White Tea Caffeine Content is Higher Than You Think

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Does white tea have less caffeine than other types of tea? How does the caffeine content change as white tea ages? What about white peony vs. silver needle?

As a tea sommelier, I get at least one caffeine-related question a day. And many give me a confused look when I explain that the caffeine content does not depend on the type of tea.

So in this article, I explain different factors that influence the caffeine content in tea and how the amount compares across different white teas.

This post is part of our Aged Tea 101 series. Sign up to get the full series!

The assumption about the caffeine content of white tea

Many people assume that white tea has lower caffeine content than other types of teas. Perhaps because it tends to be lighter in color. Or because they saw a chart that lists caffeine content by types of tea.

All these assumptions are simply NOT true. All teas from the Camellia sinensis plant contain naturally-occurring caffeine. Tisanes, or herbal teas, are the only truly decaffeinated “teas” available.

When researchers compared the caffeine content across all types of teas, they found no correlation between the type of tea (i.e. white, green, yellow, oolong, black, dark) and the determined caffeine content. This research was published in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology in 2008.

This means white teas do NOT necessarily contain less caffeine than other teas.

Then, what influences the caffeine content? Let's dive into the specific caffeine content of white tea.

Factors that influence the caffeine content of white tea

Here are the different factors that determine the caffeine content. 

1. Age of Tea Leaves

Teas that contain new buds and/or very young leaves contain a higher level of caffeine. That is because caffeine is a natural insecticide for young buds and leaves to protect them from insects.

That means Silver Needle, a white tea made of pure buds, contains more caffeine than White Peony, a white tea made of one bud and two leaves.

aged white tea

Shop aged silver needle

2. Type of Tea Plant

All teas come from the tea plant Camellia sinensis, but there are different subspecies, varietals, and cultivars of this tea plant. Even within the two most popular subspecies, Camellia sinensis var. assamica and Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, there are thousands of varietals and cultivars around the world.

And white tea is not only harvested in Fujian and Yunnan provinces of China, but also other parts of the world, such as India, South Korea, and Malawi.

As each varietal has different levels of caffeine, we cannot generalize the amount of caffeine across all white teas.

3. Age of the Tea

Just like pu-erh, the caffeine within white tea also decreases with age. 

According to a 2014 study performed at the Fujian Agriculture University, one type of fresh white tea contained 4.28% caffeine, while the same white tea contained only 3.6% caffeine after one year of aging, 3.5% after three years, and 2.5% after an impressive twenty years.

So our aged white tea collection will have less caffeine than young white teas, typically sold at other tea companies.

aged white tea

Explore aged white teas

 

4. Brewing Process

This is one of the important factors that you also have control over. There are three main brewing parameters as follows:

  • Brewing temperature: Higher the brewing temperature, more caffeine will be extracted out from the leaves into your brewed tea.
  • Brewing time: Longer you brew the tea, more caffeine will be extracted out from the leaves into your brewed tea.
  • Amount of leaves: And as you expected, the more leaves you use, the higher the caffeine amount per cup.

Typically, white teas are brewed at lower temperatures (170-180 °F), and therefore brewed white teas contain less caffeine.

However, aged white teas are typically brewed at the boiling temperature using gongfu style (more tea leaves, higher leaf to water ratio, shorter brewing time). Because of the amount of tea you end up brewing with gongfu style, brewed aged white tea tends to have higher in caffeine though the aged tea itself has less caffeine.

In the case of cold-brewed white tea, because we use lower temperature water but a longer timeframe, it does not necessarily have lower caffeine content.

The caffeine content of white tea by type

So based on these factors, if we were to roughly rank different white teas from the highest to the lowest caffeine content, it would be as follows:

  • Young Silver Needle (highest caffeine content)
  • Young White Peony or other white teas with one bud and two leaves
  • Young Longevity Eyebrow (i.e. Shou Mei) or other white teas with mature leaves
  • Aged Silver Needle
  • Aged White Peony or other white teas with one bud and two leaves
  • Aged Longevity Eyebrow or other white teas with mature leaves (lowest caffeine content)

Note that this is an estimate as we don’t know whether the effect of aging is greater than the effect of buds and young leaves.

aged white tea

Shop aged white peony

Reason tea companies list white tea as low in caffeine

So why do other tea companies say white teas are low in caffeine?

That is because when big companies test the amount of caffeine in their tea, they usually test their brewed cup of tea.

This means that they use their version of white tea (i.e. low-quality mature leaf white tea), and their brewing parameters (i.e. lower temperature for white tea). Therefore, when they compare the caffeine content between white tea and other teas, it has lower caffeine content.

Smaller handcrafted tea companies like us do not have the capital to test each batch of our small batch tea for its caffeine content. So we cannot tell you exactly how much caffeine each batch contains.

However, if you are looking for a low caffeine option, we encourage you to use a shorter brewing time. Of course, if you have any condition, it is important to consult your physician. 

Keep in mind that caffeine from tea works differently from caffeine from coffee because tea contains L-theanine, an amino acid that regulates the rate at which our body absorbs caffeine. And everybody responds differently to caffeine.

This post is part of our Aged Tea 101 series. Sign up to get the full series!

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