What is yellow tea?

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Even if you consider yourself to be a tea connoisseur, there’s a good chance you’ve never had yellow tea. But why is that?

There are six main types of tea to come out of China, yet yellow tea is the rarest of them all. Although they all originate from the Camellia sinensis plant, the time-consuming and painstakingly detailed process to produce yellow tea sets it far apart from any other type of tea.

Oxidation plays an important role

Unlike other teas that are specifically processed to halt oxidation of the leaves as quickly as possible, the secret to yellow tea is actually allowing for a bit of oxidation. In fact, 10-20% is all the oxidation the tea leaves need to create a completely unique product that is not only oxidized but fermented as well.

The discovery of yellow tea

Yellow tea is among the youngest of the six teas, which includes white, green, black, oolong, and Pu-erh. This is because it is said to have actually been discovered by accident (as is the case with many great inventions in history) during the process of making green tea.

This happy accident occurred during the Ming Dynasty when green tea had already been around for hundreds of years. But just because it was discovered by mistake doesn’t mean that the process is easy to replicate. On the contrary, the processing of yellow tea is a multi-day affair that requires a high level of skill and expertise that can only be found among a select group of tea masters.

Fun fact: At one point in history, yellow tea was so rare that it was illegal to export. The impacts of this continue to this day, as yellow tea hasn’t reached near the popularity that other Chinese tea varieties have.

How yellow tea is processed differently from others

The start of the process of making yellow tea may sound familiar, as it is similar to the early stage of processing green tea. Those similarities don’t last for long, however.

Leaves destined to become yellow tea are harvested in early spring and heated just to the point that the leaves are dry. Somewhat ironically, they are dried just to be introduced to moisture by being wrapped in wet paper or cloth. This wrapping causes the leaves to become slightly oxidized.

After several days of this wrapping and drying process, the leaves finally achieve the desired result: a slight yellowing that is responsible for the flavor and properties that are unique to yellow tea.

The three types of yellow tea

Due in part to the complex process of making yellow tea, there are only three different varieties that exist today: Junshan Yinzhen, Meng Ding Huang Ya, and Mogan Huangya. Each has its own nuances when processed, which creates a slightly different flavor profile for each.

Unfortunately, a fourth yellow tea known as Huo Shan Huang Ya has, in a way, become extinct. Producing this yellow tea was unsustainable and the secrets to making it did not survive the test of time. Here’s hoping no other yellow tea varieties meet this same fate!

What does yellow tea taste like?

Yellow tea is often described as having a smooth taste that differentiates it from the grassy taste of green tea. Depending on how long it is allowed to ferment, it can have a roasted flavor, while remaining light and sweet.

The benefits of drinking yellow tea

Similar to green tea, yellow tea has been revered for centuries as having medicinal and healing properties. While you should always follow the recommendations of your medical provider when it comes to healthcare decisions, yellow tea may have some benefits that make it worth trying out.

Yellow tea is full of properties that are said to have a positive impact on overall health and on specific conditions, including:

  • Catechins
  • Polyphenols
  • Antioxidants
  • Amino acid l-theanine

Many of these properties work double or triple duty and pack a real punch in terms of overall benefits for health and wellness. This includes polyphenols, which contribute to younger-looking skin, lower cholesterol, and improved dental health, as well as antioxidants, which reduce inflammation and improve brain function.

How much caffeine is in yellow tea?

Among its fellow teas, the caffeine content of yellow tea is middle of the road. It doesn’t clock in with as much caffeine as black tea, but it does have more than green tea. If you’re especially sensitive to caffeine, you’ll want to drink your yellow tea strategically.

How to brew yellow tea

If you’re already familiar with brewing green tea or other types of tea, then the brewing process for yellow tea shouldn’t be too foreign. Loose leaf tea is recommended to achieve the best possible flavor profile; all you’ll need is one teaspoon per cup.

It is crucial that you do not use boiling water–yellow tea is too delicate for that level of heat and will simply burn. 165-175 degrees Fahrenheit (75-80 degrees Celsius) will be just right. Allow to steep for 3 minutes and viola, you’ve got yourself a cup of perfectly prepared yellow tea. Leaves can be reused up to 6 times, with each brew getting stronger.

How long does yellow tea last?

The fact that yellow tea is slightly oxidized actually works in its favor for shelf life. While green tea only lasts up to about a year, you can squeeze an extra six months out of yellow tea, making it last about 18 months, if stored properly.

  • Store in an airtight container to prevent further oxidation
  • Keep the leaves dry to prevent mold and mildew
  • Don’t store spices, seasonings, or other teas with a strong smell nearby to prevent the tea leaves from absorbing the scent
  • Keep away from sunlight to prevent it from becoming stale

I don’t know about you, but when I learn just how rare a product is, it makes me want to try it that much more. Yellow tea is the perfect beverage to enjoy for a special occasion and makes a wonderful gift for someone who can truly appreciate the rarity of yellow tea.

While you’re not likely to enjoy yellow tea each and every day, it’s worth keeping some yellow tea in your cabinet for days when your run-of-the-mill tea just won’t do.