Baihao Yinzhen(Silver Needle Tea) Processing, Taste & Aging

Last Updated on 09/06/2020 by Desmond

People who love white tea should ever hear about Baihao Yinzhen tea. The plump leaves will vertically suspend at the water when brewing, what an imposing vision. But Baihao Yinzhen tea belongs to the highest-grade white tea, it is costly and hard to buy. A few years ago, it was even out of stock.

What value does Baihao Yinzhen get, and why it gains popularity even with such a high price? Let’s see.

What Is Baihao Yinzhen Tea

A more well-known name of Baihao Yinzhen is Silver Needle tea. This name is from its straight leaves, spiky like a needle, and the body is full of white fuzz, shining silver bright under sunshine.

Baihao Yinzhen tea originated in Fuding producing region, Fujian province of China. Here also is the birthplace of white tea. All the white tea produced here is made from a kind of Da Bai Camellia Sinensis, only been picking, withering, and drying processing. Compared to green tea, it is closer to nature, and the nutrition facts it contains are richer.

Do you remember the other post we’ve to talk about the Moonlight White Tea(here)? Although it processing as same as the traditional white tea, its leaves are picked from the Yunnan Big Leaf Camellia Sinensis, so many tea lovers do not think it belongs to white tea.

Baihao Yinzhen, white peony, and Shou Mei are all from Fujian city, total terms by name Fuding Da Bai Cha. Among them, Baihao Yinzhen tea is regarded as with the highest quality because it only picked from the earliest and tendest buds in every spring. It is just like Longjing Tea, which is the highest class of green tea.

It is recorded that white tea was invented in the early years of Jiaqing in the Qing Dynasty (AD 1796); the beginning name is Luxueya(green snow buds), and the mother tree still growing in a local tourist area. 

In the past, this high-grade tea only offers to the emperor, later export for the Europen nobles, and it became a status symbol. But the silver needle tea is too expensive and rarity, the nobles only put some in the black tea they brewed for serving. It is actually a more wasteful choice. Even now, British people still love white tea deeply.

How Baihao Yinzhen Processing

White tea has been the least processing of all tea types, but it is not easy, especially the Baihao Yinzhen tea. That is the reason why it got a high price.

Picking

Baihao Yinzhen tea’s picking job is from half a month before the Qingming Festival(a Chinese festival, typically on April 5th) come, till to few days before the festival, only got about dozen days. This period is when Da Bai tea trees growing new leaves, the tenderest buds break out off the shell. Pay attention; I used the word “shell” in this sentence, and this “shell” is a unique characteristic only Baihao Yinzhen tea has.

If we take a careful look at the silver needle tea leaves, we will find the bud consists of two-piece leaves, not only one tender leaf. The smaller leaf is the shell, also called the Kylin scale. Due it is connected with the bud, so it can’t be removed, or it will break the bud-body. The shell and bud make the unique shape of Baihao Yinzhen tea; people in the industry called it “one flag, one spear.”

Once miss the best picking time, the shell will grow up to a leaf. And as a result, this bud’s quality class reduces one level directly, and cannot be made into Baihao Yinzhen anymore, only can making into White peony tea. After we buy some silver needle tea and found it just got one bud, that may mean it is not made from the first-picking leaves that year.

Sometimes caught terrible weather, the time for picking will be shorter. That short picking time makes the low yield; it’s the first reason for the high price.

Withering

Not like other tea types, after picking, white tea does not need to be fixated and rolling, only taking withering for a light fermentation purpose. Because the natural leaves have not been any physical damage, so the final product keeps the whole shape. And the tiny white fuzz is retained, cover on the green body, make it looks white. That is why it is called white tea.

Withering is classified into indoor withering and sun withering. During the Baihao Yinzhen processing, it typically takes more than 60 hours, so indoor and sun ways are alternating runs.

The withering job looks simple, but actually, it is very troublesome. Because this job entirely relies on how the weather is, and the weather is uncontrollable. 

So when doing the sun withering, tea masters should let the leaves avoid direct strong sunlit, or the leaves will turn red and affect the quality. When at night, they should put all the leaves indoors, where the place is cool, dry, and ventilated. Because the weather outdoor at night is humid, it may make the dry leave absorb the moisture again and go bad.

Withering makes the component contained in tea got to transform, to form some sweet taste, and to evaporate most of the water. Likewise, if caught the rainy days, the whole withering job can only be done indoor; it leads to the product being not as good. So, if the tea master forecasts that the coming days will be rainy, they will prefer to put off the picking day. That is the second reason for the high price.

Drying

Even though during the withering, most of the water contained in the leaves has evaporated, it still can not reach an ideal water content standard. The Chinese gov demands that white tea’s water content must lower than 7%; this is a loose standard, but still not suitable for long time storage. So the tea masters finally will take a drying job to the white tea, make the moisture content of it reduce to 3%-4.5%.

