Complex. There are a number of meticulous steps involved in its creation, each one as important as the last.
Arcane. The secret to producing yellow tea has been closely guarded for centuries, still the topic of much research and fascination.
Nonpareil. It’s flavor, mouthfeel, and aroma are extremely intricate, and unlike any other tea in the world.
If you’re wondering what tea fits this description, the answer is none other than yellow tea.
Yellow tea is the rarest of the major tea types; by some accounts it amounts to a mere 1% of the world’s tea production. The entire tea family is survived by 3 types of yellow tea. The knowledge needed to produce the other types of yellow tea has long since slipped into obscurity, and the teas themselves alongside. As yellow teas near extinction, even just the glimpses into their elusive existence yield a wealth of knowledge. You’ll scarcely glean more than a myth of yellow tea’s production in the west, or even outside of China. This is due in part to other factors as well: the western palate has developed a preference for green leaf and green-hued teas. As such, an abundance of fake teas have flooded the yellow tea market. Beloved famous yellow teas are being produced as green teas increasingly often to meet the market demand, leaving yellow tea-seekers with yet another hurdle to contend with in their search for yellow tea. These yellow teas produced to be green are referred to as Lu Zhen or Green Needle, while yellow tea in the traditional sense is known as Huang Zhen or Yellow Needle. Only few tea enthusiasts have enough exposure to really know the difference between the two.
The mastery required to produce a yellow tea predates the 17th century, all the way back to the early Qing Dynasty. The technique for manufacturing yellow tea evolved from that which was perfected to produce green tea. The first two steps of green and yellow tea production mirror one another, but thereafter their paths diverge. Yellow tea traditionally comprises leaf buds plucked in early spring. Like members of other tea families, tea production begins with withering. Withering serves as the catalyst for dehydrating the water present in the leaves and buds. What ensues is fixation, a process whereby oxidation is brought to a halt. Oxidation is a chemical process wherein the plant’s cell walls break down and receive oxygen exposure. Oxidation isn’t exclusive to tea; it’s to blame for the gradual browning of apples left on the countertop or the speckling of a banana. On its own, oxidation occurs at a gradual pace. However, by facilitating cellular breakdown – let’s say, taking a bite of that apple or slicing that banana – you can accelerate the oxidation process. Yellow is amongst the least oxidized of the 6 tea types, falling somewhere between green and white tea re: the degree of oxidation. To facilitate fixation and stop oxidation, however, the leaves are immediately heated up. Afterwards, the tea master carefully enfolds small batches of leaves in cloth or paper of sorts, leaving it to cool down in a wooden container or dark place. Then, it happens again. The tea bundles are opened up and the sequence of fixing and wrapping begins anew. Just how long this post-oxidative process lasts is left to the master, until which the desired state is achieved. Only then is the tea unwrapped and gently heated up a final time before being left out in the open to dry fully. This ritual of heating and drying takes three days in its entirety – a clue as to why so few are privy to its steps. Furthermore, the complexity and time-consuming nature of this production process are largely to blame for this tea’s near disappearance. Called men huan or “sealing yellow”, this process defines the yellow tea class.
This unique technique contributes to the complex yet gentle taste, with a sweet and smooth character. This unique flavor has curried favor from modern and ancient tea lovers alike – its earliest devotees were famous Chinese emperors whose reign dates back to Qing Dynasty. During this period all the best teas in China were tribute teas, yellow tea was no exception. In keeping with this heritage, we named this tea after the Yellow emperor's wife Leizu, the mother of silk. The empress is so-named based on the writings of Confucius, who fondly recalls the incident in which she discovered silk. The fable goes that she was enjoying a hot cup of tea whilst sitting under a mulberry tree when a cocoon dropped into her cup. The heat from the tea caused the cocoon’s filament to loosen, at which point Leizu realized it could be unwound and turned into one continuous thread. Once unwrapped, the cocoon spanned the length of her garden twice over. And if Confucius said it, it must be true! Our Leizu’s Golden Silk is an ode to this idyllic tale, the tea’s complex yet silky-smooth mouthfeel, golden leaf, and enchanting cup color evoke images of golden silk as well. Of course, it also goes without saying that both silk and this tea are rare and luxurious artefacts, formally meant to be used only by the emperor. But with our offering of this delicious yellow tea, our hope is to keep the art of yellow tea alive for all.