-Harvest: Spring, 2010
-Growing Area: Mingshan County, Ya’an Prefecture, Sichuan
Meng Ding Huang Ya (English: Meng Mountain Yellow Buds) is a well known Yellow tea which comes from Mount Meng in Mingshan county, Ya’an City Prefecture of Sichuan province. Ya’an is a mountainous area which lies on the traditional border which separates ethnic Han and ethnic Tibetan populated regions. Interestingly, commercial planting & cultivation of tea has a history in this area dating back about 2,000 years, and many historians claim that Ya’an was the first area where tea was commercially cultivated.
This tea is comprised entirely of hand picked, tender young buds which were harvested in the early Spring of 2010 in Meng Shan. The processing of Yellow tea is complicated, but leads to an exceptional finished product. Immediately after picking, the fresh tea buds are transported for processing, where the “sha qing,” or kill-green step of processing happens. The buds are briefly wok fried in a relatively low temperature wok to partially kill the oxidizing enzymes in the leaves. Next, in the process unique to yellow teas, the leaves are wrapped in cloth and allowed to slightly oxidize before the next kill green wok firing. The process is repeated until the tea maker decides it is complete and the tea is fully dried.
Traditionally, this yellow tea process can take up to three days, but more recently, tea producers have tended to use slightly higher temperature wok firings and fewer oxidizing or “yellowing” steps, resulting in a much greener appearance of the final product. The reason for this change is purely based on consumer preference in China. Market forces in China have dictated to producers that a greener & more “fresh” looking tea is more desirable than a more yellow colored finished product.
Fortunately for us, this newer “greener” style yellow tea retains many of the desirable flavor characteristics of the more traditional “yellow” (in appearance) teas. Because of the oxidation that occurs during the multi-step kill green process, the flavor of this tea is amazingly mild and smooth with very little if any bitterness or astringency. To me, this style of tea brings out the sweet, nutty & vegetal type flavors which can be found in green tea without any of the more assertive, bitter or grassy flavors.
When steeped, this tea is really quite beautiful. When warm (175-180 F) is poured over the leaves, they will float on top at first. After the leaves begin to take in moisture, they will begin to plump up, turn vertical and sink to the bottom, where they stand on their stem end and “dance.”
I strongly recommend steeping this tea in a glass vessel. In fact, my personal preference is to steep this tea “grandpa style” in a tall (heat proof) highball type glass. “Grandpa style” is a term I have grown fond of to describe the simple method of drinking tea from a regular drinking glass. Simply place a few pinches of the tea leaves in a glass, pour in 175-180 F water and let it steep until most of the leaves fall to the bottom. By the time the leaves fall to the bottom of the glass and start dancing, the water will have cooled to the point that the glass can be handled without scalding your hands. If any leaves remain on the top, simply blow them out of the way before drinking.