White tea and black tea are made by infusing leaves of the same plant in hot water. What makes these teas so different from one another is the production process the tea leaves undergo before they reach your cup. White tea is lightly processed while black tea leaves undergo a longer process known as oxidation. Learn more about how oxidation affects the flavor, aroma, and health benefits of tea leaves with this handy guide. We'll pit white tea vs black tea and help you decide which one is healthier and better for your tastes.
White tea is a true tea made from the leaves of the tea plant known as the Camellia sinensis plant. These plants are cultivated across the globe, though white tea is largely produced in China — in the Fujian Province — and Africa including in Kenya.
White teas are made using only the youngest tea buds and tea leaves of the tea plant, which undergo minimal processing. The highest quality white teas are known as Silver Needle white teas, which use only the buds of the tea plant. The second-highest grade of white tea is known as White Peony and includes a blend of young leaves and buds of the tea plant.
White tea leaves are harvested and dried using direct sunlight in a process called withering. Once the moisture is removed from the leaves, the tea is packaged and prepared for sale. White tea is the least processed true tea, offering a delicate and nuanced flavor profile. This tea offers sweet, floral flavors shrouded in a light and airy body. The tea brews into a pale yellow or light green color.
Green tea is made by infusing green tea leaves in hot water. This type of tea is more similar to white tea than black tea. It is produced largely in China and Japan, with regional variations that make each country's green teas unique.
The tea leaves are harvested and sundried for up to 18 hours. The leaves then undergo and additional drying process, which allows the leaves to develop more grassy flavors. Chinese teas undergo a roasting or pan-firing process that creates green teas with earthy, grassy tastes. Japanese teas are dried using a steaming method that creates vegetal and herbaceous flavors.
Popular Chinese green teas include Gunpowder green tea and jasmine pearl green tea. The most famous Japanese green teas are matcha — a green tea made by pulverizing green tea leaves into a fine powder — and Genmaicha green tea. Genmaicha is a unique green tea as it is brewed with toasted, popped rice kernels that add a rich, warm, and roasted note to the tea.
While black tea is also a true tea made from the Camellia sinensis tea plant, it is vastly different in flavor, aroma, and color compared to white tea. That's because black tea leaves are allowed to oxidize — a reaction that occurs when plant enzymes are exposed to oxygen — resulting in a stronger flavor and fuller body.
Black tea leaves are produced all across the globe from China to England and the United States. Popular varieties include English Breakfast tea and Earl Grey tea — a citrusy black tea that contains bergamot rinds. Chinese varieties are more robust like Lapsang Souchong, which tastes and smells similar to a pine campfire; and gunpowder black tea, which offers strong notes similar to a cup of coffee. Popular Indian black teas include Assam, Darjeeling, and masala chai.
Black tea leaves are harvested and dried using direct sunlight or large fans for up to 18 hours. When the leaves begin to dry, they are laid out on large bamboo mats where they are gently bruised. Alternatively, some producers use machines to gently grind the leaves in a process called the CTC (Cut, Tear, Curl) Method. This allows the enzymes within the leaves to react with oxygen. As the leaves oxidize, the turn a deep brown or black hue.
The result is a full-bodied, oxidized tea that has earthy and woody notes. The tea is rich and strong, with flavors similar to coffee. It brews into a black or brown hue and has a robust aroma that can have hints of nutty and caramel flavors.
True teas are not caffeine-free. All true teas contain some amount of caffeine though it’s generally always less than a cup of coffee.. White tea has the lowest caffeine content of all the true teas. In general, a normal-sized cup of white tea contains anywhere from 15 to 20 milligrams of caffeine. Green tea contains slightly more caffeine than white tea and less caffeine than black tea at 35 to 70 milligrams per serving. One thing to note is that matcha tea has higher amounts than other green tea since the tea is made of the entire ground tea leaf.
Black tea has the highest concentration of caffeine among the true teas. A single serving of black tea contains between 60 and 90 milligrams of caffeine. That makes it a popular alternative to coffee and is the reason why black tea is so great at boosting energy levels and focus.
Research shows that drinking tea may offer health benefits ranging from an improved immune system to better weight loss and decreased pain. These benefits are largely attributed to the presence of antioxidants known as catechins, tannins, and polyphenols (1). These compounds boast anti-inflammatory properties that can help improve circulation and decrease the risk of heart disease (2). The anti-inflammatory effects also help to reduce pain associated with muscle aches, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis (3).
Additionally, true teas can help to boost weight loss results. First of all, tea is a great replacement for unhealthy sodas and juices that can pack on the calories. Simply switching from sugar-laden drinks to green tea, white tea, or black tea can help decrease your caloric intake and may lead to improved weight loss results. Additionally, studies show that true teas may help to speed up metabolism and improve fat burning (4).
Researchers haven't pitted white tea vs black tea in any studies so it's hard to definitively say which one is healthier. Since all true teas are made from the same leaves, they contain many of the same vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are responsible for health benefits. The production process can affect the presence and integrity of these ingredients, but since tea processing differs from producer to producer and region to region, it's hard to make a blanket statement as to which is healthiest.
While white tea, green tea, and black tea are true teas made using the same tea leaves — like oolong tea and pu-erh tea — they are vastly different thanks to unique production processes.
Different tea types have different health benefits. That means one tea that is well-suited for someone with other health goals may not work for your health goals such as improved weight loss or a boosted immune system. To find the perfect cup of tea for you, you'll need to identify what health goals you want to accomplish. Then you can discover tea varieties that suit your specific needs.
For example, black tea is a great choice for people who want to boost their energy levels thanks to moderate caffeine levels present in the loose leaf tea. On the other hand, green tea contains higher concentrations of polyphenols that can help fight free radicals and boost immunity.
The healthiest teas are the ones you enjoy and drink regularly. Most research shows that the health benefits of tea are most pronounced when people are drinking tea consistently for years. Essentially, it doesn't matter what type of tea you like to drink as long as you're drinking one of them. You can consume all different types of tea from herbal teas like chamomile and rooibos to true teas like white tea and black tea. Experiment and discover your favorite flavors and toast to a healthier life.