The first record of yellow tea production was during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) when it was designated a Tribute Tea. Yellow tea production methods were perfected during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and it came into its prime time during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Methods and techniques for producing yellow tea are very complicated, tedious and labor intensive so, as black and oolong tea gained in popularity yellow tea production gradually disappeared and by the 1940s was all but lost. It regained some modicum of popularity by 1972, however, only a very few tea masters possess the knowledge and skills to make it. As a result today it is exceedingly rare and very costly.
Yellow teas are made for the appreciation of Chinese locals and have never had a broad market presence. Growing out of an elaboration of green tea techniques, the process for making yellow tea is time consuming and difficult, giving it a mellower, sweeter and riper flavor than green tea, as well as a refreshing cool feeling that lingers in the throat. For the thousand kinds of green tea, there are only three kinds of yellow tea that survive today: Meng Ding Huang Ya, Huoshan Huang Ya, and Junshan Yinzhen. Recently consumer preferences have favored teas with vibrant green leaves and cup color. This market trend has contributed to the decline of yellow tea because it loses its verdant appearance in processing,
Yellow tea, like oolong, can be classified as a transitional tea. Unlike oolong which is somewhere between green and black tea, yellow tea is between green and dark tea. The difference is in the kind of oxidation/fermentation that occurs. The oxidation process for oolong and black tea is a result of the natural oxidation of the endogenous enzymes within the tea leaf itself, whereas in yellow and dark tea it is the process of hydrothermal oxidation and microbial fermentation. Specifically, with yellow tea it is a smothering or wrapping process. Traditionally, in the case of Huoshan Huanya, the tea was laid out and smothered for up to seven days. Today the process has been shortened significantly to only one day, making it much more similar to green tea. In the case of Junshan Yinshen the tea is wrapped in paper to give it its yellow color. After the complex processing, this lightly oxidized tea has a mild flavor without the grassy smell associated with green tea.
One of the objects, in fact, for making yellow tea is to remove the grassy smell of green tea while still maintaining the health qualities of green tea. Yellow tea is actually considered by some to be even healthier than green tea because it is easier on the stomach. Yellow tea is ideal for tea drinkers who like green tea but want to avoid stomach upset that can occur from drinking it. As a result of its slow fermentation process, yellow tea is considered by many to be very beneficial for the spleen and stomach. It is good at correcting indigestion, stimulating the appetite and helping with weight loss. In addition, after processing yellow tea retains up to 85% of its EGCG content. (EGCG is the catechin in tea that is valued for its anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory qualities.) Recent scientific studies have found that yellow tea is rich in tea polyphenols, polysaccharide, vitamins and amino acids and that it has been especially effective in the prevention and treatment of esophageal cancer.