Yellow tea belongs to the category of slightly fermented tea. The manufacture of yellow tea includes a “smothering” process that results in this unique type of tea bearing the characteristics of yellow leaves with yellow infusion.
The first record of yellow tea production was during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) when it was designated a Tribute Tea. Yellow tea production methods were perfected during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and it came into its prime time during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Methods and techniques for producing yellow tea are very complicated, tedious and labor intensive so, as black and oolong tea gained in popularity yellow tea production gradually disappeared and by the 1940s was all but lost. It regained some modicum of popularity by 1972, however, only a very few tea masters possess the knowledge and skills to make it. As a result today it is exceedingly rare and very costly.
Yellow teas are made for the appreciation of Chinese locals and have never had a broad market presence. Growing out of an elaboration of green tea techniques, the process for making yellow tea is time consuming and difficult, giving it a mellower, sweeter and riper flavor than green tea, as well as a refreshing cool feeling that lingers in the throat. For the thousand kinds of green tea, there are only three kinds of yellow tea that survive today: Meng Ding Huang Ya, Huoshan Huang Ya, and Junshan Yinzhen. Recently consumer preferences have favored teas with vibrant green leaves and cup color. This market trend has contributed to the decline of yellow tea because it loses its verdant appearance in processing,
One of the objects, in fact, for making yellow tea is to remove the grassy smell of green tea while still maintaining the health qualities of green tea.
‘Shaqing’ -> ‘Menhuang’ -> Drying
There are differences in production methods across varying types of yellow tea and we merely provide a general overview
As in the production of green tea, ‘shaqing’ is the use of high temperatures to destroy the enzymes in the leaves that causes oxidization and at the same time reduces the moisture content of the tea leaves. During this process part of the ‘grassy’ smell is gone.
This can be done in a wok or in a specialized machine similar to the production of green tea.
This step is unique to the production of yellow tea and is what gives yellow tea its unique yellow liquor. This can be performed at any point in the production cycle, after shaqing or after the initial firing. It depends on the area of production and the method employed.
The crucial factors affecting the ‘menhuang’ are the moisture content and heat of the leaves. After heating (either in shaqing or firing), the leaves are heaped and the mixture of heat and humidity causes the leaves to yellow. To accelerate this process, a damp cloth is used to cover the tea leaves thereby increasing the humidity and impeding air circulation.
The process of yellowing varies widely- in the production of Bei Gang Mao Jian, the heaping is done for 30-40 seconds while in the case of Wen Zhou Huang Tang it can be 2-3 days.
Yellowing causes the leaves to turn yellow and a floral fragrance to rise up as well as eliminating the astringency of the leaves.
Drying can be done in 1 of 2 ways- namely baking or roasting. Compared with the production of other categories of tea, the temperature of the oven or wok is generally lower.
In the case of Huoshan Yellow Buds, drying is done over 2 firings in a baking cake. During the first firing, the oven is baked to 120°C or so and moisture content falls to 30-40%.
In the subsequent firing, the oven is heated to 90°C and the leaves are turned every 3-4 minutes. After 15 minutes or so, the moisture content is expected to be below 10% and the process is completed.
Some variants will have a final firing and the oven is heated to 75°C with the leaves turned every 4 minutes. Baking ensues until moisture content is close to 5% and then the leaves can be packed and shipped.
Varieties of Yellow Tea:
- Junshan Yinzhen（君山银针）: a kind of yellow bud tea（黄芽茶）, made of singular tea buds,originally produced in Junshan Island, Dongting Lake of Hunnan province, the only yellow tea that ranks amongchinese 10 most famous teas;
- Mengding Huangya（蒙顶黄芽）: a kind of yellow bud tea（黄芽茶）with flat straight form, mainly produced in Mengshan, Sichuan province;
- Huoshan Huangya（霍山黄芽）: a kind of yellow bud tea mainly produced in Dabieshan of Huoshan, Anhui province;
- Yellow Little Leaf Tea（黄小茶）: a kind of yellow tea made of tea shoots combined with one bud and one or two delicate leaves, including Weishan Maojian（沩山毛尖）,Beigang Maojian（北港毛尖）,Yuan’an Luyuan（远安鹿苑）,Wenzhou Huangtang（温州黄汤）;
- Yellow Large Leaf Tea（黄大茶）: a kind of yellow tea made of tea shoots combined with one bud and two to five tea leaves, including Huoshan Yellow Large Leaf Tea（霍山黄大茶）,Baiyun Tea（白云茶）, Guangdong Dayeqing（广东大叶青）.