Yellow tea – huang ya – has only recently made its appearance in the West, although it has been known in China since the days of the Tang dynasty (617-907 AD). Yellow tea is sometimes considered to be a variation of green tea, but it is indeed its own class of tea. Both loose-leaf and bud-only version of yellow tea are made, but the bud-pluck teas are the most treasured.
Tea Trekker has been enthusiastic about yellow tea since we visited a small tea factory in the vicinity of Mengding Mountain in Sichuan Province that specializes in yellow tea manufacture. We recommend that every tea lover try yellow tea when the opportunity presents itself.
In yellow tea processing, an early spring bud-only pluck or fine mao feng pluck (a bud-and-two-leaves) receives a ‘smothering’ step (after the leaf has undergone its initial firing) in a unique process known in Chinese as ‘men huan’.
During men huan the heated, softened leaf is removed from the tea firing pan, covered with a cloth, and allowed to ‘rest’ for a few hours or as long as a day. This smothering step can be repeated several times over several days, as determined by the tea master making the tea. In this step (which is not part of green tea manufacture) men huan encourages the softened leaf to reabsorb its own aromatics. The results of this step will be expressed later as additional sweetness in the taste of the finished tea. This supplementary processing step is costly, so it is usually reserved for select early spring plucks.