Upton Tea Imports calls it Huo Shan Yellow Buds, but I like my literal translation better. The Chinese call it Huo Shan Huang Ya (癨山黃牙), and it’s one of two yellow teas I got from Upton. (It appears they just got these this season: the “yellow” category isn’t yet incorporated into the tabs at the top of their site.)
Chinese yellow tea is lightly steamed and then covered with cloth in a process known as men huan, or “sealing yellow.” This allows the leaves to reabsorb their own aromatics. The best description of yellow tea manufacture I’ve seen is in the Heisses’ book, “The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide.” They say Yellow Tea is a category unto itself, and is often miscategorized as green by those unfamiliar with the process. On the other hand, green and yellow teas are both unoxidized, and the steaming that yellow tea undergoes is not unlike the process used to make sencha and other Japanese-style green teas. That is, the differences between green and yellow teas are of a smaller order than the differences between green and black teas. As yellow tea and its method of manufacture become more widely known in the West, I imagine we can have a better informed conversation about manufacturing taxonomy. On the other hand, there will still be obfuscatory marketing. (Freedom fries, anyone?)
So let’s break out the cupping sets.
Each cup contained 2.00 grams of tea and got about 3 fl. ounces of filtered water. The sticky notes in the picture may be hard to read: the top row got 170°F water, the middle 180°F, the bottom 190°F. The left column was steeped for 2.5 minutes, the right 3.5.
You can see the spent leaves at left. Is it wrong that I think wet tea leaves are cute, like a little pet? Especially these, with their tiny spring buds to unfurl and a hint of down. Maybe there’s some Georgia O’Keefe undertones there. Sorry, didn’t mean to be vulvar.
Anyhow, the result was a light brew, not unlike a Long Jing, with a hushed sour tinge, like the tone of an oboe. I would say “bok choy” if it wasn’t such a Michael Harneyism. I second the Heisses’ use of the word “lush” here.
Meanwhile, Harney himself has mentioned that this tea tastes like “ginger,” “spice-scented-rose,” and “baked fruit.” Upton mentions the “peppery note.” I must have done it wrong, because I think I missed those. But damn it, when a pumpkin pie shows up at your house, you don’t turn it down because it’s going to queer your organoleptic faculties.