Yellow tea is one of those teas that you hardly ever find in a non-specialist tea shop because it is produced in really tiny quantities.
Yellow tea is usually gifted or sold to rich Chinese clients as Yellow tea continues to have an image of exclusivity ever since the days when it was reserved as an imperial tribute tea for the Emperors of China. If a supplier can get hold of any Yellow tea then they have to make sure that they are not being palmed off with the leftovers!
PRODUCING YELLOW TEA
A good quality Yellow tea takes a lot of work to make correctly. The process mimics that of Green tea but with an added unique process called ‘Wrapping’ or ‘Yellowing’. Here is the basic method to make Yellow tea:
Picking -> Withering -> Fixing -> Wrapping -> Drying
The pickings are either bud or a bud and one or two very young leaves. These will wither slightly and then be fixed by heating like green tea but usually for a shorter time and at a lower temperature.
While the leaves are still warm and moist, they are then ‘yellowed’ by wrapping the tea. This allows the leaves to release and reabsorb moisture, a kind of breathing process which the Chinese refer to as 'reabsorbing essence'. This warm, wet and enclosed environment encourages some extra oxidation and perhaps a little fermentation.
After a day or two, the leaves are unwrapped and sometimes the process is repeated so that the leaves are heated and wrapped once more. When the producer feels that the right level of yellowing has been achieved then the tea will be dried, usually by baking over charcoal at low temperatures.
Yellow tea is only made in a handful of places and the individual processes will vary according to origin but this combination of a shorter fixing process followed by a wrapping process is the common theme.
WHAT DOES IT TASTE LIKE?
Since the oxidation of Yellow tea is stopped partially by heating and partially by drying, Yellow tea can be considered as a tea which sits in-between White and Green tea. Yellow tea is like drinking a light Green tea with a warmer character. The finish of a Yellow tea should be silky smooth.
NAMING YELLOW TEA
There are three main Yellow teas from different provinces in China. Other countries are just starting to dip their toes into Yellow tea production (and still have a way to go in my view).
The famous three are Huo Shan Huang Ya from Anhui, Junshan Yin Zhen from Hunan and Meng Ding Huang Ya from Sichuan. I recommend trying them all but be wary of claims that Junshan Yin Zhen comes from the island of Junshan – almost all of this crazy expensive tea is reserved for the Chinese Government and dignitaries.