In the traditional, Baihao Yinzhen will be drying in a roasting way, just like the other tea types. Roasting not only drying the leaves but also make the sugar and amino acid contained in leaves caramelization, promotes the fragrance and flavor further. In the past, people usually took carbon roasting because there is no electricity.

Although carbon roasting looks more traditional and natural, it is a difficult job. So in modern times, most of the tea master will choose the electric roasting, which is easy, efficient, and high yield.

Types Of Baihao Yinzhen Tea

Except for Fuding producing region, there is another famous region called Zhenghe that also produces Baihao Yinzhen tea. People called the Baihao Yinzhen from Fuding as North Road Silver Needle, the one from Zhenghe as South Road Silver Needle.

North Road Silver Needle. Typically, the Baihao Yinzhen we talk about is the north road silver needle from Fuding. The feature of it is the plump shape, rich fuzz, and full shiny. It tastes partial to fresh, with a strong so-called “pekoe fragrance.”

South Road Silver Needle. The south road silver needle from Zhenghe producing region is not as famous as the north one. It looks thinner and longer, much like a needle than the north one. But it got fewer fuzz and darker color. It tastes much partial sweet and mellow. Compared with the north road silver needle, the biggest pro of it is a lower price.

Worth to know, it can not say which one is better. Although south road silver needle tea is not so famous, it doesn’t mean it is not a good tea. And about the flavor, everybody got different tastes.

How To Aging The Silver Needle Tea

What we know that some teas can get a better flavor through aging, such as Pu-erh tea and moonlight white tea. All of them have a characteristic that is compressed into a tea cake for sale. To Baihao Yinzhen tea, it is sold in a loose tea way. Because of compression will break the iconic shape and fuzz. So here comes a question, is Baihao Yinzhen suitable for aging?

The answer is YES.

To white tea, there is a saying, “one year is tea, two years is medicine, three years is a treasure.” That says white tea can bring more health benefits after a long time of aging. Of course, the price also expensive like a treasure. But there are two premises; one is the tea should be stored properly, another is only the high-quality white tea is worth aging.

As previously mentioned, some Baihao Yinzhen tea, which hasn’t dried enough, is not suitable for aging. Because it still contains much water, it tastes no difference when it is still new. But after long time storage(more than 2 years,) it may be gone moldy, form a sour and musty taste. What a funny thing is, some tea lovers thought it is a plum flavor and called it plum fragrance type.

The high-quality Baihao Yinzhen tea will send a kind of aroma called “pekoe” when brewing; it smells close to some wild reed and Setaria, also with a little floral. After a long time aging, the flavor of old silver needle tea will change into something close to ripe cereal, with a bit of dry wild grass smell. The longer it aging, the stronger the ripe flavor it got. And the color of infusion will turn from light yellow to amber.

Some tea lovers ever said, after aging more than 40 years, the Baihao Yinzhen tea will taste like a strong Chinese medicine aroma, with a little lotus leaf fragrance. That sounds not real to me; few people really get a chance to drink the white tea which has been so long aging.

And how do we aging the Baihao Yinzhen properly?

It is not like we talk about Liu Bao dark tea aging way on the previous post. Baihao Yinzhen doesn’t belong to post-fermented tea, so during aging, it should avoid contacting the air, prevent it keep fermenting. Before storage, we should twist the leaves with fingers. If it breaks into powder, that means dry enough; on the contrary, it is not suitable.

At first, we need to pick the right tea storage container, the porcelain one is what I highly recommended. After putting the Baihao Yinzhen loose tea into the porcelain container, it’s better to seal a brown paper at the opening and then cover. Finally, use another brown paper to pack the whole container off.

Related ReadingHow To Pick A Suitable Tea Storage Container.

The place for aging Baihao Yinzhen should be cool, dry, and dark, and avoid to store it with any other smelling thing like perfume. Otherwise, do not often open the container to see how the tea change; try to control your curiosity. Every time after you take some teas out for brewing, pack it well again follow the previous steps.

How To Brew Baihao Yinzhen Tea

To brew Baihao Yinzhen tea, more if for watching the interesting vision that the leaves vertically suspend in the water. So it is best to use a glass teapot for brewing, or a glass cup.

  1. Pre-heat the teaware;
  2. Take moderate Baihao Yinzhen, typically the ratio of tea leaves to water is 1:50, put them into the teapot;
  3. Add 80℃ hot water in, till 1/3 of the teapot, steep the leaves for about 10s;
  4. Go on adding hot water till 4/5 of the teapot, cover, and steep for about 1 min;
  5. Serving and enjoy;

P.S. 

  1. In the first infusion, the Baihao Yinzhen leaves will vertically suspend at the top of the water. And at the next infusion, some of the leaves will slowly fall down to the bottom and create an up and down stagger vision. If you use a glass teapot for brewing, and some sunshine just through the window, you will see an awesome picture inside the teapot.
  2. When you add hot water, you need to pay attention to it; do not use the “high-brew” way; it will crash the fuzz on the silver needle off and make the infusion muddy. You should add water from the edge of the teapot opening slowly, avoid letting the water crash on the leaves directly.

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