Silver needle, distinguished by its unique needle-like shape and furry white down, is one of the most sought after white teas in the world. If Darjeeling is the Champagne of black teas, then I would argue that Silver Needle is the Champagne of white teas. The creme de la creme... In fact, Silver Needle used to be a prized tea for Chinese emperors, reserved only for the imperial family.
But why, you ask? While most teas are made from the standard: two leaves and a bud (see image below), Silver Needle is made from only the young bud at the top. And only once a year during the onset of Spring, when the tea leaves are the most tender after the dormant winter period. Making it a very rare and delicious tea!
What's with all the fur?
It may seem strange to be drinking a furry tea. However, the white fur on the Silver needle buds, called Bai Hao (白毫), are actually a sign of freshness and tenderness.
It's natural! All tea leaves have white fur during the initial stages of the growing process. These little hairs help protect and nurture new leaves on the tea plant, and naturally diminish once the tea leaf ages. However, because Silver Needle is produced only from the youngest, freshest buds of the Camellia sinensis, the hairs haven’t had time to naturally diminish, and therefore remain in your cup.
Origin: Zhenghe vs. Fuding
Silver Needle is produced in Fujian province of southeast China. The two main white tea regions there are Zhenghe and Fuding, both located on the Northern part of the province. It is believed that Fuding is the older tea region (cultivating since the late 1700s), whereas Zhenge began about a century later.
When comparing Silver needles from the two regions, there is a slight difference. Zhenghe Silver Needle leaves are dark green in colour, whereas Fuding is more of a pale green/yellow. This is because in Zhenghe they tend to wither the leaves for longer after harvesting, resulting in a darker, more oxidized tea.
Tasting of Silver Needle from Zhenghe
On my recent trip to a tea farm in Zhenghe, Fujian, I brought back some premium grade Silver Needle (特技白毫银针). This tea is organic (no pesticides) and hand-made (no machinery involved). I've kept it for around 6 months inside an airtight canister, and it still tastes great. One of my current favourites, I really love brewing it in the afternoon due to its light body and delicate flavours. See below for my tasting notes!
Dry leaf: 100% young bud, dark green with white fur, thin and firm needles, consistent appearance
Infusion Colour: Pale yellow/green
Aroma: Sweet, fresh
Tasting Notes: Very delicate and fresh, with notes of white grape. Also a little savoury. Sweet, lingering aftertaste. Light in body. Two thumbs up!
Caffeine Content: Low
Steeps: Can be steeped up to five or six times without losing flavour.
While silver needle can be steeped in a variety of teaware, I recommend using a small glass teapot. With such beautiful tea leaves that stand vertically once steeped, it would be a shame to hide it behind ceramics. Instead, show it off in a glass teapot and enjoy watching the tea leaves dance!
Do you have any thoughts about or experiences with Silver Needle you want to share? Comments welcome!
Note: All photos in this post taken by Mona Jhunjhnuwala