The Best Energizing Teas for Focus & Stimulation: An Expert Guide | blog, FAQ, Tutorial and more | white2tea Blog blog

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December 29, 2023 13 min read

If you’re considering tea for an energy boost, then you’re already making a very good choice. The right tea can be an excellent way to invigorate the mind and body. But before we jump into our review of the best energizing teas, a word of fair warning: we’re not going to spend a lot of time talking about tea chemistry in this article.

It’s not that tea chemistry doesn’t matter. One of the reasons tea has been cultivated for thousands of years is that each plant is like a tiny, natural chemical factory, churning out at least 40 different compounds that can have a wide range of effects. You’re no doubt familiar with the most famous ones: caffeine, of course, L-theanine, and EGCG, which are all psychoactive compounds that affect energy levels and mood. 

A spring tea bud in a tea field in Yunnan

A bud springing forth on the plant, camellia sinensis

But in our view, dwelling on tea chemistry is only scratching the bark of the tea tree’s promise. We at white2tea believe that the energizing effects you get from a tea experience are far too complex to be reduced to mere chemistry. 

Some of these effects, it’s true, can be directly traced to your tea’s contents. Others, like cha qi, which translates as “tea energy,” are so personal, so ethereal, even, that they’re better experienced than explained.

We know that might sound a little … out there. Tea energy? But give us a chance and we’ll try to illuminate some of the most rewarding, stimulating, fascinating and personal elements of a true tea experience — and not all of them will show up in a chemical analysis. Besides, if you’re after a specific, single ingredient, like caffeine or EGCG, you can get that just about anywhere these days. 

Hell, coffee or Red Bull or even Monster can give you caffeine. Only tea can do what tea does.

Sheng Puer

 Raw Puer is a uniquely potent tea from the Yunnan province of tropical southwestern China. It's also sometimes called sheng or green Puer (they're all the same tea). This tea is grown in jungles and on high mountains, often from trees 50-100+ years old, and compressed into cakes for easy transport. Unlike most other teas, raw Puer can be consumed fresh but is often intentionally aged, and well-aged cakes command a premium price.

Young sheng Puer sometimes has a noticeable bitterness and astringency that can wake up your taste buds and mind, an excellent way to start the day. The tang and mild acidity at the top of the flavor registry also tend to wake up the senses, providing an energizing feel. On the other hand,aged sheng  tends to be richer and mellower, and can offer a more calming, centered sense of focus.

a freshly pressed raw Puerh tea cake in Yunnan

A freshly pressed cake of our 2023 941 blend

Raw Puer is one of the two main varieties of Puer tea. Characterized by an intense variety of flavors and aromas — which can include everything from tart citrus and floral notes to a woody, mouth-filling funk not unlike mown hay — it’s the brash, assertive, multilayered sibling in the Puer family. (The other type is shou, or ripe Puer, which we’ll discuss a bit later on.)

Beyond generalities, however, the effects of sheng Puer tea are as varied and personal as the drinker themselves. You may see the term “tea drunk” used to describe the sensation of a strong tea experience. It's these harder-to-define qualities that make this tea such an exciting world to explore. Because the tea experience is highly personal, it’s worth noting that young sheng Puer may not be a great fit for everyone. The assertiveness of the tea and a relatively high caffeine content might not suit every drinker, and it's not recommended before breakfast on an empty stomach if your stomach is particularly sensitive.

Raw Puer recommendations

One of our favorites in this category is our Green Hype Blend 2023, a really interesting sheng Puer withone of the most pronouncedhuigan (lingering sweetness) qualities of any entry-level tea in our lineup. With a healthy dose of aged material in the blend, it’s complex enough to hold your attention even after multiple sessions, but approachable enough to be a go-to daily drinker.

For something a little different, try our 941 Blend from 2022, a mellower, more casual flavor profile that nonetheless brings that palpable sheng energy. This is an excellent introductory tea for people who are new to sheng, and overall not too demanding — great for an informal morning session or cup to start your day. 

Our 2222022 Blend from — you guessed it — 2022, is something truly special. Pressed on 2/22/2022 to celebrate the sacred twos day, our experts describe it as “smooth, sweet and above reproach,” and we have 2 agree. 

For a more complex gateway into Puer, our 2022 Sambas ups the ante on flavor, aroma and thickness, with plenty of energy and focus.

