Last but certainly not least, our yellow teas have just arrived from China. Yellow teas are very few in number these days but they remain very important in the Chinese repertoire of classic teas. Yellow tea is most easily described as a variation of green tea, but this suggests that the methodology for making it came after the perfection of green tea making skills. I have a hunch that yellow teas were made before green teas were classified as such, but this is just based on my own thoughts and musings about tea-making history in China.
Anyway, those of you who have never tried a yellow tea ( and those who will admit that you have never even heard of one before now ) are in for a treat. Pre-Qing Ming yellow teas are not readily available in the USA and certainly not when they are this fresh.
Yellow tea differs from green tea by the addition of an extra step in the processing. During leaf manufacture ( which begins with de-enzyming and shaping ) the fresh leaves are steamed very slightly and then allowed to rest. But, as nothing is ever really as easy as it may seem in the complicated world of Chinese tea manufacture, the steaming step is where the genius of the tea maker comes into play.
For example, details such as: how long to steam the tea leaves, how many times to steam or for how many days, how much rest to give the tea in between each steaming, how to wrap or cover the steamed leaves while they rest, will all affect the final flavor of the tea. The tea master decides the answers to these questions and it is only after he sees the fresh leaf and judges its quality and essence that he can determine how he will execute the ‘yellowing step’.
Because of this yellowing step, yellow teas are very smooth and fine flavored. Yellow teas are always made from an early spring plucking of budsets ( buds and one or two leaves ) the crème de la crème of spring teas. They were once made only as Tribute Teas, reserved for the Emperor’s exclusive enjoyment.
2009 Pre-Qing Ming Mengding Mountain Snow Buds
This mountain on the Tibetan Plateau in NW Sichuan Province is likely the birthplace of cultivated tea. Mengding Mountain is northwest of Mt Emei, one of the four sacred mountains in Chinese Buddhism. Mengding Mountain Snow Buds are a springtime phenomenon: they are big, fat, first-of-the-season juicy buds that are brimming with the vigor of tea bushes that are beginning their growth cycle. Tea pluckers gather these buds in small silk bags, rather than the more common ( and large ) tea plucking baskets. Two people picking in this manner for one full day will gather only one kilo of fresh buds.
This is a very elegant tea with a slightly toasty taste: it needs several steepings to really show off its deep-rooted flavor profile. The overall taste sensation from this tea is sweet, crisp and clean. There is a cool and bracing quality to Mengding Mountain Snow Buds that affirms its high altitude terroir.
2009 Pre-Qing Ming Huo Shan Yellow Sprouting
Another incredible yellow tea from Huo Shan county in Anhui Province. This tea is comprised of a bud with one tiny leaf. The leaf is covered with a fuzzy down, a trait of this tea bush cultivar and the nature of the leaf. Huo Shan Yellow Sprouting brews a lovely pale golden green color in the cup, and the flavor is slightly warm, nutty and reminiscent of artichokes or chestnuts. These tea gardens, located on Jin Shan Tou, are not positioned at a high elevation – just around 2,500 feet. But the location is rocky, and gives the tea a yen character. The richness of the soil is evident in the buttery flavor.