Yunnan Silver Needle White Tea (Baihao Yinzhen)

Baihao Yinzhen, created in 1796, is one of China’s six major types of white tea, originally produced in Fujian province. Its main production areas include Fuding, Zherong, Zhenghe, Songxi, and Jianyang, among others, earning it the title of one of China’s top ten famous teas. It is often referred to as the “beauty” or “king” of teas due to its appearance: straight and needle-like, covered with abundant silver-white downy hairs, and with finished tea leaves measuring about 3cm in length. Named “Baihao Yinzhen” because its fresh leaves are all tender buds, and after processing, the tea retains its needle-like shape, dense white down, and silver-white color.

Baihao Yinzhen is classified as a type of white tea, made entirely from tender buds, and is renowned as the highest grade and most expensive tea among white teas. It has been exported since the 19th century, boasting a history of over 100 years abroad. Yunnan’s Baihao Yinzhen is produced in Jinggu County, Pu’er City, and Lincang City, known locally as Jinggu Dabaihao, a type of Pu’er tea characterized by ancient tea trees and distinctive Chinese silver tips.

Historical Development In the early Qing Jiaqing era (1796 AD), tea makers in Fujian used robust tea buds from vegetable tea plants to create Baihao Yinzhen. Baihao Yinzhen began its export as early as 1891. The period from 1912 to 1916 marked its peak, with Fuding City and Songzheng County (now Zhenghe and Songxi Counties) each producing over 1,000 tons annually. However, World War I disrupted its export routes. In 1982, it was recognized by the Ministry of Commerce as a national famous tea, ranking second among 30 famous teas. In 1990, during the Second and Third National Famous Tea Evaluation Conferences held in Xinyang, Henan, Baihao Yinzhen was once again honored as a national famous tea. A series of products under the Baihao Yinzhen brand were developed, including Yinguo, Yinhou, Yinqiu, and Yinlong. In 1992, Yinguo was recognized as Fujian Province’s top famous tea, ranking first.

Health Benefits of Baihao Yinzhen

In ancient times, Baihao Yinzhen was viewed as a medicinal herb, as depicted in the proverb “Shennong tasted hundreds of herbs, encountering seventy-two poisons, finding tea to resolve them.” This underscores its original medicinal use.

Baihao Yinzhen retains the original nutrients of tea leaves, known for its mild nature and powerful effects similar to rhino horn, particularly valued abroad initially as a medicinal product in pharmacies.

Harvested primarily in early spring for about two weeks, after resting through winter, Baihao Yinzhen’s leaves retain high nutritional value with abundant amino acids, beneficial for memory enhancement, neuroprotection, and blood pressure reduction. It also contains rich vitamins, catechins, and minerals.

Baihao Yinzhen exhibits potent antioxidant properties, with higher levels of active enzymes compared to other teas, as confirmed by Dr. Lin Zhi from the Tea Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in his study on white tea processing quality.

According to Professor Chen Zongmao’s “Chinese Tea Classics,” Baihao Yinzhen has cooling properties useful for reducing fever, dispelling heat, and detoxification, making it a preferred beverage for dryness relief. It is also beneficial for wind-heat colds and considered effective in maintaining and supporting patients with measles in northern China.

Over prolonged storage, Baihao Yinzhen undergoes continuous transformation in its internal substances, resulting in surprising changes in both health benefits and flavor profiles.

02|Taste of Baihao Yinzhen

Dry Leaves: High-quality Baihao Yinzhen should feature plump buds densely covered with white down, uniformly shaped with slight fine particles, but overall even.

Liquor Color: Baihao Yinzhen’s liquor color is light with excellent clarity, exhibiting a bright appearance. The typical color ranges from light apricot-yellow to apricot-yellow.

Aroma: Its tea aroma, reflecting its poetic name, is pure and elegant, rich in downy fragrance with floral hints, accompanied by clear and soy milk aromas, lasting quite well.

Taste: Fresh Baihao Yinzhen has a fresh, sweet, and mellow taste, neither bitter nor astringent, with a lingering sweetness. It withstands multiple infusions well, yielding seven to eight brews, with a lingering aftertaste.

Leaf Base: The leaves have soft, tender buds that are elastic, uniform, and resilient, reflecting the delicate and active nature of the raw material.

Varieties of Baihao Yinzhen:

  • Head Picked Silver Needle (头采银针): The earliest harvested type of Baihao Yinzhen, picked around mid-March, characterized by tender buds with high amino acid content and a unique fragrance combining downy and floral honey aromas, resulting in sweeter, smoother tea liquor.
  • Wild Silver Needle (荒野银针): Harvested from wild tea trees that have grown independently for over a decade or more, accumulating rich internal substances. Its unique growth conditions impart a more ecological and organic quality, with a distinct wild aroma and heightened taste recognition in the tea liquor, offering enduring sweetness and a long-lasting aftertaste.
  • Charcoal-Baked Silver Needle (炭焙银针): Processed using charcoal-baking techniques, known for its dynamic transformation due to enzyme activity enhanced under gentle heat. It exhibits lively downy fragrance and a long-lasting charcoal aroma, with a clear apricot-yellow liquor color. It has a gentler and smoother tea nature, even for new tea, without causing irritation to the intestines. Charcoal-baked Silver Needle stored for three years is comparable to electric-baked tea aged for five years, with a more stable aroma and superior later-stage transformation.

03|Common Brewing Methods for Baihao Yinzhen

Baihao Yinzhen’s production process involves only withering and drying, skipping the kneading step, which makes its internal qualities less prone to release. Therefore, it requires sufficient water temperature to stimulate and is more durable.

Typically, the brewing ratio for Baihao Yinzhen is 1:25, using 5 grams of dry tea with 110 milliliters of water in a covered porcelain cup. Before brewing, pre-warm the cup with hot water, add the dry tea, gently shake the cup to awaken the aroma and flavor, then pour in hot water to brew.

When brewing Baihao Yinzhen, two main considerations are crucial:

  1. The water temperature should reach 100°C. Baihao Yinzhen’s buds are wrapped in white down and have a bamboo-shoot structure, requiring sufficient temperature to brew multiple layers of protection and release tea flavors effectively.
  2. When pouring hot water over Baihao Yinzhen, avoid directly pouring onto the tea buds. Instead, pour along the cup (or teapot) walls. This method prevents damaging the appearance of the buds and avoids clouding the tea liquor, preserving its aesthetic appeal.

Finally, after pouring each brew of Baihao Yinzhen, ensure to pour out all the tea liquor from the cup to preserve the taste and aroma for subsequent brews.