Friday, September 27, 2013

Concept Teas, Silver Needle White Tea

Concept Teas Description:
Silver Needle (Bai Hao Yin Zhen in Chinese) is considered as the top grade white tea for its rarity and legendary health benefits. Its name comes from the appearance – tippy all over, needle-shaped and with “shimmering” pure silver color. The top quality Silver Needle is from the first terminal bud, of which the picking season is limited to only a couple of days during early spring (usually before Qingming Festival), when the buds are fresh and bold but not open yet. After spring, the newborn buds are mostly lateral and leaner. There are also some criteria for choosing an ideal day for picking, namely “sunny and lower humidity days preferred” while “rainy or foggy days avoided”. The terminal buds can be picked up alone. Alternatively, they can be picked up as “one bud with one leaf” or “one bud with two leaves”, and then separated afterwards. Historically as royal tribute, Silver Needle nowadays, especially the top grade, is still short of worldwide demand for its geographic exclusivity and limit production volume. It is sometimes used as the “embellishment” in blended tea to “improve” the grade.

Origin: Fuding, Fujian Province, China
Type: white tea, loose leaf
Age: 2013 spring

Sample provided by Concept Teas

My Review:
Concept Teas is another new to me company registered in Sweden with bases in Sweden and China. First, I want to mention the care taken getting this sample to me. I was informed their normal practice is to box up larger quantities of leaf for mailing. Since samples are small, to avoid waste and be affordable, they came in an envelope. Diana at Concept Teas was concerned the air mail trip from China could crunch this precious leaf so she pre-warned me and even emailed me a picture of the envelope.

She needn't have worried. The envelope arrived in perfect shape. When I opened the protective bubble-wrap envelope and looked inside, there was a heavy duty aluminum packing bag securely and tightly taped shut. Inside, I found two plastic bag wrapped samples whose leaves were still perfectly formed and whole. Good job on the packing.

The photo above of the leaf was taken by Diana. There is no way I could capture the beauty that is Silver Needle any better than she has already done. It really is exquisite.

The scent of the dry leaf is sweet hay. The fresh aroma hit me the moment I opened the bag. I used two bamboo scoops of leaf in my press and 190 F water with a 3 minute steep per concept teas recommendation. The leaf danced mostly on the surface during steeping. That is why I love a glass press. Watching the leaf and inhaling the aromas are, for me, a very important part of the process.

The resulting liquor is honey yellow and very clear. I noted a few downy silver hairs from the leaf floating in the cup. The wet leaf has changed from silver to shiny pea green. The leaf aroma is vegetal and earthy.

The sip is sweet, hay, and light earthiness. Late in the sip it develops light melon notes. The sweet aftertaste lingers long after the tea is gone. As the cup cooled it took on a more citrus profile that I found appealing.

I had enough of this sample to experiment. I next prepared this in a gaiwan. I again used 190 F filtered water and steeped about 1 min. Holy cow, I did not like the results at all. I am just learning to brew in a gaiwan but to me, the leaf scent was a combination burnt caramel and cigarettes. The sip I felt was lacking and suffering from scorched leaf. I prepared several more infusions each time reducing the water temp and increasing the steep time slightly. It became much better but never really recovered completely.

My third attempt - and my favorite - was again with the glass press. This time I used 175 F filtered water (80 C) and steeped about 1 1/2 minutes. The liquor is very lightly tinted and reminded me of white wine. The sip was fresh and sweet like hay with floral notes. This Fuding white again produces some light earthiness, citrus, and melon that I found pleasant. This is a very fine example of a Fuding Silver Needle.

This has proven to be a very valuable and tasty experience. The results changed drastically with only slight variations of brewing technique. I recommend you experiment with time, temperature, and steeping vessel to find your own sweet spot. Keep notes of what you have done and the results.

Silver needle is far more subtle than the black teas (known as red tea in China) most western taste buds are accustomed to sipping. It does not grab you by the throat like a breakfast tea. It is a tea to sip and fully experience. Yes, it is more expensive than the average everyday tea but re-steeps well and has excellent depth of flavor. In truth, the per cup cost is a lot cheaper than you are paying for an average cup of meh at your local coffee shop and the quality is truly excellent.

Visit Concept Teas website.

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