Yellow Tea: A Unique and High-Quality Tea

Yellow tea (黄茶) is a type of tea that originated in the Anhui and Hupei Provinces, and although it has the smallest production volume among tea categories, written records suggest it may have been produced as early as the Tang dynasty. However, there is debate as to whether this category of tea should even exist. Some describe yellow tea as an exceptionally high-quality green tea, while others argue that it is made through a unique heap withering stage that triggers non-enzymatic oxidation.

Image: Yellow Tea (黄茶)

Despite the debate over its existence, certain villages have developed proprietary techniques for processing tea leaves that have resulted in unique-tasting and unique-looking teas, which are now commonly referred to as yellow tea. The distinguishing process for yellow tea involves a series of heaping stages that allow the leaves to undergo non-enzymatic oxidation, resulting in the characteristic yellow appearance and floral taste.

Yellow teas are fired to deactivate the PPO enzyme, but unlike pan-fried green teas, they start on a cooler pan and are slowly warmed. After the leaves are heated enough to deactivate the enzyme, they undergo a smothering or heaping process in which they are wrapped in cloth or paper and left for days. This process creates a humid environment and prohibits the circulation of air, leading to non-enzymatic oxidation and the yellow color of the leaves. This process also produces a distinctive floral aroma and eliminates any unwanted bitterness.

After the wrapping stage, the leaves are roasted or baked until the moisture content drops below 5 percent. Yellow teas are generally dried at lower temperatures and over a series of dryings, with each subsequent drying done at a cooler temperature. The length of the wrapping stages can vary depending on the type of tea being produced.

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