Will Traditional Yellow Tea Revive and Gain Popularity?

Yellow Tea In History

Yellow tea is a variety of tea only produced in China. With a very long history, it was found to be recorded in the books as early as in the Tang Dynasty(618-907). During that time, the three most famous yellow bud tea: Huoshan Huangya, Mengding Huangya and Junshan Yinzhen have all become famous. The techniques and methods for making yellow tea matured in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and it came into the prime time during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). While when it came into the modern time, with black tea and oolong tea being more and more popular, yellow tea was gradually disappearing from our eyes due to its highly complicated production skills and techniques.

Yellow Tea Today

Now when we try to look for some yellow tea, it turned out to be a challenging task. Mr Zhou (周长瑞先生, Zhou Changrui) is a tea enthusiastic who has been dedicated in yellow tea promotion for years in Beijing. He said for the three most famous yellow bud teas, there is now only Junshan Yinzhen commercially produced but it is now as expensive as gold as it its production was monopolized by one business with very limited quantity each year. He estimated the annual output of quality traditional Mengding Huangya is no more than 300KG, the less for Huoshan Huangya. Now, it is common that people even in tea business for many years may have never seen traditional Huoshan Huangya or Mengding Huangya in China.

Yellow Tea is A Transitional Tea

Like Oolong tea, in fact, yellow tea is also a kind of transitional tea. Unlike oolong between black and green tea, it is a kind of tea between green and dark tea. There are fermentation processes in both black tea and dark tea production. The fermentation in black tea production is taken place by the oxidation of the endogenous enzyme existing in the tealeaves while the fermentation in yellow tea and dark tea are different. They both are the processes of Hydrothermal oxidation and microbial fermentation. In yellow tea production, it may be called smothering process (Men-huang, 悶黄) or wrapping process (Bao-huang, 包黄). In dark tea production, it is called as Wo-dui. The main difference is that the fermentation in the latter is much more intensive than the former.

As a kind of transitional tea, Oolong tea can be made much like green tea such as modern Tieguanyin and it can also be much like black tea such as some kinds of Wuyi Rock tea. It is also the same for yellow tea. Although the Huoshan Huangya in the market is now mostly made in the green tea style, there is still some made adopting the smothering method(Men-huang, 悶黄), a slow oxidation process. The only difference between it and the traditional Huoshan Huangya is that it has a much shorter smothering process than the traditional one. The traditional one usually has a smothering process up to seven days while the modern Huoshan Huangya may have a less than 1 day smothering process. Some people don’t see such modern Huoshan Huangya as yellow tea but we and most of the local tea producers think they should be. We think any tea when adopting smothering process in production to make it taste mellower can belong to yellow tea.

Why there is no traditional Huoshan Huangya in the market

We visited Mr Heng (衡永志先生,Heng Yongzhi) during the early July in Huoshan county. He is now awarded as “the Inheritor of Intangible Culture of Traditional Huoshan Huangya Production Skills and Techniques” by Anhui Provincial Government. He said the skills and techniques to make traditional Huoshan Huangya hasn’t been lost as some people thought. It is, to a large extent, attributed to his efforts for more than 20 years. To 花茶茶葉 save the ancient skills and techniques of making traditional Huoshan Huangya, he visited almost all of the old tea farmers and masters and learnt from them after he graduated from the Anhui Agricultural College in 1979. With his efforts, the skills and techniques were preserved and even improved. The traditional type Huoshan Huangya he made surprised Chinese famous tea professors and experts and was highly praised by them. While the situation of traditional Huoshan Huangya is still grim “Now there are no more than three people who can make such traditional Huoshan Huangya and we only make no more than 150KG each year. It is only booked in advance by the acquaintances or friends.” Mr Heng told us. The production of traditional Huoshan Huangya requires intensive labor and much time compared to green version, leading to a very high cost. Not sure about the market, Mr Heng said they would not make more. “For such expensive tea while having a look like green tea stored for many years, we would take a high risk if we make more” Mr Heng said.

How to distinguish yellow tea from green tea stored for years

Yes, just as Mr Heng said, there are two main reasons that makes the traditional Huoshan Huangya can’t be commercially produced now. One is the production cost and the other is the look of the tea. Traditional Huoshan Huangya looks much like green tea stored for many years. For people unfamiliar with it is reluctant to try it. Mr Heng told us in fact, it is simple to distinguish it. You can put the teas into a Gaiwan warmed with boiled water, close the lid and shake the gaiwan for one minute, then you take the lid off and smell it. There would be a nice aroma of corn, chestnuts combined with glutinous rice if it is traditional Huoshan Huangya.

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