Written by Will
Silver Needle Supreme, Spring 2019, produced by Mr Sun Chenhui in Heshan Garden, Fuding County, China.
In this deep dive we get to know our current batch of Silver Needle Supreme, a definitive example of the highest grade of white tea from its authentic home in Fuding County in China’s Fujian province. We’ll be exploring what this batch is like to drink, how it compares to other white teas and I’ll also be sharing with you a couple of ways to make and enjoy this tea at home.
The fame and renown of Silver Needle white teas means that each spring, fresh batches are commanding higher and higher prices, especially those from Fuding County. Despite the hype, it can still be hard to find an example that reflects the combination of syrupy sweet and fresh qualities that we are looking for. But when we do, it’s really quite special. So, let’s dive into this tea and find out why.
Origin: Heshan Garden, Fuding, Fujian Province, China
Cultivar: Camellia sinensis var. sinensis ‘Fuding Da Bai Hao’
Name: Silver Needle refers to the needle-like shape of the buds, as well as the fine, silvery hairs that protect them. In Chinese it’s called Bai Hao Yin Zhen which means ‘white hair silver needle’.
Style: Bud picked white tea.
Terroir: Temperate climate at high elevation with unique soil.
Picking Season: Spring 2019
Leaf: Furry white and green hued, whole needles
Infusion: Honeyed golden yellow with pale green hues.
What kind of tea does Heshan Garden produce?
Heshan Garden sits at an elevation of around 800m in a temperate and misty mountain range. The mist protects the plants from too much sun exposure, while offering the perfect conditions for tea plants to grow slowly and become full of flavour. Like many gardens in this region, Heshan produces prized white tea and uses the Fuding Da Bai Hao (large white) cultivar, a variety of tea plant specifically cultivated in the region and known for its fresh, bright flavours and large buds.
White tea is quite a unique style of processing, unlike many other types of tea where the leaves can be rolled, fried and even roasted, the process for making white tea is very minimal. The leaves are just picked, withered and dried with no heat applied to stop oxidation. So, with only a few variables in the production, white tea is all about what you pick. This is why Silver Needle teas are so highly prized because they’re crafted using the precious buds that only appear in early spring and capture the pure flavours of the tea plant.
Heshan Garden also lies within the surrounding area of Fuding county, in the north of Fujian province. Fuding is considered to be the authentic home of white tea production in China. All of Fujian is a highly regarded region for tea production, many of the China's most famous teas are from Fujian, as well as Silver Needle, the province is also home to Wuyishan, where oolong teas were first produced and Anxi, home of Iron Buddha. Much like Dragon well green tea from neighbouring Zhejiang province, Silver Needle produced in Fuding is drunk for its refreshing, sweet flavour and cooling effect during the hot summer months. The older folks of Fuding will tend to infuse their freshly made tea directly in a tall glass, topped up with hot water for a casual hot drink known affectionately as drinking it ‘grandpa style’. More common though is the ‘gong fu style’ of tea making, using a gaiwan (lidded bowl) and small cups for a longer tea session among friends of many short, concentrated and evolving infusions.
How did we source this batch of tea and who made it?
Each year we do our best to find an excellent example of Silver Needle, but it can be difficult to find one with that truly expresses the flavours we’re after. It’s a tea that should be sweet, mellow and have plenty of fresh cucumber and fruity melon notes. However, with so much hype around white teas from Fuding, we find that most productions struggle to live up to the reputation or the large price tag. So when Tom tasted this batch of Silver Needle, noting its abundant freshness and complexity he snapped it up straight away.
This batch was produced by tea master Sun Chenhui in spring 2019 and we think it does a great job of capturing what we love about Silver Needle tea. It was picked in early April and uses just the finest buds from the tea bushes of Mr Sun’s garden. If you look at the buds, you can see that they’re covered in ultrafine hairs called trichomes. These exist naturally as a protection for the young buds against insects and pests. When we see them, we know the buds are still young when they were picked and so denote quality.