Loose raw Puerh tea, also called Sheng Cha

Loose raw Puer tea in the gaiwan, ready for gongfu style brewing

How to make rawPuer

The best way to explore the flavors and sensations of Puer (and many other teas) is gongfu style, which uses a high leaf-to-water ratio and multiple short steepings. A lengthy, leisurely tea experience will include 8-10+ small cups of tea, each with unique flavors and other qualities.

To make raw Puer gongfu style, simply place 6-7 grams of dry tea leaves in a gaiwan or teapot that is approximately 100 ml (3.5 ounces), give it a quick rinse with boiling water (steep the leaves briefly but discard the liquid), and you're ready to begin. From that point forward, you'll pour directly from the gaiwan or pot either directly into a teacup, or into a sharing pitcher and then into one or more small cups.

We recommend you start with an initial steep time of 5-10 seconds, drink and assess, then adjust from there based on preference. Most people will add about 5-10 seconds per steep, so you might steep for 10 seconds the first cup, then 20 seconds, then 30, and so on. If the tea is too strong or bitter, you can steep for less time, use less leaf, or use slightly cooler water for your brewing. Try a water temp of 200-203°F (95°C) if you're battling with bitterness.

A full tea session like this is the most likely to produce the energizing and highly individual sensation of cha qi, loosely translated as "tea energy." Trying to describe cha qi is sort of like trying to explain something you felt in a dream. It’s a little too personal to convey with words and the words often fall far short of the experience. 

Some describe this qi as a buzzing feeling in the neck and shoulders. Others say the tea produces a clarified, open headspace, or a sense of strength combined with a permeating calm, like you’ve turned liquid. Many users who describe the feeling say it has an almost contradictory quality, like two feelings at once. You could call it energizing relaxation.

For a more casual relaxed approach, you can enjoy raw Puer grandpa style (add 2 grams or more to a large mug, fill with boiling water, sip, refill when you get halfway down, repeat). 

It's also fine to prepare Puer using a medium amount of leaf (3-5 grams) in a large western-style teapot or with an infuser basket, with longer steeps of 1-2 minutes or more. If you prepare your tea this way, you'll get around three to five infusions from your teapot or infuser.

a tea field in Yunnan province budding with fresh growth

A tea field in Yunnan province, filled with fresh budding growth

Black Tea

Black tea, more commonly called “red tea” in China, is a classic choice around the world for energy. Its dark color and rich flavors are fortifying and range from fruity and light to deep chocolate and caramel. It’s that depth of flavor that is both mouth-filling and soul-bracing, and can provide a deeply stimulating experience. 

One thing to bear in mind is that while Lipton and other common, mass-produced bagged teas are technically black teas, they are a far cry from the teas we’re describing here. Those bagged teas typically contain too-dry, virtually powdered leaves that offer a one-dimensional flavor, and not much of that either. Our high-quality loose leaf black teas come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, but the similarities pretty much end there.

While it most likely originated in China, black tea is grown all over the world, notably in India and other former British colonies (Kenya and Sri Lanka, formerly called Ceylon), which are major centers of tea production globally. 

Black tea is darkened by oxidation, the reaction of enzymes in the tea leaves to oxygen, and is one of the few styles of tea that is fully oxidized. As a result, the tea soup is usually thick-bodied and ranges from dark gold to ruby-red in hue, with smooth, fruity or spicy notes.

Most people are under the impression that black tea contains more caffeine than other teas, which isn't necessarily true — while some black teas are high in caffeine, this is primarily due to being "tippy" (containing lots of young buds, which are naturally higher in caffeine than older leaves). However, it's a breakfast classic and anytime pick-me-up for a reason, and it's an excellent choice for a soothing, energizing cup, with or without food.

a tippy black tea with plenty of buds

An example of a tippy black tea with plenty of buds 

Black tea recommendations

We stock a wide range of incredible black teas at white2tea, but for our purposes here, you can’t go wrong with Fox Down, a pressing from 2021. This blend is made with a particularly bud-heavy, "tippy" picking standard, so it boasts a higher concentration of caffeine and an especially uplifting flavor profile. If you love complex, smoky flavor profiles like peated whisky, pine-smoked Lapsang Souchong (also referred to as Zhengshan Xiaozhong) from Wuyi, Fujian province, offers a bold, intense, enduring and multi-layered flavor profile that's sure to uplift your taste buds and spirit. Our Fruit Bomb Lapsang is also an excellent option, with complex, eye-opening fruity aromas and flavors minus the smoky notes.

For a somewhat atypical black tea, Blood Moon, a 2023 release, is a great choice for the adventurous. This selection has been processed a bit like a white tea, dried in the shade and only partially oxidized. Fruity and delicately sweet, with notes of strawberry and bright honey, this is a tea that is light on its feet and totally unique.

