Also known as Yin Zhen, this tea smells of wet, sweet hay with a glaze of sugar, sweet like cotton candy. Light floral high notes of honeysuckle and jasmine add quite the finish. Though it sometimes begins tasting only of water, it quickly blooms in the mouth to show a light sugar sweetness, dulled with gentle vegetal flavors of steamed bok choy (mmm).

Yin Zhen is widely considered the best white tea in the world. Although it is expensive, it merits its price. It comes from a beautiful corner of the Fujian province whose hills and valleys are carpeted with gorgeous tea gardens. The best Yin hen comes form the coastal counties of Fuding and neighborng Zheng He, whose mountains are steep but not high. Yin Zhen’s silver tips grow on the Da Bai (big white) tea tree, whose name aptly describes the plant’s large buds. The Da Bai plant forms fat buds, thickly coated with down. The plants need time to create these big buds, so the Yin Zhen harvest starts later than in adjacent green tea areas.

The buds are painstakingly picked by hand. In the spring, int he mornings after the dew has dried, the hills can be seen dotted with harvesters. Typical of the variation within many Chinese teas, every Yin Zhen maker makes this tea a little differently. Some tea makers dry the buds on tarps in the sun, others dry them on wooden slats in the shade, and still others lay them out on racks in temperature controlled rooms. A few Yin Zhen makers lightly fire the teas after drying them, giving their teas the faint “heat” flavors of lightly toasted white bread.

Yin Zhen is just as charming for the way it brews. It’s worth steeping this tea in a glass vessel to watch the steeping process. Instead of pouring the water of the buds, scatter the buds over the surface of the water. Sometimes the buds will fall right to the bottom, but in the best of times they will float a few moments on the surface, then tip their noses to hang vertically in the water. There they will sway gently before falling to the bottom of the glass. As they unleashed a pale green liquor, the buds themselves will slowly tunr a dark sage green.

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