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Using boiling water on the first infusion of Bai Hao Silver Needles?

In perusing the white teas webpage on Life in Teacup http://www.lifeinteacup.com/white-tea I read the following:

“Brewing method: 2-3g leaves in 6 oz. teapot or teacup with a lid, brew with newly boiled (hottest possible) water, and keep the lid on. Wait for 5 minutes for the first infusion, and a few minutes for each of the following infusions. The tea can yield 5 infusion or more when above brewing method is used.

Although in America, many people suggest very low temperature be used for white tea, it is the traditional method using hottest possible water and long infusions for Bai Hao Silver Needle. A tea being delicate does not always mean it will be harmed by hot water. Brewing temperature is a personal choice and there is no fixed rule. But we suggest you to give the traditional method a try."

I have NEVER read this before. I once used near-boiling on a white tea (Bai Mu Dan) and the liquor turned out flat tasting. Does anyone else ‘boil’ their Silver Needles?

20 Replies

I actually always use boiling water for my white teas (at least the Bai Hao Yinzhen and Bai Mu Dan). I don’t think I’ve ever found an occassion where they needed to be babied.

As for flat-tasting silver needle with boiling water.. was the water freshly boiled, or had it been reboiled? I keep finding that it makes a huge difference (especially with subtle teas) whether or not the water itself is stale (reboiled and reboiled).

That said.. I don’t usually steep for five minutes the first time (unless I’m making a big old pot). Instead, I’ll fill up my gaiwan a decent amount, pour in just boiled water, and then pour off after a couple of seconds. Or I’ll just put the tea in the bottom of my glass and add boiling water. When the leaves dance around, I drink!

But anyway- no. Boiling water for white tea is very normal for me. I never really understood why folks used a lower temp.

Thank you, Spoonvonstup, for your input.

It was over a year ago when I remember trying near boiling water on white tea (it was during my experimental phase with Tea). Now, I always use freshly boiled water (it’s possible at that time I didn’t though). If I remember correctly, the Tea in question was actually SpecialTeas’ The Blanc de Cassis (a flavor-added Bai Mu Dan): http://steepster.com/teas/specialteas/6078-the-blanc-de-cassis. They recommend(ed) using water at 180F.

EVERYTHING I remember reading states using water between 160 – 180 F for white tea; so I was shocked to read that it’s best to using boiling water. I still have a sample of Silver Needles from Art of Tea I plan to brew up soon; I think I will try it with boiling water. I wanted to at least hear it from one other source, though, before trying it, as those beautiful little needles are expensive; no sense wasting them by using the improper temperature!

You only steep it for a couple of seconds in your gaiwan? Hmmm. I don’t have a gaiwan, but I guess I could try that in my glass Bodum pot.

Thanks!

I think you’ll find the buds are heartier than folks give them credit for. How big is your glass bodum? The “couple seconds” steep time is what I use when I have a high ratio of leaves to water. But, if the bodum is larger, that would require more leaves. It also results in longer steeping sessions (since you get more steepings, but less “cups” per steeping). If you don’t have much tea left or you don’t have the time, then it might not be applicable.

I’d just suggest just playing around and having fun! I was probably as surprised as you’re feeling now when I first read that white teas “shouldn’t” be steeping at boiling. That’s just how my friends in China made it, and how I had been. I haven’t sprouted any horns or extra toes because of it, so it must not be completely blasphemous. ;-) Also (and most important), my tea still tastes good.

Gotcha.

“That’s just how my friends in China made it, and how I had been. I haven’t sprouted any horns or extra toes because of it.” I love it!

I use a more ‘western’ method when steeping my white teas: I start at 2 minutes, then I add a minute or so for each steeping thereafter, and I can usually get 3- 5 steepings out of any good white tea that way. My Bodum holds a full 48 OZ (for six 8-oz cups). I know, I know, I need to get a gaiwan. Unless you suggest otherwise, at first I think I’ll try boiling water with my normal steep times in my Bodum. Their sample is about an ounce, so I will probably try 6-8 grams with about three cups of water, and go from there (I normally use about 2 grams for every cup of water); that way if it doesn’t work I still have enough tea to try plan B.

