A Complete Beginners Guide to Green and White Tea
Taste is a personal preference, but the science behind the health benefits of green and white tea is more clear-cut: the youngest and freshest teas contain the most antioxidants, polyphenols, and amino acids that will make you look and feel a little younger and can prevent chronic illness, or at least reduce their negative impact on your health.
But which tea should you drink for both taste and a mind-boggling array of health and well-being effects? How should it be brewed? How much tea should you use for each cup? Is there anyone who shouldn’t drink green tea? Is it a miracle cure?
First of all, let me say that there are no miracle cures, and drinking green or white tea can only help you to feel and look good. It’s something you can add to your daily life easily, but if the rest of your lifestyle is unhealthy, it won’t turn you into an Olympic athlete.
But it will improve your memory, help you lose weight, improve the condition of your skin, help reduce your cholesterol level, improve your mood, help women with menstrual problems, improve your focus and concentration, and boost your energy and stamina. All of these positive effects have been scientifically researched and demonstrated.
But more wide-ranging than each specific benefit is the general peace and well-being that comes from the interaction of all these aspects of green and white teas.
How Long will it Take to See the Benefits of Green (or White) Tea?
The health benefits from green tea are really good, but they do take time to show. In a clinical trial that tested the memory and concentration of older people, the subjects showed a marked improvement after drinking green tea, but the trial took place over three months, and the effects were gradual and incremental. Drinking your first ever cup of green tea just before a big exam probably won’t help you to remember all those facts you’ve been learning, but if you drink a few cups every day, you’ll find that in a few months’ time your mental clarity will come sharply into focus, your mood will improve, and your stamina and energy levels will pleasantly surprise you.
It's Important to Buy High Quality Tea
Green tea bags that you can buy in the supermarket are made with older, inferior quality ‘tea dust’. This ‘dust’ isn’t quite the sweepings from the floor, but it won’t provide you with the same benefits as young, recently harvested whole-leaf tea.
To get the full benefits—and a vastly superior tasting cuppa—go to a high quality tea merchant on the Internet. I’ve reviewed my favourite online teashops in another article – but make sure you read the customer reviews on these, or any other sites, and shop around to find tea that you like, and that suits your budget. Make sure too that the year and month of harvest is stated for the tea you’re buying, and that it is not more than one year old – or if it is more than one year old, make sure you’re getting a good discount, because all the ‘good stuff’ in tea - that makes it such a legend in its own teatime - degrades over time, and the older the tea, the flatter it will taste, and the less benefits you will get from it.
Search for the individual names of tea varieties: Long Jing (Dragonwell); Anji Bai Cha, Bi Luo Chun, Meng Ding Ganlu, Silver Needle (there are many other varieties, but all good tea suppliers will have at least one or two of these popular teas).
White tea often has a stronger taste than green (although it is still a delicate brew), and it has sweeter overtones. Bai Mu Dan, (or Bai Mudan), known as White Peony, and Baihao Yinzhen, (or Bai Hao Yin Zhen), known as Silver Needle are two of the most popular white teas. They are both sweet in comparison to green tea, and have an aroma that’s very like a faint scent of melon or grape.
Long Jing (Dragonwell) is often one of the ‘flagship’ products of a good supplier, and although very high grades have high prices to match, even the slightly lower (and thus cheaper) grades can be extremely delicious and full of all the nutrients that green tea is famous for. Anji Bai Cha is likewise a very expensive tea, but a very beautiful one. Meng Ding Ganlu and Bi Luo Chun are quite similar to each other in taste – sweet, fresh and floral, and these too can come with a hefty price tag. But there are other green teas, such as Huang Shan Mao Feng (or Huangshan Maofeng) that are just as wonderful and can be considerably lighter on the pocket!
The taste can vary widely for different teas, so it is worth getting smaller amounts of a few different varieties from a couple of suppliers until you find one that suits your taste.
Brewing Green and White Teas
Brewing green and white teas is quite simple. The easiest way is to make them is in a glass jug, using 2-3 grams of tea and about 250-300ml of hot, but not boiling, water. A gram of tea is about a teaspoonful, but some teas are difficult to measure on teaspoons so I estimate that a 'pinch' of tea leaves equals about one gram. For a larger mug of tea, or to make more than one cup at a time, adjust the amount of tea leaves and hot water. The leaves can be infused 3 or 4 times - but don't use yesterday's wet leaves today because they will go stale if they are left to stand overnight, but if you make your first cup in the morning, it's fine to use the same leaves for two or three more cups in the afternoon.
Elsewhere on this site, I’ve written a step-by-step guide with photographs to making the perfect cup of Anji Bai Cha green tea, and this method is also good for Long Jing (Dragonwell green tea), and Bai Hao Yin Zhen (Silver Needle white tea) – although with the first infusion of Silver Needle, the leaves will not sink to the bottom of the jug so it’s essential that you time the infusion for about 2-4 minutes (depending on your own preference) so you know when it’s ready to drink. For Meng Ding Ganlu and Bi Luo Chun, the water should be poured into the jug first, and then 2-3 grams ('pinches') of buds dropped in. These will sink immediately to the bottom, and should be left to infuse for 2-4 minutes (again, depending on how delicate you ike your brew). After the first infusion of any tea, further infusions should only be for about a minute or two.
The colour of the fully infused tea will vary, not only from variety to variety, but depending on how long you’ve left it to brew. The number of the infusion will affect it too – Long Jing and Anji Bai Cha are a wonderful crystal clear green shade on the first infusion, but may be paler, or more yellow on the second and subsequent ones. For the tiny ‘bud teas’ Meng Ding Ganlu and Bi Luo Chun, the first infusion will have only a very faint tinge of colour, and the liquid will be crystal clear, but second and third infusions can be quite cloudy, and pastel yellow-green.
What About Milk and Sugar? Or Lemon?
Green and white teas do not have milk added to them. They have a very delicate taste and don’t need milk to balance any astringency, or slight bitter taste, unlike black tea, which for some people is just too strong without a little milk. Some people do add some honey, but this will mask the delicate flavours of the tea. Sugar or honey is down to personal taste, but before you add some, try it without first. One thing that can taste delicious in tea, and which improves the availability of health-giving substances is a little fresh lemon squeezed into your cup. In laboratory models, scientists found that the amount of catechins (the part of green and white tea that helps prevent and reduce so many illnesses) that were taken up by the digestive system was vastly improved in the presence of lemon or other vitamin C-containing liquid.
Are Green and White Teas Suitable for Everyone?
If you are on medication, especially Warfarin or certain anti-psychotics, check with your doctor first before you start drinking either green or white tea. For Warfarin users (and this also applies to those who take aspirin daily), green and white teas can further thin the blood and cause haemorrhaging, and for those who are taking certain anti-psychotics, green or white tea can react with your medicine in unpleasant and possibly dangerous ways. There are other possible interactions with medication, so if you are taking any prescription, over-the-counter, or any other drugs, do a little research before you start to drink green and white teas, and talk to your doctor about any concerns you have.
Try it! Green and White teas taste wonderful, and one of the natural substances in these teas – theanine – has a calming effect on frazzled nerves. The health benefits are wide-ranging, and because it is such a light drink, which is normally taken without any additions like milk and sugar, it is as rehydrating as water, but even healthier for you!
One last thing: both green and white teas do contain caffeine. The amount is small compared to coffee, and the calming effect of theanine means that you won’t get the jittery feeling that too much coffee or some soft drinks can cause, but it is best avoided in the evening, because it can keep you awake.