Silver Needle (白毫银针; Bái Háo Yín Zhēn) probably is one of the most famous white teas in the world. The name has been spreading to the world from northeastern Fujian Province (福建省), China. The main production areas are Fuding, Zhenghe, Songxi, Jianyang and other places in Fujian Province, but usually, Zhenghe County and Fuding City are famous for the origin of top-quality Silver Needle. Fuding is known as the “Hometown of White Tea”.
In the recent decades, more types of Silver Needle produced somewhere else in China as well as in other parts of the world, for example Yunnan Silver Needle, have become popular. Despite the similar shapes, Silver Needles from different regions can have completely different tastes, aroma, tea body, etc. However, we saw Yunnan Silver Needles or Silver Needles from Vietnam have been confused for Fuding Silver Needles on the European markets. Therefore, we intended to write this blog article, Fuding Silver Needle vs. Yunnan Silver Needle, for the reference for the Teaheads.
What is a Silver Needle? What category does the tea belong to?
Because the tea looks like a sharp needle covered with white fluff, people in Fujian called the tea “Bai Hao Yin Zhen”. In Chinese, Bai Hao (白毫) means “white hair”, Yin Zhen (银针) means “silver needle”.
Silver Needle is made from the single buds sprouted in spring and can only be produced from mid-March to the beginning of April. Freshly harvested buds are light green and have downy hairs. Unlike green and black tea, these buds are dried only by long withering. Therefore, the finished Silver Needle white tea retains its original bud shape as when harvested. However, during the withering process, the chlorophyll contained in the buds evaporates, giving the tea a silvery white color. Although processing Silver Needle sounds simple, it is not easy to control the processing environment such as moisture, and temperature, thus proper timing in the process is very crucial. If the timing is not effectively observed, the unique taste and aroma of Silver Needle cannot be captured well, especially to make high-quality tea.
When you brew a well-made Silver Needle, the color of tea liquid is light apricot-yellow (Fuding Silver Needle) or orange-yellow (Yunnan Silver Needle), and it gives a sweet, refreshing taste with flowery and fruity fragrance.
Since the raw materials of tea are all fresh young buds, due to its rarity, as only a small amount is produced in early spring every year, Fuding Silver Needle nowadays is considered as the most valuable and expensive among all the Chinese white teas.
In this blog article, by classifying into two different producing areas, I would like to compare the Silver Needle from the Fuding region (福鼎) with the Silver Needle from the Yunnan region (云南).
Origin of Fuding Silver Needle 福建省的白毫银针
Silver Needle was the first white tea in history, earlier than other white teas such as Pai Mu Tan, Shoumei and Gongmei. According to the literature, in 1796 the Fujian people first produced Silver Needle.
Around 1857, a tea tree of the Fuding Da Bai Cha (福鼎大白茶) varietal is said to have successfully spread in the Fuding area, and in 1885, tea buds from the Fuding Da Bai Cha varietal are used to make Silver Needle first. In 1891, Silver Needle started to be exported abroad and began to gain popularity in Western cultures.
In 1982, Fuding Silver Needle was awarded “National Famous Tea” by the Ministry of Commerce of China, ranking second among 30 famous teas.
After 1990, some new varieties of Silver Needle such as Yin Qiu (銀球) and Yin Long (銀龍) were invented. In 1992, Silver Needle was rated as the most famous tea in Fujian Province, beating Tie Guan Yin and Wuyi Yancha.
Characteristics of Fuding Silver Needle
Among white teas, Fuding Silver Needle is expensive due to its low yield and high demand for raw materials. The amount of tea buds is much less than that of leaves on the plants, so the yield of Fuding Silver Needle is lower than other white teas. For example, the annual yield of the Fuding Silver Needle is only 1/10 of that of Shoumei.
As temperature rises in the spring, the germination of the tea buds accelerates, with the buds growing into leaves. For the first batch of Fuding Silver Needle, picking the tea buds must be a race against time. The picking period of Fuding Silver Needle is about only 10 days, from the spring equinox (March 21) to the Qingming period (April 5). When it rains, the harvest time is shortened, which also impacts the yield.
The appearance of Fuding Silver Needle is thin and sharp, its color differs from white to silver or silver green. The length of tea is usually about 3 cm long or even smaller. After brewing, the color of the tea liquid is bright, clear, and apricot-yellow.
Another way to enjoy Silver Needle from Fujian Province is to distinguish between the two main growing areas. According to the place of production, people in Fujian Province call the Silver Needle from Fuding as Northern Style Silver Needle (北路银针; Běi lù yíng zhēn) and the Silver Needle from Zhenghe as Southern Style Silver Needle (南路银针; Nánlù yíng zhēn). Made of the Fuding Da Bai Cha (福鼎大白茶) varietal, there are subtle differences depending on the method of processing. Northern Style Silver Needle is made by Weidiao (萎凋; withering in the shade) and Tanbei (炭焙; dried over charcoal), on the other hand, Southern Style Silver Needle goes through Weidiao (withering in the shade) then proceeds Shaigan (晒干; dried in the sun).
Origin of Yunnan Silver Needle / Da Bai Ya 云南白毫银针 / 大白芽
As aforesaid, in China, white tea is mostly produced in Fujian Province. In recent years, however, Yunnan province also produces quite an amount of Silver Needle (mostly known as Yunnan Da Bai Ya (云南大白芽, Yunnan big white buds) with locally distinct aromas, tastes, and tea body. The superb natural environment of Yunnan makes China's white tea industry grow fast.
