Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Silver Needle White Tea • 白毫銀針

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Silver Needle White Tea (Bai Hao Yin Zhen) • 白毫銀針

I hadn't purchased Silver Needle White Tea since my very early days of Chinese tea exploration, when any decent cup of tea I brewed at home was mere fluke and not a frequent happening. So, I had little memory of Silver Needle until I made this purchase a few months ago.

The moment I opened the package, a sweet, light syrupy fragrance came wafting up and my senses began to tingle with anticipation. 


Putting three heaping scoops into the tea funnel to admire, I'm amused by the plump, fuzzy buds. I imagine the Ewok witch doctor must keep a small jar of these buds stashed amongst his other herbs. Another name for this tea is White Hair Silver Needle, and it is the white hairs that truly give it its silvery look. 

The tea is produced in the Fu Ding region of Fujian Province, from where it first originated. Daniel, from the Chinese Teashop, claims that it is the highest grade, and judging by the appearance and scent of the leaves, I already have no doubt.




Placing the leaves in a heated pot, the smell intensifies as the leaves are warmed. The contract of the leaves against the zisha clay is quite stunning. The smell is like no other tea, as it carried my memory back to childhood and the scent of fleshly bailed hay in a hot, humid barn.


As you'd imagine from its name, White Tea produces a very light liquor, but there is no subtlety about its smell, just like the initial scent of the packaged leaves. The first sip is joy; a soft, flowery sweetness mixed with the deeper syrupy dried hay, like I'd sensed in the leaves. Imagine sucking on a straw of the sweetest smelling hay ever cut and you might be a sniff in the right direction.

If you think its dishonouring the tea to be comparing it to hay, it's not. First, anyone who is familiar with the sweat smell of hay will understand. Second, it's not uncommon to describe tea as 'grassy'. And third, White Tea's production method is very similar to hay. The first buds of spring are picked, then left in shallow baskets to whither in the sun. Though there is slight oxidation, there is no roasting or fermenting of the leaves. 





After just a single steep, the silver colour disappears and rich, golden-green buds glow form the pot. Though the next steep has lost a slight bit of the sweetness, the syrupy mouth feel remains. As one good steep deserves another, I sip cup after cup, until the tea-drunk sets in and if I drink anymore, I'll be too shaky to hole a cup steady.




White Tea is best steeped with water no hotter than 80ºC (176ºF) to fully appreciate  the sweetness of the tea. I tend to steep my tea with very short initial three steeps, 10-15 seconds, then slowly increase the time with each further steep, preferring the subtleties of quick steeps.





Purchased from The Chinese Teashop: Silver Needle White Tea (Bai Hao Yin Zhen)



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