Silver needle white tea is the simplest, rarest and most exquisite of teas.
Sometimes referred to as silver tip, white China tea or Baihao Yinzhen, it is grown on remote mountainsides up to a mile above sea level in the Fujian province of south-east China.
White silver needle tea is made from the uppermost, tender and downy buds of the tea bush and, due to their delicate structure, they can only be harvested once over a few days in April.
The buds are picked by hand before the sun rises over the mountains, which is why they remain white. They are spread on bamboo racks in the sun to dry.
In August, the buds are laid beneath a bed of jasmine flowers for a week, allowing the scent of jasmine to be transferred to the tea.
A cup of silver needle makes a light, subtle and gently-perfumed drink, far from the gutsy depth of a black tea. Connoisseurs describe its “silky, curved edges” and even untrained palettes could not fail to detect the refreshing grassiness and jasmine bouquet.
Many say the mellow aroma is melon-like and sweet, even malty. Silver needle white tea certainly lacks the astringency of breakfast teas.
Growers say the pollution-free environment in which silver needle is found gifts it with particularly noticeable health benefits.
It said to be particularly high in antioxidants and is claimed to have the ability to combat ageing and cancer. Importers claim silver needle lowers blood pressure and cholesterol and helps improve eyesight.
Some growers also claim the brew is low in caffeine, making a perfect evening drink or a hydrating potion that can be drunk all day, like water. However, there is some controversy about this claim, with another view being that all tea has approximately the same amount of caffeine. (What is undoubtedly true is that caffeine can be extracted from tea, as it is in some coffees, but the process affects the taste. This is only ever done with black teas.)
How to brew silver needle white tea
Silver needle is relatively expensive but you can brew a pot of four or five times and still get the same flavour, though it does become lighter. However, it should never be steeped in boiling water, which bruises the fragile aromas and can make it taste bitter. Around 80 degrees centigrade is ideal.
If you are using boiling water, we recommend dousing the leaves in a small amount of cold water before pouring on the boiling water. We would also advise against adding milk or sugar – the raw taste is so exquisite, nothing should be allowed to detract from it.
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