How to brew black tea

There's no wrong way to enjoy black tea, and it's perfectly fine to use a western-style teapot or infuser basket, as many people do. We recommend 3-5 grams in a medium teapot or large mug, with several steeps lasting 1-2 minutes each on the weak side or 3-5 minutes on the strong side, according to your personal preference. If you’re looking for a bigger energy boost, longer infusions will yield a more intense brew.

But to really explore the nuances of high-quality black tea, gongfu style is the way to go. Use 5-7 grams of black tea in a small gaiwan or teapot of approximately 100 ml (3.5 ounces). Unlike Puer, there's no need to rinse black tea before drinking, though for pressed black teas an initial rinse will help to open up the tea.. You'll get at least 5-8 small cups of black tea this way.

Black tea can easily withstand boiling water, but using temperatures around 200-203°F (95°C) can bring out subtler notes of fruit and spice.

Our Yueguangbai white tea, also called moonlight white

Our bud heavy moonlight white tea, Nightlife

White Tea

Some white teas are harvested even before the leaves of the plant fully open, when the fine white hairs — known botanically as trichomes — are still intact, hence the name. Compared to other teas, they are minimally processed, often simply plucked and sun-dried or dried with light heat or natural airflow. The resulting tea has a flavor profile that is delicate, subtle and has a clarifying freshness that’s often described as energizing. 

As with all teas, the caffeine content of white tea will vary considerably. The exception to this is when a given variety or blend contains lots of leaf tips and young buds. So-called “tippy” white teas can have a significant caffeine kick, as the young growth tends to concentrate everything in the tea leaf: flavors, aromas and all the good stuff the leaves contain.

White tea recommendations

Our Lullaby Blend from 2023 is a reprise of one of our most popular releases of 2018, a baimudan (white peony) blend from Yunnan. It’s fruity, fresh and playfully bright, an excellent example of a white tea that almost any drinker will appreciate. 

Moon Waffles, from 2022, is a nice contrast to the Lullaby, with a creamy flavor and a lot of depth. That's an unusual combination for a white tea, and the effect of such a substantial profile in a white tea package makes it quite a heady, clarifying brew. 

Our 2022 Tiltshift is a very tippy picking of white tea from Yunnan province that is a crowd favorite for a bright daily drinker. For a heavier hitting Yunnan white, our 2023 Dian Mei has plenty of oomph. 

a fresh bud on a tea plant in Yunnan

A fresh bud in Yunnan, 2023

How to brew white tea

You can enjoy white tea in a gongfu session, grandpa style, or western-style teapot or basket infuser. Each of these methods will highlight different qualities of your tea.

Often, white tea leaves expand quite a bit, so you can start with lower ratios if you choose gong fu style, around 4-5 grams in a 100 ml (3.5 ounce) gaiwan or teapot.

Contrary to popular belief, it's fine to steep white tea with boiling water. On the other hand, you can also experiment with lower temperatures around 185°FF (85°C) to coax out more delicate notes.

Shou Puer

If sheng Puer is a full-on symphony, you can think of shou or ripe Puer as the string quartet: it still offers a great deal of depth, but it’s a little more approachable and demands less of your attention.

Like sheng Puer, shou Puer is a fermented style of tea that offers complex flavors and aromas. The main difference between these two teas is how that fermentation takes place.

Sheng Puer has been made in the same way for centuries: whole tea leaves are quickly wilted, heated to kill enzymes, rolled to open up cell walls, and then pressed into cakes for a long, slow fermentation process. In this all-important step, naturally-occurring beneficial microbes add new and varied flavors as the tea is gradually transformed over years or even decades. 

Producers of shou Puer are aiming for a similar final result in a shorter time frame, so they lend those microbes a hand. Rather than pressing the tea into cakes before fermentation, shou is made from raw Puer leaves gathered into "wet piled" heaps to speed up the process. The heat created by microbial action, as well as the hot and humid climate of Yunnan pProvince, help speed the fermentation, achieving a remarkable smoothness and complexity in far less time. 

Shou was originally conceived in the 1970s as a shortcut to aged sheng in Menghai Ccounty, Yunnan province. While most shou Puer teas may not be quite as intense or complex as their sheng cousins, the best shou teas can be just as satisfying, stimulating and energizing. For those seeking complex shou, there is always small batch shou Puer tea, but that’s a rabbit hole for another article

If you’re specifically looking for a high caffeine content in your tea, you’ll be best served by seeking out a “tippy” shou blends, that is, a tea that incorporates the tips and buds of the tea leaves. These young, new leaves contain the highest concentrations of things like caffeine and other potentially stimulating compounds. 

