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.
ORIGINS OF YELLOW TEA
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.
HOW YELLOW TEA IS MADE?
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.
- STEP 1: Fresh Leaves
- STEP 2: Fixation
- STEP 3: Rolling/Shaping
- STEP 4: Sweltering/Yellowing
- STEP 5: Drying
- STEP 6: Yellow Tea
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 twisted to 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.
Related Article: How Tea is Produced? Tea Processing and Production Steps
YELLOW TEA TASTE
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.
VARIETIES OF YELLOW TEA
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:
- Jun Shan Yin Zhen: Also known as, Mount Jun Silver Needle, this is one of the most famous and expensive Chinese tea. This tea has a special fruity aroma and flavors with a hint of sugarcane and sweet corn notes.
- Huo Shan Huang Ya: This tea was commonly used as an imperial tribute. It has a unique peppery flavor with a very elegant greenish-yellow liquor.
- Meng Ding Huang Ya: Picked from misty peaks in Sichuan, this tea has slight grassy flavors with hints of sweet and nutty notes. It has straight compact leaves that point up during the infusion.
- Beigang Mao Jian: This tea is a famous tea of ancient times. It has bright orange-yellow liquor with pure and mellow flavors.
HOW TO BREW YELLOW TEA?
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.
- It is best to use high-quality, fresh, and pure water.
- Use water that is around 170-180° F. Avoid using boiling water.
- Take 1 tsp of tea per 6 fl. Oz of water. You can always adjust this amount based on your preference and the tea variety you use.
- Pour hot water on the tea leaves and let it steep for 2-5 minutes. To prevent any heat loss, cover your tea while it steeps. Actual steep time may vary according to your taste and the tea variety you are using.
- Strain the tea leaves before drinking.
- Normally, you can have 2-3 infusions with good quality tea. To have more than one infusion, you need to reduce the initial steep time and increase the steep time for subsequent infusions.
- You can add honey or sugar for taste. However, to enjoy the traditional flavors drink your tea without any additives.