Yellow tea is like a hidden gem. It is very common to hear about it and ponder what this tea is all about and how to differentiate it from other types of teas. To answer your curiosity, we have researched and presented as much information as possible. Hence, in this guide, you will find about the history, processing technique, flavor profile, common tea varieties, and brewing instructions for this rare and most expensive tea from China.
Chinese believe that this tea was first discovered during the Ming dynasty. The story goes that some producers were not diligent enough and lacked perfection. Consequently, these producers ended up using sloppy practices while making green tea. At times, tea leaves were over-steamed, were not dried immediately, or not evenly spread out during the drying process.
These unintentional process changes resulted in slower than the intended rate of oxidation. As a result, instead of having a green appearance, leaves turned yellow. Despite this change of color, people noticed a pleasant transition of flavors. This resulting tea was named yellow based on its yellowish hue.
As this was one of the rarest and finest tea, people started giving it as a tribute to the Emperors. Royals loved this unique colored tea. Thus, this tea remained a luxury for a very very long time. Even today, many Chinese consider this mysterious drink as an elite drink that is available only at selected places.
Yellow tea is made by using freshly plucked leaves of Camellia sinensis.Later, these leaves go through the following labor-intensive and time-consuming process.
Similar to green tea processing, the stage of withering is almost non-existent. Thus, to minimize the oxidation process and limit the unintentional withering, freshly plucked leaves go through the fixation process as soon as possible. However, it is important to note that unlike green tea, fixation for yellow tea has a lower intensity, i.e., relatively lower temperature and a shorter duration. As a result, leaves don't dry rapidly.
After fixation, which is pan-frying in most of the cases, the tea leaves may be hand twistedto release the juices. Later, leaves immediately undergo the procedure of sweltering/yellowing. During this process of yellowing, tea masters may opt for the traditional method of wrapping the warm and damp leaves in a cloth/paper. At times they may also pile leaves in a bamboo basket and cover it with a cloth. After encasing, tea masters slowly steam these leaves.
Covering and gently heating tea leaves allow them to breathe and reabsorb their aroma. The resulting tea develops a mature taste with unique layers of flavors. This step may take several hours or a few days until the leaves turn yellow and the fragrance of the tea reaches its desired level. Thus, sweltering is the most important process that gives this tea its distinctive taste and yellow liquor.
Once leaves become yellow, they can be dried using different techniques. For example, leaves can be naturally sun-dried and then baked or placed near a constant heat source. During the drying process, these tea leaves become even more yellow, enhancing the delicacy of flavors.
Yellow tea is lightly oxidized tea that follows a process similar to green tea with an additional procedure of sweltering. This additional step ensures that the tea has a relatively sweeter taste with non-existent grassy notes, astringency, and bitterness. The process of sweltering also gives this tea a distinctively smooth and silky taste.
However, just like any other type of tea, tea's taste depends on the location of the tea plant grown, cultivation season, and slight variation in its processing method. Overall, we can describe this tea as medium-bodied that has a fresh, smooth, silky, floral, aromatic, brisk, and mellow taste with a fruity-sweet aftertaste.
According to tea experts, only Chinese tea can be classified as yellow tea. While Korea also produces yellow tea, experts regard this tea as a variation of green or oolong tea. Hence, only the famous tea varieties produced in China are mentioned below:
Brewing tea is an art. You can be as creative as you wish while following basic guidelines to avoid major mistakes. Below are basic steps for the western style brewing, use these as a starting point to brew a nice cup of tea.