Next to water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world. But the term "tea" is a somewhat broad one that encompasses several different types of drinks. There are a lot of tea flavors, but there are also different tea bases, like white tea and green tea (and black tea, of course).
While the majority of scientific research has been done on green tea — since that's the type that's believed to have the most benefits — researchers have started digging into the health benefits of white tea, too. So, which is healthier? The short answer is: they're both good choices; but the best one for you depends on what you're looking to get out of your tea.
White Tea vs. Green Tea
Both white teas and green teas are the main commercial teas that come from the buds and leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Whether the tea ends up as green tea or white tea depends on how it's dried and processed after picking. Green tea is made from the leaves of the plant that are rolled and dried and then steamed and/or pan-fried.
On the other hand, white tea, which is actually considered a variety of green tea, is made from new buds and young leaves. It's unfermented, and, in some cases, the buds and leaves may be blocked from sunlight so the plant doesn't produce as much chlorophyll. This makes the tea look white.
A report that was published in Food Research International in June 2017 points out that white tea is the least processed form of tea, and because of this, it has strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
However, another report from a February 2015 issue of Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology argues that some of the compounds in tea, called polyphenols, may become even more bioavailable during processing and fermentation. The researchers from this report say that, because of this, green tea is actually richer in antioxidant properties.
Health Benefits of Green Tea
But what are the actual benefits of green tea? There are many, but one of the most potent compounds in green tea that's responsible for a lot of its health benefits is a catechin called epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG. There's been a lot of research on EGCG, which is a powerful antioxidant, and this research has shown that the catechin may help:
- Protect the health of your brain by destroying free radicals and helping detox heavy metals
- Prevent obesity and allow you to maintain a healthy weight
- Reduce the risk of cancer and chronic inflammatory diseases, like diabetes and metabolic syndrome
- Keep your skin healthy and prevent visible aging by protecting the collagen in your skin
Although there's a lot of research on green tea, there haven't been a ton of studies done on white tea; however, since interest in the health benefits of white tea have grown, researchers have responded with a little bit of targeted science.
Read more: 10 Everyday Ailments Soothed by Tea
Health Benefits of White Tea
White tea has a lot of different health-promoting compounds that help to classify it as:
- Anti-mutagenic (which means it helps prevent negative mutations in potentially-harmful compounds)
One study that was published in Food Chemistry in December 2013 looked at whether white tea has a positive effect on the way your body handles glucose (or blood sugar) and fats. The researchers found that white tea could help bind bad, or LDL, cholesterol and increase good, or HDL, cholesterol levels. This combination can keep your heart healthier and reduce your risk of heart disease. The report also noted that white tea could help balance blood glucose levels.
Another study that was published in a September 2019 issue of Nutrition compared how different types of tea (white, green, black and oolong) could affect your weight and the way your body metabolizes bile acids (the digestive juices that help break down the fats you eat) and play a role in controlling your metabolism and your weight.
The researchers from the study reported that all of the different types of teas positively affected bile acid metabolism, which means that the way your body metabolizes the fats and foods you eat was also positively affected. This shows promising results for the role of the teas in weight loss, but the researchers also noted that oolong tea was actually the only one that seemed to have a direct weight-loss effect independent of bile acid metabolism.
Read more: 6 Surprising Ways to Cook With Tea
A Synergistic Effect
But, according to a report published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture in November 2017, instead of comparing benefits of white tea over green tea, it may be better to enjoy them both — and all other types of tea. The report notes that different teas have different types of beneficial compounds. For example, green tea contains catechins, proanthocyanidins and flavonols, while white tea contains l-theanine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).
These compounds have individual benefits on their own, but when they're combined, they may be even more powerful. Researchers pointed out that many of the phytochemicals and compounds in tea become more biologically active when you include all of them in your diet. So, instead of choosing just one type of tea, switch it up. You can have green tea with your breakfast and white tea for your afternoon pick-me-up.
The temperature of the water you use for steeping the tea (and the length of time you allow the tea to steep) also play a role in how beneficial the tea is. According to a report that was published in the Journal of Food Science in January 2016, the antioxidant activity of different tea is affected by steeping time and temperature.
White tea seems to have the highest amount of biologically-available antioxidants when steeped in hot water for a prolonged period of time. On the other hand, green tea has the highest amount of antioxidants after steeping in cold water for a while.
- Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture: "The Synergistic Potential of Various Teas, Herbs and Therapeutic Drugs in Health Improvement: A Review"
- Nutrition Journal: "Potential Neuroprotective Properties of Epigallocatechin-3-Gallate (EGCG)"
- Molecules: "In Vitro and In Silico Studies of the Molecular Interactions of Epigallocatechin-3-O-gallate (EGCG) with Proteins That Explain the Health Benefits of Green Tea"
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: "Absorption, Metabolism, Anti-Cancer Effect and Molecular Targets of Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG): An Updated Review"
- BioMed Research International: "Green Tea Extracts Epigallocatechin-3-Gallate for Different Treatments"
- Food Chemistry: "In Vitro Hypoglycaemic and Hypolipidemic Potential of White Tea Polyphenols"
- Nutrition: "Comparative Effect of Black, Green, Oolong, and White Tea Intake on Weight Gain and Bile Acid Metabolism"
- Food and Function: "Healthy Properties of Green and White Teas: An Update"
- Food Research International: "Characterization of White Tea Metabolome: Comparison Against Green and Black Tea by a Nontargeted Metabolomics Approach"
- Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology: "Exploring the Nutraceutical Potential of Polyphenols From Black, Green and White Tea Infusions - An Overview"
- Journal of Food Science: "Temperature and Time of Steeping Affect the Antioxidant Properties of White, Green, and Black Tea Infusions"
- Journal of Veterinary Science: "Anti-melanogenic Effects of Black, Green, and White Tea Extracts on Immortalized Melanocytes"