Silver Needle White Preparation:
When making silver needle white tea, the delicacies of cooking the tea leaf reach extreme subtlety. White tea can be difficult to brew nicely, and is really tea meant for traditional brewing methods.
For Brad and others, the key to extracting the sweet and tangy flavor of the white tea is not a heartfelt extended steeping, but rather to use the critically low temperature to avoid obliterating the infused flavor. If the water is too hot, even for just the first moment of infusion, the very soft and ghostly flavor is destroyed, as well as the pleasing side-effects. Consequently, the infusion tastes like astringent water, metallic, or otherwise too light. However, if the water is not hot enough, then the infusion will turn out weak.
What this means is, filling the gaiwan or other cup brewing container (200 to 500 ml) with hot water to warm the vessel beforehand, preventing the tea from cooling down. Using hot water risks overcooking the leaves and may damage their taste permanently. On the other hand, if the tea becomes cool it is only one failed steeping--good tea soup can still be made from that point. Warming the gaiwan or cup solves this problem.
Of all leaf varieties, this leaf should be steeped at a low, low temperature--once the small "crab-eye" sized bubbles appear, or shortly before; the water is just beginning to boil. This is really the most critical aspect of the brew. One cannot allow the water to completely boil, or the infusion will be stale. If the water has become too hot (above crab-eye bubbles), then you can add a little fresh water to it--the steam should be rising very slowly and gently from the water.
The most important aspect of the tea is always water, because there must be oxygen in it to carry the taste. Chemicals disrupt the flavor of the brew, while mineral helps define it more. Spring water is always perfect, make sure it's fresh and cold or otherwise contains oxygen.
Fill the preheated gaiwan or small brewing vessel by half volume or slightly less. To agree with Oni, white tea needs somewhat more leaf to water than other teas, and so the higher quality of silver needle calls for a generously plump scoop of leaves.
Put the lid on and shake up the leaves to expose them to the moisture. Let them benefit in the dampness for a minute, and then remove lid to smell the creamy, grassy scent. It is very sweet and aromatic. If you want to rinse these leaves, I suggest filling the vessel halfway and adding the leaves to the water, then stirring very, very gently until wet and immediately drain; but don't use too hot water or else.
This gentle preparation or rinse method helps to preserve the good taste and assure flavor. Smelling the damp leaves after removing the lid can help you appreciate the flavor afterward. Use the warming water or rinse to warm the cup(s).
Initially, steep the leaves for an ordinary 10-20 seconds, while keeping the lid off to prevent the leaves from overheating. A longer steeping time will reduce the the extraction of the brew overall, providing less tea soup. I wouldn't go above 30 for the first steeping.
You can use the lid or a tiny tool to scoop the leaves from the rim or sides of the vessel, to aid the infusion by helping them to relax. Outwell the tea directly into the cup(s), pouring alternately to evenly distribute the flavor. Outwelling into a serving pitcher is all right, but it must be very warm or the tea might cool.
For the additional infusions, each steeping requires about five more seconds. 10-15 sec., 15-20 sec., 20-25 sec., and so forth. The importance of the brewing lies moreso in the not-too-hot temperature (well under boiling), the generous quantity of leaf, and shorter steeping times. Longer steeping times may over extract the flavor, and you would notice an increasing weakness in the flavor of the soup. The tea's flavor should be light, but definitely should become stronger with each steeping. If done carefully, the infusion should increasingly sensitize your mouth to the taste. Remember, water loses freshness after 3 boilings.
If you are going to brew your very fine Chinese tea in the non-traditional way, for a sizable teapot you must use a very sizable heap of white tea leaf, or the infusion will be inadequate. I would not recommend any multiple steeping for a teapot vessel, but rather one eight to ten minute infusion. Preheat the teapot, and do not rinse the leaves.
For steeping two infusions, steep three minutes first, then steep 6 minutes with slightly warmer water.
Only the flavor of certain foods allow the white tea to be palatable.
For a more intense brew, use more leaf than half the volume of the vessel, and reduce steeping durations to 10 seconds each time. Don't steep the leaves too long, or you will taste the bitterness of white tea. This can provide more infusions of a strong tea soup, if you can time the steeping well each time, and outwell swiftly. This is a more difficulty method of brewing similar to the basic gong-fu.