Again, thanks!

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kOmpir said

Yes, funny thing… I bought some Bai MuDan from local tea shop recently and they instruct that it should be brewed 75-80 Celsius, 4-5 mins. On the other hand, some other retailers suggests that you should brew BMD on 90 Celsius, 1-2 mins. I don’t have much experience in drinking white tea, but I prefer the latter.

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I’m glad you brought it up again (as it was brought up before)! A year or so ago, I tweeted (about white tea), “… please give boiling water a try…” I was like, “please, please, please…” because amazingly, so many people were intimidated from doing so and stay as far away as possible from this thought.

As Spoonvonstup said, shorter infusions may work just fine, depending on the leaf/water ratio. But low brewing temperature may cause the tea leaves not “open” enough, similar in the way it causes under-brewing of a lot of Chinese green teas, but the under-brewing effect could be more severe in white tea.

Sorry for the self-quoting :-p But here is what I wrote in my blog some time ago explaining why I thought high temperature works well on white tea:

“Besides the name confusion, the discrepancy of various versions of white tea brewing methods is larger than in many other teas. My understanding of white tea is, it was very gently processed, without rolling or squeezing, and its cells are better maintained than cells in other teas. Therefore, it takes higher temperature (newly boiled water) and longer infusion time (5 minutes or longer) for water to infuse into the cells of white tea, especially for Bai Hao Silver Needle, whose leaves are nice and complete. Initially, it actually surprised me to see some sources suggest using lower temperature (180 F or lower). But after all, there are no fixed rules about tea brewing. Higher and lower temperatures may work for different people. I’ve seen people who were somewhat intimidated by the temperature restriction and thought that using very hot water for white tea was not “right”. Therefore I sometimes just can’t help urging people to give boiling water at least one chance. It may or may not work for each person, but it does no harm to try it at least once."

Gingko: I have no problem with you ‘self-quoting’, as it fits the situation perfectly.

I really like your explanation. Telling me to do something a certain way is one thing. But, telling me why it’s best to do it that way, is much better. I don’t know if this is what you are saying here, but as the buds are ‘thicker’, in a sense, than leaves, I envision it taking longer (steep time), and needing more ‘force’ (temperature), for the heat and water to penetrate all the way in to the core of the bud, where all of the ‘goodness’ is waiting to be released.

I may try the next go-around with this Tea at Boiling for 5 minutes, just to see.

If anything, this is a reminder to me that the so-called-experts—which in this case includes all of those authors of tea books I have read to date, including the folks at Camellia Sinensis, whom in their recently published book titled, Tea, specify brewing Silver needles at 167F—don’t necessarily have the market cornered on what’s ‘best’.

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DukeGus said

“I once used near-boiling on a white tea (Bai Mu Dan) and the liquor turned out flat tasting.”

One try with a water in a random state(fresh/freshly boiled/boiled many times) can’t be accounted as proper experiment :p

From my little tea experience white tea generally work very well with near boiling water. It’s not like I have every properly experimented with whites because most of the time I didn’t find them fascinating enough, though my mind changed with some amazing whites that have a green-character that I tried the last half year.

I agree that brewing time and temp is a personal choice but if you put some simple rules(less tanin extraction, maximization of fragrance etc) you could get some good estimations depending on water temp/water hardness/steep time.

I would love as a community here to have some kind of experiment all together and share the results

“One try with a water in a random state(fresh/freshly boiled/boiled many times) can’t be accounted as proper experiment.” You are so right! I love it when someone else has the courage to call me on something I have posted. Still, in this case I didn’t give all of the details. On five separate steeping sessions I did the first steeping with this particular tea for 2 minutes, each one at: 160, 170, 180, 190, 200. The one at 200 (and at 160) had little flavor, so I saw no reason to do a sixth session with it and go to boiling (212).

The biggest problem with my experiment is that I was testing leafy white tea, not a bud-only white tea (as Silver Needles is); problem, that is, in assuming this would apply to all white teas.

