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About Yellow Teas [+]
Yellow tea, or Huang Cha, is a very unique and scarce artisanal tea. Because of the difficulties involved in the tea's production, it's a rare tea. With the industrialization of the tea industry in China and Asian tea in general, some teas became popular worldwide, while others, like huang cha, stayed behind. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, however, for us tea enthusiasts. It means that when you buy teas from a trusted vendor, you can be sure that your yellow tea is a craft tea, produced exclusively in small batches.
In the olden days in China, yellow was the color of the emperor. Thus everything with the word yellow in it, or the color yellow in general, people associated with the emperor. Therefore, before, huang cha was often used to say "tribute tea." It did not necessarily refer to yellow tea as per the processing methods. Indeed, back then, huang cha could've been any tea that tea artisans dedicated to the emperor and the royal family.
What Is Yellow Tea?
Yellow tea, as per processing, is a very lightly oxidized tea. Almost on par with green tea, but tea farmers take the oxidation just a small step further. This oxidation process is rigorously executed to ensure that it is not under oxidized or over oxidized. The tea masters must be exceptionally well-versed in this tea's production. Unfortunately, these kinds of tea masters are becoming rarer and rarer in today's tea world. Much so that huang cha is practically on the verge of extinction.
The Best Rare Tea — What Makes This Tea Special?
Today there are hundreds, if not thousands, of different types of green tea and less than ten types of yellow tea.
It is the rarest of all tea types. Farmers produce it exclusively in China's high mountain regions of Anhui, Sichuan, Hunan, and Zhejiang provinces. Its production began sometime around the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).
However, today this tea is an essential part of China's long-lived tea tradition and is frequently featured among China's 'Ten Famous Teas' list.
The reason that the processing of haung cha is so complex is to take off the edge of the grassier green teas. Taking oxidation a step further, yellow tea becomes less grassy and less astringent. Chinese people believe it also becomes less cooling, making it a more comforting tea. According to the teaching of Traditional Chinese medicine, green tea possesses cooling energy, which may be suitable for enjoying in the hot summer months. Still, it may not be as optimal for people who already have an excess of cooling energy in their bodies. Indeed, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the cooling and heating energies are more balanced in huang cha.
Yellow Tea Processing
Farmers produce yellow tea through the process of micro-oxidizing. This technique involves wok frying – very much like in green tea production, but at reduced temperatures for a shorter time period. Since the tea leaf is only partially dried, it traps the moisture inside, oxidizing the tea to various degrees – "yellowing" the leaves.
What makes this tea different from green tea is the vital step called "kill green". This is the step that kills the grassiness of the tea and makes it oh so sweet and aromatic.
The process of making huang cha includes these crucial steps:
- pan-firing the young spring buds and tips
- wrapping them in special linen several times for a few days and keeping them in warm, humid condition
- drying them slowly over charcoal
The harvest of tea leaves required for producing many yellow teas usually happens in March, right before the season's last snowfall. At the time, China's high mountains are often still covered in snow and ice. Tea farmers maneuver through dangerous conditions to get the very first tips of the tea bushes.
Undergoing the meticulous processing of huang cha means that you may either end up with an exquisite and highly sought-after tea or that you may ruin the whole batch of tea leaves that were so carefully acquired.
What Is Men Huang?
Men Huang loosely translates as "steamed yellow." This is the step of yellow tea processing where tea farmers must keep the tea leaves in a warm and humid environment. Farmers control the humidity of this environment using charcoal braziers, fans, and big bowls of water. It is a sophisticated process where tea artisans must gauge the humidity very well to produce the best huang cha possible.
This men huang process also involves intuition. There are no strict guidelines to the room's humidity levels, and it should always be done by hand. Thus, the masters who already have experience producing quality huang cha will use their hunch and senses to gauge the optimal humidity level of the room.