Small batch shou Puerh tea in a Celadon gaiwan

Our 2023 Civilian blend, a small batch shou Puer with plenty of buds and uplifting energy

Recommended shou Puer

Our two best-selling shou Puer tea blends have two very distinct flavor profiles. For lovers of a sweet, bready flavor profile, our 2022 Waffles is a classic smooth Puer that’s a great morning starter. For lovers of a woodier, earthy experience, our 2023 Lumber Slut is the perfect place to begin. 

For a step up in quality and adventure, our small batch shou Puer teas offer a completely different level of shou Puer tea that you won’t find elsewhere. Experiments in lighter fermentation like our Reckless Daughter blend or intensely complex teas like Nameless One are energizing and intriguing in equal measure. Our 2021 Lisboa is an excellent entry- level point for our small batch selections that is easier on the wallet.

How to brew shou Puer

Ripe puer is the most forgiving, easy-to-brew tea in the world, and you really can't ruin it! There are only two rules for steeping shou: always use full boiling water, and be sure to rinse it one or two times before drinking. 

Another great aspect of this tea is that you can use optionally higher than usual leaf-to-water ratios for a thick, dark tea soup that packs a strong punch. We're talking 8-9 grams in a 100 ml (3.5 ounce) gaiwan or 5-6 grams in your western-style teapot or infuser.

Along with the usual methods, ripe Puer is also perfect for thermos tea, 5-10+ grams in a medium thermos. Rinse your shou with boiling water first, then pre-heat your thermos with boiling water and dump it out, add the rinsed leaves to the thermos, fill with boiling water, and put the lid on. 

Leave it 20-30 minutes or even longer, and now you've got a thermos full of strong, rich, thick-bodied tea. From here, you'll pour the tea broth into a smaller cup to sip, while the leaves stay in the thermos. You can refill the thermos when it's halfway down, drink the remainder, and refill once more with boiling water.

a tea bush with new budding growth

Fresh growth on a tea plant in Yunnan, 2023

Green Tea

Green tea is minimally processed and the least oxidized tea, with a bright, fresh-from-the-fields taste that can provide an energizing yet calming boost. 

Immediately after harvest, green tea is quickly heated to destroy the enzymes that lead to oxidation. That blast of heat — either through steam or dry heat, depending on the variety — essentially halts the breakdown of chlorophyll, the chemical that gives green tea its vibrant color. Beyond that, green tea doesn’t get much more processing attention. In its best form, it retains a slightly grassy luminosity, like a sun-drenched field. 

White2tea believes green teas truly shine when they are fresh. And we mean, like,really fresh. We don't stock them year-round, but only in the spring in limited quantities.  Every April, we also send our monthly tea club subscribers an exclusive selection of green teas that may be fresher than anything else available outside of China.

Our offerings include a range of green teas like Maojian and Ganlu, but the selection changes each spring season based on the best of what's available that year. The idea is to get this unique tea into your hands at the moment when it is most rewarding, and we feel confident in saying that you’ve probably never had green tea like ours. 

Purple silver, a limited release spring green tea

Our limited release “Purple Silver”, a bud heavy green tea release we sell for one week in spring

How to brew green tea

While green tea is indeed the most delicate type of tea, you can actually use boiling water on high-quality green teas. If you've ever tried boiling water on grocery-store-quality green tea bags before, chances are the result was ... less than appealing. That's primarily because boiling water brings out flaws in inferior green teas.

With fresh leaves of sufficient quality, full boiling water is perfectly fine, but you'll want to start with a light touch and adjust according to your own taste. For gongfu brewing, use 3-5 grams in a 100 ml (3.5 ounce) gaiwan or teapot, start with several flash steeps (pour the water on the leaves, then immediately decant into your cup or pitcher, no rinsing required) before you explore longer steeps. 

If you're preparing green tea western-style in a teapot or infuser, try 2-3 grams. With boiling water, you'll want to limit the first steep to about 30 seconds max, then increase the time to a minute or more for the second and third steeps.

While it's appropriate to use boiling water for good green teas, not everyone prefers this approach. Through experimentation, you may find that you prefer the more delicate and subtler notes that are noticeable when you steep with water around 167-170°F (75°C). If you try this, you can also use longer steep times to compensate for the lower temperature.

white2tea co.
white2tea co.

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