In Part I of this article, we dived in-depth into yellow tea's specifics. Today, to conclude our talk on this subject, "Path of Cha" has invited a yellow tea expert and producer to discuss this rare tea. He will also share his tips and tricks on brewing Huang Cha to get the best out of its refined and delicate character. Yun Yao lives in Ya'an, Sichuan, where he produces a variety of yellow teas. His teas are sought after both in China and abroad. "Path of Cha" proudly sells one of his signature products, the yellow tea brick from Meng Ding.
Hi Yun Yao, it's nice having you here. Can you introduce yourself with a few words?
Hi, everyone. My name is Yun Yao, and I'm from Meng Ding Mountain in Ya'an, Sichuan, China. I'm a tea farmer and tea maker.
Tell us a bit about your story with tea - what was your first encounter with tea, and how did it all start for you?
I come from a region with century-old traditions in tea growing and production. I was engaged in tea-making since elementary school. It is when my first impressions and understanding of tea started to take shape. After graduating, I started working in a tea factory to study tea making systematically. By this time, I was studying the process of machine-made tea. Later, I met some friends who understood tea and drank good tea. The difference with the ordinary tea on the market was obvious, and it ignited my interest in high-quality, handmade tea. Under their influence, I began to focus on traditional handmade tea-making techniques.
Tell us about your teachers. Who accompanied you on your tea journey?
In 2012, I met my first teacher, Mr. Xie. He introduced me to handmade tea processing and techniques. Under his guidance, I studied the traditional way of using firewood to make tea, as people started to do back in the 1960s and 1970s. They used to pay great attention to the temperature and timing. The tea cultivar was also very important. Different tea varieties were suitable for making different tea varieties.
After two years of studying with Mr. Xie, I went to Chengdu, where I met my second teacher, Ms. Hai Yao. She introduced me to tea aesthetics. I dived deeper into traditional tea culture, the beauty of the tea space (Cha Xi – 茶席), and the tea philosophy. She made me realize that as a tea person in Mengding Mountain, I should shoulder the responsibility of reviving and developing the region's tea culture. When it comes to reviving Mengding Mountain tea, the foundation lies in yellow tea. So we visited various producers and experts on handmade tea in Mengding Mountain together to find the traditionally produced Mengding yellow tea. In 2016, I met my current master, Mr. Bai, who has been making traditional yellow tea by hand in Mengding Mountain for more than 30 years. However, the market still didn't have the concept of "handmade tea craftsman" a few years ago. So, teacher Bai was living remotely, deep in the wild mountain. His craft was largely unknown to the large public. However, it was in him that we saw the hope of the revival of yellow tea in Mengding Mountain. In the following years, I studied making yellow tea with him. We crossed the mountain in search of a wildly grown old local cultivar called Lao Chuan tea. During the last two years, we managed to fully restore and complete the process of yellow tea production according to the traditional technology. The market has gradually understood and favored us. I believe that soon, people will grow progressively to appreciate tea producers who stick to tradition and produce tea of high quality. People also tend to like more and more the kind of healthy, organic drink that tea is.
You're a producer of yellow tea. It's somewhat rare, and people don't know much about it, especially in the western world. Tell us more about this uncommon tea: its main advantage, and what makes it so unique?
I think, first of all, in Traditional Chinese medicine, yellow tea is among those with the warmest nature of the six main types of tea. Long-term drinking of yellow tea can help regulate the spleen and stomach of our bodies and make our bodies healthier. Combining the right tea quantity with the right brewing time, you can feel a unique honey sweetness and appreciate its rich, mellow taste. Tasting a yellow tea of good quality is an amazing experience that makes it stand apart from the crowd.
You've been producing yellow tea for a while now. Its production process is complicated and requires both skills and practice. What is the crucial step in the processing of yellow tea?
Talking about the most critical steps in yellow tea production is nothing more than the quality of the raw material and the fermentation during the Men Huang processing step. First, fresh leaves must be from a local cultivar, growing in an ecologically clean environment in the mountain, on a slope facing the sun. Secondly, during Men Huang, Mengding yellow tea has to undergo an inner transformation for three days and three nights. During this period, it is crucial to regulate the transformation of the tea leaves according to the air humidity and temperature in the surroundings. It is an ever-changing process, hard to control. It takes many failed experiences to do this step right. Only when the fermentation during Men Huang is done right will the yellow tea be good enough.
We live in times where machines and technology complete or entirely replace human labor in many production processes. Is there a way to combine traditional processing techniques with modern technology to produce yellow tea?
We must be in line with the times and combine tradition and science to make tea. Take rolling, for example: the rolling machine often rolls the tea leaves better and more evenly but also does it faster. But we should also inherit and pass down the traditional techniques, such as charcoal baking, which represents a Chinese cultural ideal. Charcoal baking has a different way of heating from modern infrared technology, so we should stick to it.
Do you strictly adhere to traditional techniques, or are you experimenting in the production and processing of your yellow tea?
There is an old Chinese saying, "取其精华，去其糟粕", or "Take the essence and discard the unneeded". We should carry out innovation by integrating ways to produce a good result, not strictly abiding by the form for the sake of it.
Can you give us a tip or advice on how to prepare yellow tea to get the best out of it?
I do it both ways: one is "grandpa style": directly brew the tea leaves in a cup. The tea slowly soaks in the water. You can slowly drink it, adding water when needed. This way, it will become sweeter with each subsequent brew. The second is to brew the leaves in a pot, discarding the first infusion after a while. It helps convert cellulose into soluble sugars. The tea prepared in this way gets gradually sweeter, with a rich, layered taste and oily tea soup.