Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Review: Grand Tea, Huo Shan Huang Ya ('09 Spring)

Huo Shan Huang Yua is a yellow tea that at one time had been given to Chinese Emperors (Ming and Qing dynasties) in tribute. From Mount Huo, located in Anhui Province (home of the famous Qimen, or Keemun, tea, which tradionally forms the base for English Breakfast), this yellow tea is in appearance much like a white-- the leaves and buds have been left in the form they had when they were plucked from the bush-- but are oxidized a bit more by being allowed to yellow a bit before being heated to stop the fermentation process, thus placing them between white and green teas.

The Grand Tea Web site reads,

This rare high grade Huo Shan Huang Ya was made from leaves of high mountain tea trees. This wonderful tea has a sweet mellow taste, and long lasting refreshing aroma.

During the process of making yellow tea, the tea loses the vegetal, "grassy" aftertaste which is often associated with green tea. Many tea drinkers who don't like the taste of green tea often prefer the yellow teas, as the health benefits are the same, but the taste is subtler and sweeter.

Yellow tea is brewed in much the same way as white tea. This means that the water should not be hotter than about 180 degrees F, or 80 degrees C. Use one tablespoon of loose tea leaf (about two grams) for five ounces (150 ml) of water, and steep for a minute or two.

Mount Huo Yellow Sprout

Very aromatic: a dusty, tickles-the-nose kind of scent, with the aroma of a row-crop farm in summer. It reminds me of tall corn in the fields, horses, the State Fair, and the sweet hay that animals eat. These are two-leaves-and-a-bud, quite small leaves. This indicates they were plucked quite early in the Spring season. The buds are quite tiny, and these are a light olive color. After steeping, the leaves take on an even richer, mulchy aroma, again strongly reminiscent of a State Fair, with a rich, summertime smell.

Pale peach-gold color, and quite aromatic, but with a sharper tone than the leaves alone. The flavor is entirely consistent with the aroma. First sip, when the tea is at its hottest, it is sweet, smooth, and mulchy-- not earthy or vegetal-- and so strongly evokes standing in the hot sunshine at the State Fair, with these complex aromas coming from the horses and cows and sheep and hay and seed... The tea is evocative with a lively characteristic, but in no way overwhelming. The second cup of the tea remained largely the same, even as the tea cooled a bit. This means the oxidation within the pot after steeping had concluded did not perceptibly change this yellow tea. The tea is mildly astringent, with a huigan [sweet aftertaste] that rises from the back of the throat.

I'm not the kind of person who is drawn to white teas, because they are too subtle for my barbaric palate. But this yellow tea (a category I have not delved into deeply) has body and character enough to keep my attention. And I am very drawn to the summery flavor and aroma that so much makes me think of being outside among the cornstalks as harvest approaches.

Thank you, Grand Tea and TeaViews.com, for the opportunity to sample this Huo Shan Huang Ya.

Interestingly, the folks at TeaHub (Twitter: @TeaHub) commented thus:

TeaHub @39Steeps Interesting that you compared Huo Shan Huang Ya to white tea. Among all yellow teas, it perhaps the most similar to green tea.

This would probably account for my attraction to this tea: while it is in a class that hovers between white and green, if it were closer to a white, I would probably declare it too faint for my tastes. I'm relatively unfamiliar with yellow teas, and I'm very glad for TeaHub's input, helping me better understand this class of tea.

And @TeaHub followed with a link to their video of how this yellow tea is made:

In case anyone is interested, we have a short video on Huo Shan Huang Ya on our site at http://tinyurl.com/lcn8wq

(Warning: The video is narrated in Chinese.) Thanks, TeaHub, for the instant input on a post I only published a few minutes ago!