White tea is currently the darling of the tea-for-health crowd and has been for a while. As a result, inflated claims of its benefits are prevalent, most often alongside heavy-handed sales solicitations. White tea can not cure malaria or clean your fish tank, but it does have some scientifically verified benefits. I’m not particularly interested in writing about them because I’m more interested in the pleasures of drinking tea for tea’s sake. If drinking a particular type of tea is unpleasant I’m not going to do it, no matter how many claims I read that it will help me live forever. I don’t expect tea to help me live forever; I expect it to provide me with more joy out of the amount of life I have.
White tea is the closest you’re ever going to get to browsing directly off of a tea bush. It undergoes less processing than any other type of tea, meaning that its chemical and physical characteristics are less altered than those of other teas. This minimal processing is said to consist of just air drying the leaf, or just steaming and drying the leaf, depending on which description you read. Having never visited a white tea processing operation in Fujian province I can’t sift through the contradictions and draw a conclusion.
All of that background leads to the main topic, which is a review of Rishi Tea’s Silver Needle premium organic white tea. I have had the opportunity to sample this tea using a lot of different methods, from gongfu style with a porcelain gaiwan, to a plain glass teapot at the office, to a Chinese glass tea thermos. All of the methods I used yielded a wonderful sweet liquor in at least four infusions. I do not think that the tea is particularly challenging to brew well, but I can not over stress the importance of not burning the leaf with boiling water. I use spring water at about 180 degrees, which works nicely. This is Rishi’s description, notably absent any questionable health claims:
Organic Silver Needle (Bai Hao Yin Zhen) is the premium grade of classic white tea and consists only of the first flush spring buds of the tea plant. Our Silver Needles are hand harvested from Fujian’s unique Fuding Da Hao varietal that is prized for its large silvery buds and delicious sweet flavor.
The character of Silver Needle is light and delicate, without the vegetal tone of green teas. Silver Needle is well known as the finest of China’s white teas, a reputation it deserves. Rishi’s particular offering is excellent, with the added benefits of obtainability and affordability. It is a tea that I highly recommend to people already familiar with white teas and to people who have been wanting to try a good white tea but did not know where to start. It will not disappoint, but give it enough of your time and attention to appreciate its subtlety. You will be rewarded with a lovely tea drinking experience.
The TeaGeekWiki entry on Yin Zhen Bai Hao has a few more details on this famous tea.