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Yellow Sun Tea

Unusual tea varieties have fascinated me ever since I moved to China. We’re used to hearing about black tea, green tea, white tea, but some of the more unusual types are still a secret from the West – yellow tea is a case in point. Inspired by the teas I discovered during my time in China, I’ve made sure to include more unusual examples in our range; a truly excellent yellow tea was first on my list.

The search was more difficult than I had expected. One of our tea farmers revealed that yellow tea accounts for less than 0.5% of tea production in China, so it’s no surprise that it’s virtually unknown. Most tea suppliers tend to class it as a form of green tea, but the painstaking processing methods set yellow tea in a class apart – the taste of the tea is the nearest thing to pure sunlight. It sounds like an exaggeration, but I think it’s the best way to describe it. Hay bales, summer grass, a hint of freshly baked bread…

After months of searching, I discovered our Yellow Sun tea from gardens in the Huangshan Mountains, Anhui province. As you trek deeper into the mountains you start to feel like time is rewinding – bamboo towers over you, and pine trees and tea bushes cover the sloping hills.

The tea leaves are processed in a style which makes them unique to only three provinces in China – Anhui, Hunan and Henan. Our batch of yellow tea was picked between 23rd and 30th April this year, and the leaves were then ‘fired’ by being heated quickly in a hot metal drum.  This process kills the enzymes inside the tea leaves which react with oxygen, the process known as ‘oxidation’ which defines whether a tea is classed as either black, green, white or oolong. Like green tea, yellow tea experiences no oxidation but it’s the next bit which gives the tea its unusual taste…

Once fired, the leaves are left to dry in close proximity to smouldering pinewood fires, and over several hours they begin to take on a slightly roasted, nutty quality. When the leaves were fully dried they were placed in bamboo baskets and covered with muslin cloth, a technique known as ‘piling’ in Mandarin (悶黃, menhuang). Slow burning fires are lit nearby to increase the heat if required, and the humid conditions cause the moisture to move from the stem to the leaf itself, yellowing the leaf and imbuing it with sweetness and floral notes. 

The tea is then fired once more, and piled again before a final firing to finish the tea production.  This process can take 3-5 days depending on weather, with all fires involved having to be carefully tended to. 

The dark colour of the leaf hints towards the intensity of the processing, and the aroma of the cup is outstanding. First you get a complex combination of toasted and floral notes, which yields to a mellow, almost buttery sweetness.

I’d recommend this tea to anyone who loves green tea, and the warmer roasted tones of oolong tea. It’s also an amazing tea to combine with the freshness of summer salads and nutty bread. Personally, I love it with steamed jasmine rice and stir fry loaded with Sichuan peppers, as it’s warming flavours combine with these Asian flavours perfectly. Give it a try and see what you think!

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