Yunnan White Tea began to be produced more than 100 years ago in Jinggu (景谷) County, Pu Erh City. Yunnan white tea is commonly called Jinggu Da Bai Cha (景谷大白茶 Jinggu Big White Tea) after the name of the place.
Characteristics of Yunnan Silver Needle
Yunnan's climatic environment is quite different from that of Fuding and Zhenghe, where Silver Needle is originally produced. Yunnan is a green and forested region in China, with a subtropical brackish climate in the southern lowlands and a subtropical climate in the northern regions. The average temperature in January is 8-17 °C, the average temperature in July is 21-27 °C, and the average annual precipitation is 600~2300 mm, of which half are concentrated in July and August. The topography is mainly mountainous, especially high in the north and west, with canyons in the west and highlands in the east. Due to this unique location and ideal climate for growing tea trees, tea plants here are mostly Yunnan Da Ye Zhong (云南大叶种, Yunnan big-leaf varietals) with more concentrated nutrients.
Silver Needles made from Yunnan Da Ye Zhong are much bigger in shape with yellow and white colors instead of green and white colors like a Fuding Silver Needle. Aroma and tastes are more on the fruity and honey side and less on the fresh and flowery side like the Fuding Silver Needles. The unique characteristics of the Yunnan Silver Needle together with its much more affordable prices are attracting worldwide attention.
Fuding Silver Needle vs. Yunnan Silver Needle
Made from Fuding Da Bai Cha (福鼎大白茶) varietal, Funding Silver Needle is smaller than Yunnan Silver Needle and covered with a layer of white hairs. The more the hairs, the higher the quality of the tea, as the amount of hair contributes to the thickness of the tea body. The appearance of the finished Fuding Silver Needle is thin, sharp with green colour peeking through the silver downy hair. The color of the tea liquid is bright, clear, and light citrus yellow.
On the other hand, Yunnan Silver Needle is made from classical Yunnan Da Ye Zhong (云南大叶种) varietal, which is the raw material for pu erh tea. The needles are much bigger and thicker than the Fuding Silver Needles. The Needles appear light yellow to green with thick silver downy hair. The colour of the tea liquid is yellow to light orange.
In short, comparable characters of them can be shown as follows:
|Fuding Silver Needle||Yunnan Silver Needle|
|Fuding Da Bai Cha (福鼎大白茶)||Yunnan Da Ye Zhong (云南大叶种)|
|Shape of dried tea|
|relative small, thin and fluffy||big, wide, thick and more hairy|
|Color of dried tea|
|silver, white, gray, green||almost gray with a tint of light yellow, sometimes showing black or dark brown inside the buds|
|sweet, refreshing, flowery, fruity like green mellons, subtle||more intensely sweet like honey, fruity like ripe fruit, has the distinct wildness of a Yunnan tea|
|Qing Xiang (淸香; the pure, pleasant and light fragrance) and Haoxiang (毫香)||strong Haoxiang (毫香; the aroma of the buds exposed by Pekoe) with lingering honey flavor|
|Color of tea liquid|
|clear and transparent, citrus||yellow clear orange-yellow|
|Retail Price differences|
|depending on the quality, around 0.5 USD per gram on the international market. The older the tea, the more expensive the price||depending on the quality, around 0.2 USD per gram on the international market. The older the tea, the more expensive the price|
How to brew Silver Needle?
As produced without Sha Qing (杀靑; kill the green) and rolling process, Silver Needle tea itself is not broken or damaged during making. The buds are actually two to three layers of unopened leaves curling together. That means it takes a higher temperature and longer time to brew in comparison to other white teas: usually 2 to 3 minutes in water around 90 °C for Fuding Silver Needle and 1-2 minutes in water at 90 °C for Yunnan Silver Needle.
Brew in teapot
- Put 6-8 grams of tea in a teapot.
- Discard the first infusion after rinsing with hot water for 5 seconds, and leave the second infusion in water around 90 °C for 3 minutes before tasting. (The taste of Silver Needle can be mild if you drink it right away when it is hot.)
- Let it cool down a little, and it will be much thicker.
Brew in a Gaiwan or a glass tea cup
- Put 6-8 grams of tea into a Gaiwan / tea cup.
- Pour water around 90 °C into the Gaiwan / tea cup. Rinse the tea leaves for 5 seconds and discard the liquid.
- Pour water again into the Gaiwan / tea cup.
- Let the tea steep for about 2 minutes for Fuding Silver Needle and 1 minute for Yunnan Silver Needle. (The buds may float on the top, depending on the level they were dried. Feel free to use the lid of the Gaiwan to push the buds deeper into water.)
- Decant the tea into Gong Dao Bei and let the temperature cool down for a few minutes before tasting.
Suggestion: Do not pour hot water directly on the tea leaves but rather on the edge, as the direct hot temperature may cook the tea leaves and discounts the aroma and flavor.
When a good Fuding Silver Needle is well brewed, the color of tea liquid, which is usually expressed as water-like color, has a very clean, light yellow color but with a quite thick tea body due to the high amount of downy hair in the liquid. Both Yunnan Silver Needle and Fuding Silver Needle should have no bitter tastes, even when over brewed for an extra few minutes.
Was this post helpful? Maybe now you want a warm cup of Silver Needle, moreover, want to see for yourself the difference between the two Silver Needles? If so, check out the Silver Needle collection of our online store and leave a comment if you have further questions.