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Benefits of White Tea

By David Mendosa

I’m falling in love with white tea. It seems strange even to me, because this is the lightest and mildest tea, while the coffee that I also love is the strong brew produced by a French press.

White tea is the least processed.

Unlike most of my love affairs, this one is based not only on taste but also on the potential health benefits. I reported here a couple of years ago that tea enhances insulin activity. Green tea was the basis of that report. The U.S. Department of Agriculture discovered that it contains high levels of a disease-fighting antioxidant, epigallocatechin gallate.

Now, researchers at Oregon State University’s Linus Pauling Institute in Corvallis have discovered that white tea has even more epigallocatechin gallate than green tea has.

Tea infused from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant is the world’s most popular beverage after water. The darker the tea, the more processing it has undergone, and the more processing, the more antioxidants are lost.

Most of the tea that we drink is the most highly processed type, black tea. Oxidized — fully fermented — black tea is relatively low in its concentrations of catechins.

Green teas is less processed, but its leaves are withered by air drying. This results in higher concentrations of catechins than black teas have but lower than those in white teas.

The least processed teas, white teas, are unfermented teas made from young tea leaves or buds. They are steamed immediately after harvest to inactivate polyphenol oxidase and then dried.

Scientists have been studying green tea for a decade. Their research shows that it may prevent cancer, lower blood cholesterol, and control high blood pressure. It may even prevent cavities and fight viruses. The few scientists studying white tea, most notably those at the Linus Pauling Institute, have shown in animal models that white tea is better at preventing colon cancer than green tea.

My favorite tea is Silver Needle or , transliterated as Yin Zhen Bai Hao, one of the two highest-quality white teas. They come primarily from the Fuding and Zhenhe districts of Fujian, China. I get it from Upton Tea Imports, which for years has been my favorite tea purveyor.

Dr. Andrew Weil says that white tea is the lowest in caffeine of any type of tea. Other sources say that white tea is higher.

The confusion is because, “There is no one white tea, just as there is no one green tea,” according to an email from Roderick H. Dashwood, Ph.D., and professor of environmental and molecular toxicology at Oregon State University. “Among white teas, some have higher caffeine than green, and some have lower levels.”  


  • Anderson RA., Polansky MM. “Tea enhances insulin activity.” J Agric Food Chem 50:7182-6 (2002). Abstract online at PubMed.

  • Santana-Rios G, Orner GA, Xu M, Izquierdo-Pulido M, Dashwood RH. “Inhibition by white tea of 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo[4,5-b]pyridine-induced colonic aberrant crypts in the F344 rat.” Nutr Cancer. 2001;41(1-2):98-103. Abstract online at PubMed.

  • Santana-Rios G, Orner GA, Amantana A, Provost C, Wu SY, Dashwood RH. “Potent antimutagenic activity of white tea in comparison with green tea in the Salmonella assay.” Mutat Res. 2001 Aug 22;495(1-2):61-74. Abstract online at PubMed.

  • Dashwood WM, Orner GA, Dashwood RH. “Inhibition of ß-catenin/Tcf activity by white tea, green tea, and epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG): minor contribution of H2O2 at physiologically relevant EGCG concentrations.” Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2002 Aug 23;296(3):584-8. Abstract online at PubMed.

  • Orner GA, Dashwood WM, Blum CA, Diaz GD, Li Q, Dashwood RH. “Suppression of tumorigenesis in the Apcmin mouse: down-regulation of ß-catenin signaling by a combination of tea plus sulindac.” Carcinogenesis. 2003 Feb;24(2):263-7. Abstract online at PubMed.

This article originally appeared at on April 8, 2004.

Last modified: April 11, 2004

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