A genuine Silver Needle is a white tea. As such, it is only lightly oxidized. The most sought after productions are from the first flushes, which generally take place between late March to early April when the year’s first new buds “flush”. For the production of Silver Needle, only the leaf shoots, i.e. the leaf buds before opening, are plucked. Unlike the plucking of green tea, the ideal time and weather for plucking white tea is a sunny morning when the sun is high enough to have dried any remaining moisture on the buds.
Traditionally, the plucks are laid in shallow baskets to wilt under the sun for an extended period, and the best quality produced today are still made this way. To avoid loss due to sudden rain, gusts, or other accidents, some producers are taking the plucks indoor to wilt in a chamber with artificial warm air flow. The softened shoots are then piled for the required enzyme oxidation (often incorrectly referred to as fermentation) before they are taken for a low-temperature bake-dry.
Two regions, Zhenghe and Fuding, spanning the north to north-eastern parts of the Fujian province are the major and original producers of this tea, although neighboring counties have also been producing. The two major cultivars employed by these regions are Fuding Da Bai and Zhenghe Da Bai, named after their origins. These differences are important to distinguish the two major styles of Silver Needles — the Zhenghe style and the Fuding style. The former is usually a lot darker, with significantly longer piled-up time for oxidation, yielding a tea with a fuller body than the latter style, which is generally lighter with shorter oxidation. The character of the tea tree leaves of the former allows for the extended piled-up time without turning bad. Both styles have their own group of followers, as taste is a rather personal preference.