The Two (or Three) Silver Needles

Newsletter Mar. 3, 2023

Close-up of three rows of six tea buds each, arranged vertically in a diagonal line. The row on the left is smallest and the least fuzzy and yellowish, the middle is larger and whiter and hairier, and the right is enormous and covered in down and more curved and crinkled from compression.
Junshan Yinzhen (left), Silver Needle (center), Bai Long Xu (right).

Let’s get right to the point. We’re taking a close look at the fuzzy tea buds of Baihao Yinzhen (Silver Needle) white tea, Junshan Yinzhen yellow tea, and Bai Long Xu (White Dragon Whiskers) white Puer this weekend.

A tea of all tips – still uncommon now and downright rare in the greater history of tea – isn’t the kind of thing you’d see on the open market back in the 20th century. While these three teas look kind of the same, they come from very different origins and types of tea bushes, bringing highly contrasting flavor experiences. And yet, they all share a common journey.

With an exacting snap of the plucker’s hand, those buds are on their way. In all three cases, their buds are plucked individually, rather than as part of a sprig that has leafed out. In other words, you’re getting the densest early-spring leaf buds the bush can muster, and that’s not always the case in lower grades of bud teas. An individually plucked bud means richer flavor, more infusions, and the best tea for your dollar.

Speaking of dollars, hand-harvested spring buds are as valuable a material as you’d expect, and these little needles get doted on in the factory. Silver Needle’s buds are laid out by hand in lines in a single, even layer for careful drying. Our producer, Chen Qingwen, will use sun drying when the weather is just-right, but more often, he opts for indoor drying rooms where he has more control of the temperature and humidity. Bai Long Xu’s producers use an enclosed glass solarium to achieve the same effect.

Dozens of large round bamboo trays holding thin layers of tea leaves laying on the ground to dry in a large sunny solarium with a clear roof.
Tea naturally drying in a Yunnan-style solarium.

The buds of Junshan Yinzhen get the most meticulous treatment of all – 72 hours of continuous painstaking work and monitoring. They are worked in batches of just one kilogram that must be individually tended in order for these buds to achieve the rare flavors of yellow tea – vast, subtle, complex and delicate.

Even after all of that, these buds often still have half a world to go to your cup. All of the exacting work up to this point would be wasted if these buds weren’t cared for just as well during shipping, storage, and packaging – that’s our job. It’s on us to preserve the integrity of these teas and everything that’s gone into them from one end of the supply chain to the other. We take this work really seriously.

If you’re reading this, we’re willing to bet that you take your part really seriously, too. When you bring these buds to their final home, these little guys will get all the attention and love they deserve in your tea pot. We just know it.

Close-up of two pale green opening tea buds on the tip of a branch, backlit by sun.

2023 Harvest Watch

As spring tiptoes in and winter holds on, the first harvests of the earliest varieties from the earliest origins are now underway. We’re still weeks away from the time that the old heirloom bushes (our preference) hit plucking time, but the excitement is building. Zhuping is headed back to China in the next few weeks, and she’ll be there for the duration of the spring harvest.

We’ll keep you updated on further developments regarding our most exciting time of year.