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Drink up: White tea is good for you — really!

While many food and beverage products banner themselves as "new age" offerings that fit nicely into a health-conscious consumer's lifestyle, many contain only "trace" amounts of ingredients shown to have beneficial properties, including ginkgo biloba, taurine, ginseng, proline, and creatine among others. (Trace amounts are so miniscule that even though the ingredients do, in fact, have health-related attributes, their effects are not discernable.) White tea is different.

Just like the popular green tea (which has been noted for its antioxidant qualities, particularly among Asian cultures, dating back centuries), white tea is derived from the Camellia sinensis plant. However, unlike most other varieties (including traditional black tea and oolong tea), the leaves of white tea are harvested before they are fully opened. Indeed, the name "white tea" is derived from the fine white hair that covers the uppermost tender buds of the plant. For this reason, white tea is sometimes referred to as the "Rolls Royce" of the tea family. And like green tea, white tea undergoes very little processing. While green tea has a noticeable grass-like flavor, and often requires sweeteners to be acceptable to the American consumer's palate, white tea offers a natural light, sweet flavor. For best results, white tea, which contains less caffeine than most other varieties (15mg per serving as opposed to 40mg for black tea, and 20mg for green tea), should be steeped just below the boiling point. White tea also should be consumed in its natural state - that is, without adding sweeteners or dairy products. Doing so has been likened to adding Coca-Cola to a single-malt whisky. But most importantly from a scientific perspective, studies have indicated that white tea offers even more cancer-fighting antioxidant agents than green tea. Tea consumers are apparently listening. According to ACNielsen data, while dollars generated by bagged tea in the combined food, drug and mass channels (excluding Wal-Mart data) have increased marginally over the past four years, dollar sales of white tea have jumped exponentially.

Makers of ready-to-drink iced tea brands have picked up on this trend. Honest Tea, Revolution Tea, Inko's, Origins, Fuze, and even Snapple, now offer white tea drinks.Phil Lempert is food editor of the “Today” show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent to or by using the mail box below. For more about the latest trends on the supermarket shelves, visit Phil’s Web site at .

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