Also known as “Bai Hao Yinzhen,” Silver Needle is one of the two most esteemed forms of white tea in the world. Although white tea only recently reached American tea drinkers, it has been produced and consumed in China for many, many generations. There have been some changes in the way white tea is produced in the thousand years since China’s so-called “Tea Emperor,” Emperor Hui Zong, first honored white tea as the most elevated of all teas… but we still think it’s the most delicate and sophisticated of tea types.
Like all the best Silver Needle white teas, ours is harvested by hand in the mountainous Fujian province of southwestern China, an area that’s internationally known for a diverse repertoire of teas including Jasmine Pearls, Iron Goddess of Mercy and Wuyi Oolong. There, individual “tips” or “buds” (the tiny, new-growth tealeaves that have yet to unfurl) are hand-plucked for only a few days each spring, immediately before they would open if left unharvested.
After plucking, the buds are minimally processed to produce this prized tea. They aren’t oxidized like black teas and oolongs, and although white teas are sometimes classified as a specialized form of green tea, even a quick glance is usually enough to determine whether a tea is a white or a green. This is because white tea’s unique processing skips the steps that give teas like Dragonwell and Gunpowder green teas their distinctive shapes, instead favoring processing techniques that maintain the natural shape of the unplucked leaves and buds of the tea plant.
Some say that tea buds are simply plucked and dried to make Silver Needle. While this is true, it doesn’t convey the challenge in making high quality Silver Needle. Weather conditions and the level of skill involved in drying the tender, young leaves in partial shade, in fire-warmed bamboo baskets and even in modern convection ovens can be the difference between an exquisitely nuanced, delicate Silver Needle like ours and a mediocre, nondescript white tea.
The specific techniques used to produce Silver Needle have been developed and perfected in Fujian during the last two centuries. Over the years, changes in tea varietals (the specific types of tea plants used to make the tea) and processing technologies (such as drying techniques) have improved the quality of tea since its advent in the early 1800s. Now, the best Silver Needle white teas are considered to be ones with an abundance of “down” (or fine, silvery-white “hairs”) on their buds and rich, complex flavors and aromas in their brews.
We selected our Silver Needle based on its remarkably fuzzy tips, its rich aromas of sweet cream and fresh flowers, and its complex flavors of toasted chestnuts and walnuts, raw milk, fresh-dried flowers, milk chocolate and new growth woods. A subtle, woodsy, sweet aftertaste and a surprisingly thick, heavy mouthfeel add complexity to our Silver Needle, making it an excellent choice for tea connoisseurs.
At Narien, we consider our Silver Needle to be a prime example of a classic tea done right. With the proper brewing, it’s transforms from decadently downy buds into a luxuriously ambrosial brew. To prepare rave-worthy Silver Needle at home, use two heaping teaspoons of tea per cup of steaming water. Infuse for three to four minutes, noting the way the buds stand on end in the cup. Remove the tealeaves and enjoy the peach-toned brew. When brewed in this way, white tea is usually low in caffeine. We love to sip Silver Needle on its own or pair it with mild foods, like tofu dishes or rice pudding.