tend to recommend using weight to measure your tea, regardless of the type of tea you're using. With White Teas, we especially recommend pulling out a kitchen scale to measure your tea because the buds tend to be long and light, making teaspoons, scoops, and your eyeballs imperfect measuring methods. 

Most teas brew best in the Western-style at a ratio of 5 grams tea to 16 ounces of water. 

The exception to this weight recommendation is if you are brewing in a traditional gaiwan. In this instance, it is appropriate to fill your gaiwan to approximately 1/3 with the leaves. 

Brewing Silver Needle White Tea (Yin Zhen)

Silver Needle teas are comprised solely of the downy buds. As we mentioned earlier, these downy buds are surprisingly hardy and designed by nature to withstand normal temperature variations during the early spring growing season. As a result, the downy white hairs on these buds are hydrophobic. While this is good for the tea plant's growth and survival, it does affect how you will brew your tea. 

Recommended Silver Needle Tea Preparation

For a delicate and aromatic cup, we recommend brewing Silver Needle Teas as follows:

  • 5 grams of tea
  • 16 ounces of 185° F filtered water
  • 5-7 minute steep

Fans of tannin may prefer brewing Silver Needle Teas at a slightly higher temperature. Your cup will be less aromatic, but have a more robust body and tannin when brewed with:

  • 5 grams of tea
  • 16 ounces of 195° F filtered water
  • 3-4 minute steep

Brewing White Peony White Tea (Bai Mu Dan)

White Peony teas contain both the downy buds and first two leaves of the spring harvest. Because of this, our brewing recommendations will change slightly. 

Brew White Peony Teas as Follows:

  • 5 grams of tea
  • 16 ounces of 185° F filtered water
  • 3 minute steep

Brewing Scented White Teas

Scented White Teas generally have fruits or florals added to them. Sometimes they may also be mixed with Green Teas for more body. White Peony (Bai Mu Dan) is the most popular White Tea for scented teas because it is both less expensive than Silver Needle and has more body. 

Since Scented White Teas contain fruits or florals in addition to tea, you will want to either brew your tea hotter or longer than a traditional White Peony to extract the yummy fruit and floral flavors. 

Brew Scented White Teas as Follows:

  • 5 grams of tea
  • 16 ounces of 185-195° F filtered water
  • 3-4 minute steep

Traditional Teaware: Brewing White Tea in a Gaiwan

Gaiwans are wonderful for brewing white teas, and very simple to use!

You will need:

  • Gaiwain
  • Sharing pitcher
  • Small cup(s)
  • White Tea
  • 185° F filtered water

To brew in a gaiwan:

  1. Warm your gaiwan with at-temperature water
  2. Pour this warming water into the sharing pitcher and then into the cups
  3. Fill your gaiwan by 1/3 with Silver Needle White Tea
  4. Pour 185° F water over the buds and replace the lid
  5. Steep for 45 seconds to 1 minute
  6. While the tea is steeping, discard your warming water
  7. Pour the steeped tea into your sharing pitcher and serve in your cup(s)
  8. Resteep multiple times at decreasing time intervals

The Effects of Brewing on Caffeine in White Tea

Caffeine in White Tea continues the pattern of ambiguity and equivocation that we've seen so far. Some sources will tell you that White Tea has the lowest caffeine of traditional teas while others will argue that it has the most. We're going to briefly talk about why there's so much confusion about something that should arguably be measurable and then discuss how you can play around with the levels of caffeine in your cup. 

Does White Tea Have the Least Caffeine?

The short answer to this is, simply, no. A stem tea like Wood Dragon or a roasted tea like Hojicha will have less caffeine than a White Tea. 

How much caffeine is in White Tea, however, is a bit more complicated. Arguably because White Tea is made from the young, tender buds and leaves that comprise the early spring new growth on the tea plant - and because White Tea is the closest to the natural state of the leaves - White Tea could have as much if not more caffeine than other types of tea. This line of thought has challenged conventional wisdom that White Tea has the least caffeine and inspired new research into the properties of White Tea. 

The results? Researchers have found White Tea in laboratory settings to contain similar amounts of caffeine as other types of tea. 

The catch? We don't drink laboratory teas and, as we've discussed in other blogs, each type of tea exhibits its best flavor profiles under different brewing conditions. 

For this reason, the amount of caffeine in your cup is going to vary based on the type of White Tea you're drinking and how you choose to brew it. 

How to Gauge the Caffeine in Your Cup of White Tea

In general, the higher the temperature and the longer the steep, the more caffeine you will extract from the leaves. As we mentioned previously, the downy hairs on the tea buds are hydrophobic and caffeine is water-soluble, so a cup of Silver Needle tea is likely to have less caffeine than a cup of White Peony. 

Scented White Teas will have the lowest caffeine among the White Teas we've discussed today (outside of our Nan Mei Wild Buds, which is naturally caffeine-free). This is because the 5 grams of tea you're using to brew your cup is comprised of not only tea, but also fruits and / or florals. This lowers the caffeine proportionally. 

A final word on brewing

At the end of the day, the "right" way to brew is the way that tastes best to you. If you find your cup is too strong or too light, play around with the ratio of tea to water, the temperature of the water, and the length of your brew. 

Happy steeping!

Green Button with text: "Shop White Tea"

Recent posts
How to Brew: White Tea
How to Brew: Oolong
How to Brew: Black Tea
How to Brew: Green Tea