Baihao Yinzhen, also known as White Hair Silver Needle, is a white tea produced in Fujian Province in China. It is amongst the most expensive white teas produced as only the top buds (leaf shoots) are used in production. It is also one of the most prized teas. Genuine Silver Needles are made from cultivars of the Da Bai (Large White) tea tree family. There are other productions that look similar with downy leaf shoots but most are green teas, and as green teas, they taste differently and have different biochemical potency than the genuine white tea Silver Needle. All white teas are only lightly oxidised as is this Silver Needle. The first flush of such teas are generally the most sought after, plucked between late March and early April. This is when the year’s first buds “flush”. For the production of Silver Needle, only the leaf buds before opening, are plucked. The ideal time and weather for plucking white tea is a sunny morning with the sun high enough to have dried up any remaining dew on the tea buds.
After plucking, the buds are laid out in shallow baskets to wilt under the sun for a long period of time. While some cultivators have moved away from this tradition, the best white teas are still produced this way. To avoid loss due to sudden rain, gusts, or other accidents, some producers are taking the plucks indoor to wilt in a chamber with artificial warm air flow. The softened shoots are then piled for the required enzyme oxidation(often incorrectly referred to as fermentation) before they are taken for a low temperature bake-dry.
Two regions, Zhenghe and Fuding, spanning the north to north-eastern parts of the Fujian province are the major and original producers of this tea, although neighboring counties have also been producing. The two major cultivars employed by these regions are Fuding Da Bai and Zhenghe Da Bai, named after their origins. These differences are important to distinguish the two major styles of Silver Needles — the Zhenghe style and the Fuding style. The former is usually a lot darker, with significantly longer piled-up time for oxidation, yielding a tea with fuller body than the latter style, which is generally lighter with shorter oxidation. The character of the tea tree leaves of the former allows for the extended piled-up time without turning bad. Both styles have their own group of followers, as taste is a rather personal preference.
As with all white teas, it is best prepared with water below boiling (at around 75 to 80 degrees Celsius or 167 to 176 degrees Fahrenheit) and produces a slightly viscous glittering pale yellow color with evidence of floating white hairs that reflect light. Baihao Yinzhen is said to smell of "fresh-cut hay", and the flavour is described as sweet, vegetal, and delicate. Steeping should be longer than other white teas; up to 5 minutes per brew, and the volume of tea to be used can be higher.
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