Saturday, January 3, 2009

Tea Tasting Saturday #1 - Yin Zhen / Silver Needles

So my year-long adventure in tea exploration begins, inspired by The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea by Michael Harney. In this book, one of America's foremost tea experts shares 56 teas he says every tea lover should know, and it's my goal to try as many of them as possible over the coming year. If you want to play (or sip) along, I am aiming to try the teas in the order they are listed in the book, beginning with this Yin Zhen (Silver Needles). I'll post on Saturdays, although I'll probably actually do my tea tasting earlier in the week. And I would LOVE to have others who have tried this tea (yours doesn't have to be from Harney) chime in!

I should probably point out that I'm doing things differently than what Mike suggests in the book. First, I had already ordered my first few samples when I read his suggestion of trying all the teas in a category at one time, or at least two at a time (i.e. all the whites, all the Chinese greens, etc.). Well, I won't be doing it that way! Also, he says it's important to use a white-lined ceramic cup in order to properly judge the color of the tea. I'm still partial to my new glass gaiwan, but I *am* placing the steeped glass of tea against a piece of white paper as I judge the color of the tea, so that is my concession to that.

This first tasting was, I must say, more fun than I expected. I usually don't make such an "occasion" of preparing my tea, but I enjoyed pulling out the tea thermometer (which I haven't used in ages) and getting the temperature just right. And though I don't usually bother to filter water for my tea, I did this time, because Mike said to. I've already rebelled against some of his early suggestions, so the least I can do for the man is fall in line on the water.

Earlier in the week I created a sheet of Tea Tasting Notes on my computer, notes I will be saving in a notebook. I'd show it to you but it's not "pretty" at the moment, and I'm hopeful my friend Deberah will favor me by working her design magic on it when we get back to work next week. But I *can* tell you what the notes say:

Name of tea
: Yin Zhen / Silver Needles

Category: White tea

Purveyor: Harney & Sons

Dry leaf appearance: Fluffy gray-green leaves, like miniature lamb's ears (the plant, not the animal)

Steeping temperature and time: 3 minutes at 175 degrees for first steeping; longer times for the next three steepings (yes, I got four steepings!)

Wet leaf appearance: Olive green color with a few bright green bits

Scent: Grass clipping-ish, garden-y

Color: Pale yellow

Flavor: A surprising bit of tartness at the very first sip, which quickly mellowed the more I sipped. A very pleasant and light flavored tea.

Additional notes: Tea had much more character (body? is that the word?) than the Silver Needle tea I tried last year.

Oh, and I didn't write this in my notes, but you might like to know that although I wrote about the appearance of this tea's "leaves," I learned from the Harney book that these aren't leaves at all but simply dried buds. Although I want to learn from Mike, I don't want to be influenced by his opinions while I'm tasting, so I am not reading his comments on each tea until after I've tasted it for myself.

(Future Saturday posts will be much shorter than this one, but I thought I'd better give you a little "set-up" of how and what I'm doing!)


  1. What fun!
    Questions and Comments:
    1. 4 steepings! Is each as good as the other? Does it help to do "one for me, one for you, and one for the pot," adding one for the pot each time?

    2. For those without the book, trying what we have on hand, may we have a "heads-up" sometime during the week?

    3. Exciting, exciting! Such accouterments you have! What fun! I can hardly wait for next Saturday!

  2. Thank you so much, Angela. Last night I was putting my tea order in for Harney Teas and I added his book to my cart. I can't wait to read it. It will be fun to go along this process with you. You always seem to keep tea interesting. I love reading your blog. Happy New Year!

  3. Very interesting! This will be a fun adventure!

  4. I'm glad that your first tea tasting is Silver Needles. I received a large canister of Silver Needle tea from a friend. She bought it at Teavana.

    I used my new Utilitea kettle from Adagio to boil the water and the temp was just about right at the green tea setting. I use Brita filtered water when making tea. It is a pretty tea in its dry state and the brewed color of the Teavana brand is also a pale yellow.

    I thought the fragrance was very soft and pleasant. I really like this teas flavour and didn't find any hint of bitterness. I'm going to go now and try a second steep

  5. Anonymous, thank you for reminding me of a few more things I meant to include! On the steepings: 1 and 2 were virtually indistinguishable. 3 was a little "lighter," and 4, probably because I let it steep too long before taking a sip, had a slight aftertaste of bitterness that was definitely not in the earlier versions.

    Also, after I pulled out the gaiwan, it hit me that I wanted to filter the leaves (buds) in this first cup, so I did use a large, cup-size mesh filter into which I placed one teaspoon of tea and added boiling water. After drinking that first cup, I placed the wet tea back in the gaiwan and went from there. I think I'll prepare the tea in a pot next time and use my gaiwan only for the sipping.

    And finally, a most important note I'll add each week: Next week's tea is Bai Mei. Thanks for stopping by today, friends!

  6. This is brilliant, Angela. I can't wait to vicariously follow along. By the way tea lovers, I saw the Harney book in Barnes & Noble yesterday for 50% off!

  7. Great job Angela! I will faithfully follow your tea tastings. I admit, the technical aspects of tea tasting is not one of my strong points although I have participated in several during different tea training and classes. I enjoy drinking and trying different teas and I enjoy the art of afternoon tea (aka the tea party) even more!

  8. Oh, great job Angela! I will look forward to these reviews. Silver Needles tea is one of my faves, tho I haven't had the H&S variety. I'm glad you aren't reading Mr. Harney's assessment until you write your own. I will look forward to learning from you!


Thanks so much for taking time to leave a comment! It makes my day to hear from readers!