Still, it seems—as Gingko and others have stated—the proper water temperature is more about preference than about it being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

See my post below for my own results on steeping it with boiling water. : )

DukeGus said

You are funny mate but I love the way you think!
Don’t ever misunderstand me, because I always say stuff like that ^^

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Wow! This is so shocking to read this! I have always brewed my Silver Needles at low temps for about a minute or two and adding a minute for each steeping. I have never heard of brewing white tea at boiling temp but I will have to try it now, probably tomorrow. This is so exciting to have a tea I love and find out it that there is a different side to it that it isn’t bad bitter!

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Feebs said

Wow – I will have to give this a try… Two comparison cups coming up for me.

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Feebs said

Gingko, May I please have the link to your blog?

xx

Here it is. Thank you for your interest :-)
http://gingkobay.blogspot.com/2010/05/white-teas-names-and-more.html

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Feebs said

You know what – both brews were delicious. I had a little fuller flavour from my high temp. cup. Slightly more floral notes from my 70 degree guy. The hotter temperature one was a touch more reminiscent of a yellow tea – though I only have had meng ding huang ya to compare it with.

My water came from a 100degree set zip tap. I am unsure how it functions though – particularly in the sense of is the water free flowing or is it an urn type situation that keeps a certain quantity sitting at high temp for a long time. The 100degree-er was a 5-minute as suggested.

I’ve always used longer brewing times for my whites – 6 mins on the silver needles at 70 today – longer for bai mu dan usually (I love it at a long brew).

I didn’t have a bai hao on hand but I used a Wu Yi Yin Zhen instead.

Nice exploration! :-D

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I am tickled to see so much interest in this.

I don’t respond on Sundays, as that’s our ‘No tech night’ (like an electric fast).

Here are my results (six-cup glass Bodum teapot, tea allowed to roam freely, 3 tsp tea = three 8-OZ cups water, stevia added):
1st steeping: Boiling, 2’; good color, aroma, flavor; it had a very slight bite—or edge to it—which seemed astringent, but I wasn’t for certain; I wasn’t expecting that, but I was OK with it.

2nd steeping: 170F, 3’; tasted sweeter and didn’t have that bite I experienced in the First.

3rd steeping: 175F, 4’; decent amount of flavor which was similar to the second; good up-front flavor that faded away quickly.

At that point it was too ‘late’ to do any more steepings (I hope to do more later).

I stepped the temp down for the Second and Third per a suggestion I remember reading somewhere, I think on Gingko’s website?

So overall, starting at boiling seemed to yield success, and I don’t think it ‘scorched’ the leaves (quite honestly, I don’t know exactly what ‘scorched’ means, anyway).

I did enjoy watching most of the buds stand straight up-and-down during the second and third steepings.

I reeeeeellly struggled with how to describe the flavor. (I even did a search on the web, which brought me back to, well, Steepster; I know, silly of me not to start there!) It wasn’t vegetal, or floral, or fruity; I was thinking of something like, straw, or barley, maybe even grain-y or malt-y. But none of those descriptors alone seemed to fit. And then I read Jillian’s review of Adagio’s Silver Needle, “… delicate sweet hay …”. That seems to be the closest. It’s funny, because it seems a lot of reviewers struggle with how to describe the taste of it, too.

Silver Needles is not a Tea I would chose to drink very often, but it certainly is one to be experienced at least once (as I have read in many books on Tea).

Thank you all for your insights, and your help! : – )

DukeGus said

Totally agree with the sweet hay for most classic silver needle,
cheers mate!

I don’t really enjoy silver needle much because it reminds me of some herbal…herbs that I drank from a young boy here in Greece(tilio, sideritis). It’s a psychological thing, but I wouldn’t say no if somebody offered :)

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TeaVivre said

I agree with the opinions here, because there is no certain answer. Generally, this is also depend on your personal preference. As we know, Silver needle tea is made by tea buds, compared with large tea leaves, it seems more tender. So when we brew this tea, usually, the temperature is around 80-90℃. High temperature will destroy the tea, so much of its nutrients will not come out. However, if you prefer a high temperature, just give it a try, then you will know which way is most suitable for you!

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