Yellow tea is a health food with a rich and interesting history. According to Indianapolis-based TeaPots n Treasures owner Donna Yarema Stroh, yellow tea is relatively recent in tea developments. It began to be produced during the early Qing Dynasty, which lasted from 1644 to 1912. During this time it was a tribute tea for the Emperor, so it was also known as Imperial tea. According to SevenCups.com, yellow teas are "made for the appreciation of locals and have never had a broad market presence."
Stroh writes that the process of making yellow tea is difficult and time-consuming. According to The Canton Tea Company, yellow tea processing is often a closely-guarded secret, but what is known is that "most Yellow Teas are made by covering lightly withered Green Teas with mats to allow a small amount of oxidation to occur." This gives the tea a yellow color, and according to Stroh eliminates the grassy smell of green tea while maintaining its benefits.
SevenCups.com explains the process in a little more detail. "The leaves are first fried, as is the case in most green teas, but then the leaves are wrapped in some kind of material, thick paper in the case of Yin Zhen, and cloth in the case of [Lu Zhen and Huang Zhen]," the site explains. "Yin Shen is stored in a wooden box. At intervals the tea is fried again and re-wrapped to cool and oxidize slightly. This process continues for up to three days and then slow roasted at the finish. When you consider the processing time coupled with the limited harvesting time for the tea to be plucked, you can understand why this tea has had a hard time surviving, and probably would have become completely extinct if it were not so valued by the locals for its health benefits."
Stroh wrote that yellow tea is considered by some people to be healthier than green tea since it is easier on the stomach than green tea.
According to Wikipedia, there are five kinds of yellow tea: Junshun Yinzhen (also known as Silver Needle, not to be confused with the white tea), Huoshan Huangya, Meng Ding Huangya, Da Ye Qing and Huang Tang.
TeaSpring.com describes three yellow teas in detail:
1) Junshun Yinzhen comes from Jun Shan Island in Hunan Province. Chairman Mao Zedong's favorite tea, this was sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2006 as China's National Gift. "The taste is smooth, light and sweet at first sip but finishes with a fleeting smoky taste," the site reads.
2) Huoshan Huangya comes from Mt. Huo in Anhui Province. This tea was lost for a long time, and rediscovered in the 1970s. "The aroma and taste of this tea is a reminiscence of sweet corn," explains the site. "Very unique and refreshing."
3) Meng Ding Huangya comes from Mt. Meng in Sichuan Province. "The tea is grassy in nature but with hints of nutty and sweet taste and fragrance," explains the site. "A sensational and unique tea experience."
According to Wikipedia, Da Ye Qing is from Guangdong Province. It literally translates as "big leaf green". Huang Tang is from Zhejiang Province, and literally translates as "yellow broth" or "yellow soup".
Because it is from the same plant as green tea, yellow tea has the same health benefits. In some cases the benefits are more pronounced. For example, according to a Japanese study on PubMed.gov, yellow tea protects the livers of rats--even more so than green tea.
" The yellow tea significantly ameliorated the increase in the activity of the alanine- and aspartate-aminotransferases in plasma," the study reads. "Thus, the drinking of yellow tea may contribute to protection against liver injury."
Image source of Yellow Tea: Wikipedia