Chinese Yellow Tea: Beginner's Guide

Jun 28, 2020
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What is yellow tea?

  Yellow tea is the most mysterious type of tea. While white, green, oolong and black teas are highly consumed around the world, yellow tea is not something it’s easy to stumble upon. Although yellow tea is a very traditional tea type, today it’s also the least common one. Read about this extraordinary and very delicious tea type. Yellow tea is truly unique and rare category of tea. Unlike green or black tea, it has not yet gained popularity in the western countries, although it’s highly prized in China. Although it’s very rare, it has a history of at least 1000 years. This tea type is primarily produced in China, and rarely in other countries. The most popular types come from Sichuan, Zhejiang and Anhui provinces. It’s made from the same tea plant as other real teas – Camellia sinensis and different tea varietals. Yellow tea is more processed than white and green tea, but less processed than black tea. It’s the most similar to green tea, but with a more mellow flavor. Yellow tea is lightly fermented. Fermentation results in the more yellowish tea leaf color and mellow taste without the strong grassiness typical to some green teas. In terms of flavor, yellow tea would be somewhere between white tea and pan-fired green tea. However, not all yellow teas taste the same. Yellow tea usually contains fewer tannins, so it should never be bitter.

Types of yellow tea

There are several types of yellow tea, but they can mostly be divided into:
  • Huang Ya Cha that contain buds and first leaf
  • Huang Xiao Cha tea that contain smaller first and second leaves and buds
  • Huang Da Cha tea that contains bigger leaves from later harvests
“Huang” means yellow, and “cha” means tea and many yellow teas contain the word “yellow” in their names. The most popular yellow tea made of buds is Jun Shan Yin Zhen or Jun Shan silver needle, followed by Huo Shan Huang Ya and Meng Ding Huang Ya tea. They have a fresh and light, mellow flavor but without green tea astringency or grassiness. The most popular Huang Da Cha yellow tea is Huo Shan Huang Da Cha, tea with heavily roasted darker brown leaves and nutty smooth taste. This flavor is often compared to coffee flavor, but without the typical bitterness. Huang Xiao Cha type includes amazing yellow teas as well, for example Bei Gang Mao Jian tea with a delicious, even more mellow and sweet flavor. 

How is yellow tea made?

Yellow tea is made similar to green tea, with the addition of one more step – pilling or „sealed yellowing“[1]. This step comes after the initial „kill green“ step used to stop the oxidation, or even after the leaves have been rolled. Fermentation happens when tea leaves still have enough moisture and are, for example, piled in baskets or wrapped in cloths. The later in the process the pilling is done, the more “green” the yellow tea will be. A good example is Huo Shan Huang Ya, with very refreshing but not astringent, mellow, sweet and floral taste. Because yellow tea is not fully oxidized tea, it contains similar beneficial compounds such as green tea. However, even it’s fermented, it’s very different from the most popular fermented tea – pu’erh.

Yellow tea benefits

Yellow tea is still the least research tea type in the world, so the scientific data on this tea is still scarce. Just like white or green tea, yellow tea contains antioxidants and caffeine. EGCg, the most important catechin from green tea is present in yellow tea too. This type of tea will have similar, but not always the same, health benefits as white or green tea. This is because the piling process changes the chemical structure of the tea leaves. Some studies suggest that yellow tea may have increased antioxidant activity[2]. Another study showed that yellow tea may have a higher total phenolic content than many green teas, and all white, oolong, black and dark teas included in the study[3].

Health benefits of yellow tea include:

  1. Energy boost because of moderate to high caffeine content
  2. Anti-cancer activity potentially better than in other types of teas[4].
  3. Anti oxidant activity and high free radicals scavenging potential[5]
  4. Protecting the heart, lowering blood pressure[6] and fighting heart diseases
  5. Reducing inflammation and helping protect the stomach[7]
  6. Drinking yellow tea may reduce fatty liver[8] and help with weight loss
  7. Reducing blood sugar[9] and preventing the progress of type 2 diabetes[10]
  8. Polyphenols in tea may help with signs of ageing and provide benefits especially for the photo-aged skin[11]

Does yellow tea have caffeine?

Although the studies about caffeine content of yellow tea are lacking, it’s possible to guess the approximate amount. A cup of yellow tea could contain the amount of caffeine higher than many green teas, but lower than most black teas. Studies suggest that the longer the pilling process is, the lower the caffeine content will be[12]. For example, research on Huang Da Cha yellow tea suggests this tea has around 18.8 mg of caffeine per gram of dry leaf. The most popular Japanese tea – sencha – will usually have around 20-25. It’s worth noticing that Huang Da Cha contains more mature leaves, goes through a long piling process and heavy roasting. All of which influences caffeine levels. Therefore, it’s likely other yellow teas will contain more caffeine than Huang Da Cha.

How to brew yellow tea?

Brew yellow tea similar as you would brew green tea. Don’t use boiling water. Water temperature should be around 185°F-190°F. Preheat the teapot by pouring hot water in and out. Place one teaspoon of tea leaves (around 3-4 grams) into your teapot and steep for about 2 minutes. You can re-steep the same leaves at least three or more times.
Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is not to diagnose or treat any diseases, or to replace an opinion of a professional doctor. Never self-treat any diseases, or drink large quantities of tea, real or herbal, if you are suffering from serious diseases, are pregnant or breastfeeding. Every person is different, and it’s impossible to make a general statement about the benefits or side-effects.


[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12]

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