The skill in the process for making white tea is in the picking and handling of the buds. Each bud needs to be handled with great care and precision to ensure the delicacy of the final tea. It begins with the picking, which must be done by hand and in a way that does not bruise or break the buds. As soon as the buds are broken, oxygen gets in, which changes and concentrates the flavour. With this style of tea, we only want a very slow oxidation to give the mellow, delicate softness. After picking, Mr Sun will lay the fresh buds out on a withering table – often this is just a bamboo tray. On this tray the buds will begin to lose moisture and so “wither”. After they’ve fully withered, the buds are slowly dried – sometimes this is done just using the heat of the sun or sometimes a light heat is applied underneath the tray. This will happen for at least four days. The drying brings balance and the slow nature of it draws out the complexities in the taste of the tea. The aim for Mr Sun is to express the pure flavours of his tea bushes and their young buds, creating a truly engaging and refreshing infusion. This batch does just that!
What is this batch like to drink?
This tea is so fresh, it has the aroma of recently cut grass and open, sunny meadows. Compared to other white teas like White Peony which uses more of the young leaves, Silver Needle Supreme is less woody and floral. These plump buds are much sweeter, more refined and there are notes of cantaloupe melon and cooling cucumber with a little bit of honey too. The colour is a pale yellowy green, almost like a white wine but the texture is syrupy, thick and extremely smooth. I love the finish on this infusion too – it’s so long and quenching which helps to capture that refreshing spring quality.
Where and when is this tea for?
In China, white tea is considered cooling and once you try it, you’ll see why! Silver Needle Supreme is super refreshing, the flavours are perfect for hotter, summer weather, on days when you need to escape into the shade to chill out. It’s light and sweet, but still has enough flavour and complexity to be fulfilling, whether in the morning as a gentle wake up or in the late afternoon to soothe.
What is it like to make and how easy is it to get a good taste?
Single Serve, One Cup Method using a 250ml teapot and cup:
This is a very easy tea to make - it’s delicacy and sweetness means you’ll never get bitterness or astringency. Simply take 4g of buds (that’s about 3 teaspoons) and add to your teapot – I use our glass tea-eire. After that there’s only two things you have to consider – make sure you use slightly cooler water, around 80˚C and be sure to give it the full 3 minutes for plenty of those sweet and cooling cucumber and melon notes.
Remember, after three minutes, pour out the whole infusion into your favourite mug for the complete, perfect cup. You can certainly infuse these buds again too, just add 30 seconds on the second infusion for a consistent flavour.
This is our go-to method: 4g per 250ml; 80˚C; 3 minutes per infusion (re-infuse at least twice)
Using our Tea Master or a Gaiwan to make short, concentrated infusions (Gong Fu):
This is a great tea for ‘gong fu’ style drinking – that is, using our porcelain tea master, a small teapot or a Gaiwan, with a high proportion of leaf to water and preparing multiple short infusions. Making tea in this way delivers a more concentrated view of the flavours and aromas.
The first infusion is light but will release the teas full aroma of meadow freshness and some complex, woody notes. As the buds begin to impart their full flavour by the third infusion you should find plenty of lightly fruity notes and a cooling finish developing. This tea can be re-infused many times so you can really savour its complexities and developing flavours.
Method: 5g per 100ml; 80˚C; 45 secs. Infusion, add 10 seconds incrementally for each subsequent infusion (at least 6 infusions.)
Who is this tea for?
If you love spring fresh green teas but have not yet ventured into white tea then Silver Needle Supreme would be a great tea for you to try. It has less of those grassy and vegetal notes and will never go bitter during the infusion. Equally, if you’re a big fan of our Jasmine Silver Needle, then you should try this for a purer taste of white tea and for a fully aromatic, sweet and lightly fruity infusion without any extra scent. This is the perfect engaging and refreshing cup of tea to cool off and enjoy, especially during hotter, summer weather.
The Legend of Silver Needle Tea
Like most teas in China, Silver Needle comes with its own legendary origin. Although these myths might evolve through generations, they help to reinforce the teas authentic origin, while capturing the imagination of tea drinkers around the world – who doesn’t love a good story! The legend of Silver Needle tells the tale of a village at the bottom of Tai Mu Mountain in Fuding that suffered from a plague as the result of a long drought. As their last hope, a few villagers headed up into the mountains to seek out a mythical tea plant that could cure them of their plague and bring water to the dry river beds. But, upon their ascent, they heard voices that whispered to them to turn back. As they retreated, they were turned to stone and never returned to the village. One day, a brave young girl decided to sneak up the mountain and find the plant, protecting herself from the evil voices by covering her ears with rice cakes. Eventually she reached the plant, which she nurtured and brought back to the village. The buds of the young plant were used to make a special white tea, which cured the village of plague and released the people of stone.