This is the first year we will unveil our sourcing efforts at this particular Sichuanese cult classic: 蒙顶黄芽 Meng Ding Huang Ya. It translates to Misty Peak Yellow Tips, and for those not familiar with huáng chá, yellow tea processing is closely related to the process that green tea undergoes, with the addition of a fermentation step after the initial pan-frying.
This tea originates from the same family who produces our Meng Ding Gan Lu green tea and from the same alpine level gardens in the Mengshan growing region, from 60 year old shrubs.
A tour de force, the process of yellow tea is an undertaking that has proven so meticulous that it has become increasingly uneconomical for many tea producers across China to continue its legacy.
Because of this augmented and unusual processing, true Sichuan Huang Ya can fetch significantly high market values, while corner-cutting imitations that consist of lower quality materials are sold still relatively high to cash in on novelty.
Outlined below are the steps our producers use to craft this tea:
Plump buds of the earliest spring harvest are collected to be withered. Pan-frying to stop oxidation occurs at a lower temperature than a standard green tea. Still warm and damp, the leaves are then wrapped in a special paper and put in an insulated, humidity and temperature controlled box. This step would be considered oxidation, except that it is technically achieved anaerobically, thereby classifying this step as fermentation. This process is similar to oxidation in that it renders some of the catechin-brightness of green tea into more maltier, nuttier, and smoother tones. The buds are then re-fired in the sha-qing wok and wrapped while still warm to ferment in its incubator. This wok to box process is completed up to a total of four times with up to 72 hours of fermentation.
For adequate yellowing to occur, the tea producer must maintain close observation of moisture content, ensuring that the intermittent pan-frying maximally coaxes out flavor and aroma, yet doesn’t dry out the leaves as to fully denature the enzymes so the fermentation can continue. The tea is then lightly charcoal baked and dried.
Are some enzymes still left after yellow tea is dried? There are some specialty yellow tea producers playing around with pressing yellow tea to be aged, as latent enzymes within the dried tea leaves are what is responsible for aging white tea and raw pu’er. We are not so sure of this, but just for kicks we’ll be squirreling away a small stash to monitor any changes that could be likened to enzymatic oxidation over time.
Fans of yellow tea will find intrigue in the level of skill executed in this offering, while newcomers and green tea lovers will find a likeness to green tea, with a mellowed bite, and a more sultry body of maltier cacao flavors. Brew it similarly to green tea, maybe a touch hotter, or grand-pa style it.