Getting ready for tonight’s tea talk and workshop “All About Green, Yellow & White Tea” at Floating Mountain Tea House in Manhattan resulted in me finding a sealed canister of an early 2000s 單芽黃茶 (Dān Yá Huáng Chá, literally “Single Bud Yellow Tea”), most likely produced from the tea farms around Pu’er in Yunnan or Meng Ding Shan in Sichuan.
The tea leaves, which hadn’t see the light of day for over a decade, still had a green and golden hue. They offered a light fragrance of fresh almonds and fall leaves. Upon the first infusion within a white porcelain gaiwan, the tea woke up from its long and gentle slumber, expressing subtle flavors of sweet sugar cane, rose water, and dried apricots.
Yellow tea (黃茶 huáng chá), unlike green tea, is a bit unusual as it will receive a moderate level of oxidation during what is usually a very labor intensive process. As is the case with many teas, each type of yellow tea has its own very specific processing method. Some yellow teas, like 君山銀針 (Jūn Shān Yín Zhēn, literally “Jun Mountain Silver Needle”) will go through an initial drying (often in shade), a low-heat pan frying (lower than green tea so as not to fully halt enzymatic oxidation), and controlled oxidation, which often involves wrapping the tea leaves in paper to promote oxidation (蒙頂黃芽, Méng Dǐng Huáng Yá , “Meng Ding Yellow Bud” also uses this paper-wrapping method). The tea is then “finished” by a low-heat roasting. Other yellow teas, like 莫干黄芽 (Mò gàn huáng yá, “Mo Gan Yellow Bud”) are processed using full-sun drying and quick, high-heat pan frying, before being hand-kneaded and finished with indirect charcoal roasting.
The general result of these particular processing methods is a tea that is not as bright and grassy as a green tea (think flavors found in teas like 碧螺春 Bì Luó Chūn, 黄山毛峰 Huáng Shān Máo Fēng, or 龍井茶 Lóng Jǐng Chá), but is more floral and sometimes even raisin-like, akin to some oolong teas. However, given the diversity of leaf types used, the innate flavor given by the differences in climate and soil composition (“terroir”), and processing, each yellow tea ends up having its own distinctive flavor. While categorically smaller and less-known as other tea types, this makes yellow tea an interesting and exciting tea to explore.
Although far more quiet than its fresh counterparts, this “re-discovered” aged yellow tea spoke volumes. Part history, part romance, drinking this tea both taught me about past production methods and reminded me of how tea was (and still is) a labor of love. How such attention to detail by an unknown “tea master” (the person who makes the tea), resulted in a tea that still has the ability to enchant a tea drinker after almost twenty years since it had been crafted is simply astonishing.
As I’ve said before, tea is a gift. As such, aged tea, such as this one, is a gift from time.
Stay tuned tea blog readers, as I will be posting notes and video content from tonight’s tea talk and interactive workshop “All About Green, Yellow & White Tea” on the next blog post!
Stay thirsty, stay curious!