The buds, or top leaf shoots, are thick and strong, presenting a straight tippy appearance which has the appearance of needles, with a silver-white downy appearance. The picking of these beautiful downy buds is a very strict and intensive process as the tea workers are only plucking the tops of the buds, which is part of the reason which this is such a rare and highly prized tea.
When brewed, the needle-like leaves fall slowly to the bottom of the glass or teapot, and the buds remain straight and needle-like. The flavor of the brewed tea is an exquisite and ambrosial experience. The flavor is very refreshing, mellow, delicate and sweet, with a lingering beautiful aftertaste. It is much sweeter and delicate than Bai Mu Dan is, and produces a lovely pale yellow liquor which may have some white downy hairs floating from the high quality Silver Needle, which reflects the light and gives the appearance of the tea shimmering in the light.
Silver Needle is a premium top grade white tea, which is only slightly fermented. Also called ‘Bai Hao Yinzhen’ or 白毫銀針, it is produced predominantly in Fuding and Zhenghe city in the Fujian province of China. The Bai Hao Yinzhen produced in Fuding is usually of the very best quality. This is the most expensive and most highly valued type of white tea because only the tops of the buds of the tea tree is used to produce Bai Hao Yinzhen.
Because Bai Hao Yinzhen is produced in different tea estates and at different elevations and with different production standards, different places produce various qualities of Bai Hao Yinzhen. The Bai Hao Yinzhen which is produced in Fuding is of top quality and its appearance is white as silver. Bai Hao Yinzhen which is produced in Zhenghe is a more silver and gray color.
The season in which the tea is harvested also affects the appearance and flavor of the Silver Needle tea leaves. Bai Hao Yinzhen which is picked before Tomb-sweeping Day (The Qingming Festival) which usually occurs in early April, is a much higher quality Silver Needle tea with fat strong buds which have a lovely silvery white tone with soft down hairs on the leaves. Silver Needle teas which are picked later in the tea season carry much flatter leaves with a gray hue.
When choosing your Bai Hao Yinzhen, the brighter leaves that have a silver tone, instead of a gray hue are the best Silver Needle tea leaves, that will produce a high quality cup of tea. If the buds are short, thin and have a more gray tone, they are inferior and will not produce as nice of a cup. Choose Silver Needle buds that have a strong, sweet meadow-like fragrance to them, with well-proportioned bright strong leaves.
The Differences Between Fresh and Aged Silver Needle White Tea
Bai Hao Yinzhen can actually acquire a better and more intense flavor with some time accumulation. When stored properly, in an airtight jar or bag where light cannot penetrate, the quality of the Silver Needle white tea will actually improve. The taste is more intense and the medicinal values of the Silver Needle tea are greater after being stored properly for approximately 2-3 years.
Freshly processed Silver Needle tea leaves have a slight green tone to them and the liquor produced is much lighter with a strong sweet fragrance and a mellow, refreshing flavor. The bottom of a fresh Silver Needle leaf is a slightly olivine color, whereas an aged Silver Needle leaf has a much deeper color and the bottom of the leaf takes on a reddish-brown color. The flavor of the aged Silver Needle tea is smoother and deeply mellow with a strong honey aroma. Aged Silver Needle tea also has a much stronger flavor and aroma than fresh Silver Needle tea.