The term Huangtang (or Huangcha) refers to a particular type of highly prized tea (literally Huangtang means yellow broth or yellow soup, but can be translated yellow tea), that is obtained from a slight fermentation of the more tender leaves of Camelia Sinensis.
It is produced in some regions of China, but Pingyang County (Wenzhou Region, Zhejiang), on the southeastern coast of China, where the climate is hot and humid, and there is clean air and fertile soil, is one of the areas more suitable, especially on the slopes of Mount Chaoyang.
Tea leaves and buds can only be harvested for a short period of time in the early spring (from the 20th of February to 20th of April approximately).
The production process is similar to that used for the production of green tea: after harvesting, the leaves and shoots are heated to cause them to wither, then lightly pressed and rolled up. At this point, an extra step is required compared to the conventional manufacturing process to produce Huangtang tea, called "men huang (闷 黄)" (roughly translating to fixing the yellowing) which takes three to five days and is crucial for the quality of the final tea. It takes place by covering the leaves and shoots with a damp cloth (humidity between 80% and 90%), and leaving them like this until they turn yellow (they are oxidized) and then slightly drying them.
The combined process of the thermochemical reaction and the enzymes present produces a light fermentation which gives it greater freshness and mellowness than other types of tea. By virtue of this production step, this tea is also known as tea of the three yellows (三 黄): for the yellow of the dried leaves, for the colour that the infused water becomes and for the colour of the fermented leaves. Another distinctive feature is the sweet taste, as opposed to the herbaceous one of green tea.
Huangtang tea has a high content of phenols and is rich in amino acids, soluble sugars, vitamins and other nutrients. Thanks to the particular production process 85% of the natural substances are preserved, this tea has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, and has protective effects on the gastrointestinal system.
There can be three types of Pingyang Huangtang tea .
Huang Ya Cha (黄 芽茶) is obtained by working only the shoot, or the shoot with only one leaf.
Huang Xiao Cha (黄 小 茶) is obtained by working the buds and tender leaves (a shoot and one or two leaves).
Huang Da Cha (黄 大 茶) is made from raw leaves and stems (one sprout with two or three leaves, or even four or five leaves), so its quality is lower than other Huangtang teas.
The traditional variety of Pingyang is Huang Xiao Cha, but today local producers also produce the other two types, Huang Ya Cha and Huang Da Cha, which have become increasingly popular with tea lovers. Compressed Huangtang tea is also available on the market, in cakes or briquettes.
Green tea production was the first type of tea processing practiced in China, subsequently, during the Tang dynasty (between 618 and 907 AD), the production of yellow or Huangtang tea was reported which, in the Pingyang area dates back to 300 years ago. At the time, Pingyang’s Huangtang, due to being rare and precious, was offered as a tribute to the Qianlong emperor of the Qing dynasty.
As in the case of other teas, the most usual way to consume it was in infusion but there are historical evidences that attest to the use of Huangtang even with milk during the Qing dynasty. Since the royal family of the Qing dynasty was Manchu, he had in fact retained the habit of drinking milk tea, which was supplied to the palace by specialized producers. According to this information, 1750 ml of fresh milk, 100 g of Huangtang tea, 10 g of cream and 50 g of salt were needed to produce a small pot of milk tea. The recipe calls for tea and then fresh milk, cream and salt to be added to the boiling of the water.
Between the end of the Ming dynasty and the beginning of the Qing dynasty, Pingyang tea was mainly sold to Beijing, Tianjin and other places. The processing procedure was totally manual and when there were extended periods of rain it was difficult to adequately dry the tea leaves that were processed in the southern parts of the country. This resulted in tea being sent on long journeys to the cities of the north (where it is colder and drier) without being adequately dried. During the trip there was a spontaneous yellowing of the leaves. It was found that the resulting quality was interesting. Yellow tea was less cold and was sweeter than ordinary green tea, so the technique was refined to produce high quality yellow tea.
In the following centuries, however, yellow tea disappeared from the market and only at the end of the 1980s did some producers manage to recover this processing technique. They reintroduced Huangtang tea to the market in 2003. The producers of Pingyang belong to the ethnic minority of the She and the enhancement of this tea helps to improve their living conditions and to safeguard their culture, which is closely linked to the cultivation of tea. Today, Pingyang Huangtang tea is one of the four most prized Chinese yellow teas, together with Junshan yellow (君山 银针), Mengding Huangya (蒙 顶 黃芽) and al Huoshan Huangya (霍山 黄芽). In 2014 it became one of the first products selected to become a protected geographical indication by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture.
The quantities on the market are very small. Pingyang’s production is only twenty to thirty tons.