Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tea Tuesdays: Silver Yin Zhen Pearls

You might be noticing a pattern here. To be honest, in an attempt to curtail a dwindling inclination to write, I'm implimenting a "topic-of-the-day" system. I'm obviously going to deviate from that system whenever something particularly polarizing or inspiring strikes, but in the meantime, I hope these do just as well.

I'm sure all this interest in tea seems sudden. To be honest, the level to which I've taken that interest essentially is, and I won't deny it's largely due to my involvement with Teavana, a tea retailer (who, I point out, don't pay me for my opinions). Working there has introduced me to a number of new teas I had no idea even existed prior to working there, never mind the wide array of high-quality teas I wouldn't have been able to get otherwise.

To that end, I want to talk about one particular tea: Silver Yin Zhen Pearl. Silver Yin Zhen is a white tea from Anhui province in China. It is comprised of hand-rolled balls of an organic white tea that we sell as silver needle... each ball contains six whole leaves!

The most wonderful thing about Silver Yin Zhen is its subtle, orchid-like liquor and the silky-smooth mouthfeel it presents. Raw, the leaves have a nutty, toasted aroma, that reminds me, at the very least, of the smell of timothy hay or toasted wheat. These leaves are even suitable for multiple infusions in a suitably small window of time... as many as eight, though I like the third infusion the best.

I say it blends well with other teas, because it does, and I'll talk about why that can be crucial in a second. First though, I want to take a moment to say that I prefer not to. You pay for the quality you get. Unless your water is unusually harsh, blend with a different white.

Now, having said that, there is a very good reason why you'd want to, if you could afford it. White teas provide the highest antioxidant count of any tea, because the fermentation process that transforms white to green, green to oolong, and oolong to black destroys these antioxidants. If you're chasing the antioxidants and their hydrating and detoxifying properties, you may wish to have the highest amount possible... and since Silver Yin Zhen is essentially a more compressed version of white teas like Silver Needle, it has even more antioxidant properties per cup. If the health benefits were a key thing to you, mixing Silver Needle with something flavoured might be your main goal.

However, I do strongly encourage everyone to at least occasionally drink this plain. Its subtlety demands concentration to unravel, and is a pursuit in itself.


  1. White teas from Anhui province are rather unusual; I've never encountered a single one commercially available in the U.S.; you are based in Canada, and this tea was from a UK company? This one looks rather interesting; I recently tried a similar-looking white tea, like bai hao yinzhen or silver needle rolled up into small pearls, but it originated in Fujian province like most other Chinese white teas.

    I also have a comment about antioxidants; I've researched this topic a fair amount and, while I am not quite an expert in it, I think it's an oversimplification to say that white tea has more antioxidants. The oxidation process doesn't so much destroy the antioxidants as it does transform them. The tannins that make black tea black are themselves antioxidants! If you want to see my full explanation, I maintain an article about the antioxidants in tea which cites some sources in case you're skeptical.

    Also, white tea is not necessarily less oxidized just because it is less processed. The heating process used to produce green tea initially breaks down certain chemicals in the tea, but it halts the oxidation process. White tea, not being heated as intensely, has less up-front oxidation but oxidizes more over time, so, by the time it reaches your cup, tends to be more oxidized than typical green tea. This is why white teas tend to have a less vibrant green color than green teas. I also maintain an article on the oxidation of tea, if you're curious to see a fuller explanation.

    I think a lot of companies hype up the antioxidant properties of white tea trying to sell their product. While there is some truth behind their claims, a lot of them are stretched and are not fully truthful. But I'm always open to critique of my articles...you seem to have a critically-thinking mind; please let me know what you think!

  2. Hi Alex, thanks for writing.

    I have to admit that, as good as I was at chemistry in high school, biochemistry certainly isn't my field (at the moment, anyway). While it is an oversimplification to say that white tea has the most antioxidants, it should be noted that qualitatively, the unaltered antioxidants are by-and-by more powerful than tanins.

    Having said that, different teas are for different things, so it would also be an oversimplification to conclued that whites were any healthier.

    The tea is from an American company, though I used a randomly sourced (and certainly not properly attributed) image for the article.

    Thanks for leaving a comment! It sounds like Bai Hao Yinzhen is similar to this tea, since I'm told that this particular pearl is Silver Needle, which means I'm going to have to double-check what I was told about the origins.

    In my experience selling these teas, pounding on the antioxidents will get you know where. Demonstrating a passion for the tea for its own sake seems to be the best way to make the excitement contagious.

    Cheers, Alex.


  3. Teavana sources its silver yinzhen (which yes, is silver needle rolled into balls) from guangxi province, though it did originate from fujian. I use to work there, but I've loved baihao yinzhen long before then. ;)