That's why only one tea master can handle the production of huang cha at a time. If one tea master is tired and another master takes over the work, it will result in two different batches of yellow tea. It will be very evident in terms of the aroma and flavor of the tea. Such batches can be sold separately as two different kinds of yellow tea, but farmers shouldn't blend them. Furthermore, tea masters don't share their processing secretes with each other, making every huang cha unique.
Energizing Tea — Yellow Tea Caffeine
Especially when it's a yellow tea high in tea buds, it is relatively high in both caffeine and L-theanine compared to other tea types. These are the essential qualities that are quintessential for getting tea drunk. Indeed, huang cha is an energizing tea, which will give you smooth and creative energy, void of those coffee jitters.
Are There a Lot of Counterfeit Yellow Teas?
Generally speaking, no. Since this tea type is not popularized in the West, it remains a niche Asian tea. Very few tea producers will process this tea for a relatively small group of tea enthusiasts who know and love this tea and can immediately tell the difference between an authentic huang cha and a fake one. Thus, making fake ones is not very common. However, a handful of vendors have been selling green tea as yellow, so always make sure to purchase from a trusted vendor.
What Is Huang Ya?
Huang Ya is yellow tea that farmers make out of tea buds. These tea buds are then pressed flat.
Huo Shan Huang Ya is the rarest tea when it comes to huang cha. The name comes from Huo Mountain, in Anhui province, where the tea grows. With the advancements in tea production and shipping methods, green tea became immensely popular in the West. Thus Anhui province, which once had experienced farmers who produced this special tea type, turned entirely towards the more profitable green tea production. There are but a few tea masters in Anhui province who can make Huo Shan Huang Ya. Nonetheless, tea associations and organizations are working hard to keep the traditions of Huo Shan Huang Ya tea processing alive.
Other Types of Yellow Tea
Meng Ding Huang Ya — an ancient Huang Ya type yellow tea from Mt. Meng in Sichuan province.
Mo Gan Huang Ya — a Huang Ya type huang cha from Mt. Mo Gan in Zhejiang province.
Jun Shan Yin Zhen — here the "yin zhen" is the same as the "yin zhen" in Silver Needle Tea (Bai Hao Yin Zhen), which refers to the soft white fuzz on the tea buds. Thus, the name is Silver Needle Yellow Tea. This famous tea is from Mt. Jun in Hunan Province. Chinese tea enthusiasts know it as an ancient tribute tea and as the favorite tea of Mao Zedong.
Today, farmers produce huang cha exclusively in China. There is a Korean tea called "hwangcha", also meaning yellow tea. However, this Korean tea shouldn't be confused with the Chinese one. Although it is called yellow tea, the processing methods are slightly different, which wouldn't put it in the Chinese yellow tea category as we know it. Korean hwang cha, nonetheless, is also a lightly oxidized tea albeit more similar to oolong in its processing and taste.
How To Brew Yellow Tea
Since this tea comprises a large ratio of tea buds, it floats up and down and dances around beautifully in the tea brewing vessel. Tea enthusiasts refer to this phenomenon as "dancing tea". For this reason, we recommend brewing it in a glass teapot or gaiwan. Particularly a glass gaiwan will accentuate the beautiful aromatics of huang cha. You can steep it for a longer time, and it won't become bitter and unpleasant like an over-brewed green tea. Furthermore, you can enjoy the beautiful tea color of huang cha — a comforting and bright yellow.
Since yellow tea is quite rare, it is most common to enjoy it in a traditional Chinese tea ceremony — Gong Fu Cha. This way, you can enjoy the tea to the fullest, brewing it multiple times. In return, the tea will give you its all, with new flavors and aromas coming through in each brew.
What Does Yellow Tea Taste Like?
This tea has a smoother palate than green tea, and many believe it is also more gentle on the stomach.
When drinking it, we can sense enticing notes of hay, sweetgrass, cacao, sweet mung beans, chestnuts, and slightly roasted nuts. The tea is comforting, warming, and refreshing altogether.