What is Yellow Tea?
What is yellow tea? Made from the leaf of the camellia sinensis plant (just as all teas are), yellow teas are processed like a green tea but with an important extra step. After the kill green step (heating the leaves to deactivate the enzymes that would otherwise oxidize), the still warm leaves are put in a closed container and allowed to swelter for a period of time. This allows them to ferment slightly and produces a very unique flavor. The leaves are often mistaken as a green tea, but their flavor shows their unique status as a separate category of tea.
There is a lot of speculation about the exact origins of this type of tea, but its thought to have originated during the late Ming (1368 to 1644) or early Qing (1645 to 1912) Dynasties. Its hard to say exactly how it occurred, but like many other innovations, it likely happened by accident as a way to quickly fix a green tea. Today, it remains very rare and is almost exclusively processed in China and Korea (except for the new one from Mississippi and a few other examples).
We prefer a gaiwan for brewing yellow teas. The leaves are usually full, so there isn't much reason for concern about a lot of little leaf pieces coming through. Use cool water, around 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Boiling water can make the tea more bitter. Brew quickly, 30-45 seconds in a gaiwan, or 2 minutes in a larger pot.