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Junshan Yinzhen Yellow Tea
Authentic Junshan Yinzhen Yellow Tea is probably the rarest of all classic Chinese teas. This is because the availability of this tea is tied to its place of origin, the less than 1 square kilometer island of Junshan in Hunan’s Dongting Lake. Because here monks of a local temple once developed the method of producing yellow tea in the time of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Accordingly, their Junshan Yinzhen (= Junshan “silver needle”) is the ancestress of all yellow teas. Not that there would be many such … In addition to Junshan Yinzhen, only Meng Ding Huang Ya (Sichuan) and Mo Gan Huang Ya (Zhejiang) count as classic yellow teas. The primary difference between these types is their characteristic picking standard. However, there are also local variations of individual processing steps and their sequence.
Junshan Yinzhen is a permanent regular on the list of the “Top 10 Great Teas of China‘. It is not to be confused with Baihao Yinzhen, the white silver needle tea from Fujian’s Fuding region. Despite the similar appearance and comparable picking standard, the different processing of white and yellow tea means there are worlds between the two categories in terms of taste. In fact, there are hardly any producers in China today who still master the high art of processing yellow tea. This is because yellow tea represents the most complex of the 6 Chinese Tea Processing Categories.
In ancient times, Junshan Yinzhen yellow tea was one of the highest valued imperial tribute teas. Later Mao Tse Tung allegedly counted this tea among his favorites, too, besides the Long Jing tea he had grown up with. And, of course, Siam Tea Shop makes no compromises even with this precious Chinese tea specialty. Accordingly, what we are offering you here is the original from the ancient tea garden on Junshan island.
Junshan Island, Temple and Tea Garden
Junshan Island is one of many small islands on Dongting Lake in the eastern Chinese province of Hunan. Despite its low acreage, the former Daoist retreat is home to a number of historical sights. These include, for example, the old temple, which is considered the birthplace of Junshan Yinzhen and thus of yellow tea itself. While the Cultural Revolution marked the end of religious activities on Junshan Island, the spiritual character of one of China’s most beautiful tea gardens has been preserved. The relatively large-leaved “Qun Ti Zhong” tea plant variety thriving here, with its thick, meaty buds, clearly differs from the small-leaved varieties that are typical for Hunan.
Junshan island + temple : birth place of yellow tea
The tea garden, covering 53 hectares, is part of a highly biodiverse local ecosystem. Here, the tea plants virtually melt with the largely natural forest embeddin them. Thanks to the intact ecosystems’ self-regulation mechanisms, there is no need for either fertilizers or pest control. Although the “Qun Ti Zhong” tea plant variety is also at home on the surrounding islands and lakeside areas, authentic Junshan Yinzhen comes exclusively from this tea garden! This is partly due to the island’s unique terroir (interplay between climate and soil). Then, tea from the surrounding areas often fails to meet the requirements of authentic yellow tea processing. Accordingly, it’s no surprise that the Junshan Yinzhen picked here is one of China’s rarest – and most expensive – teas.
Forest tea garden, Junshan Island
Junshan Yinzhen – Picking and Processing
At first a few numbers… In order to produce 1 kilogram of Junshan Yinzhen, it takes five times the weight of fresh buds. This corresponds to approx. 25,000 buds or the daily picking performance of 10 pickers. All buds have to be equally firm, deep light green, 25-30 mm long, 3-4 mm thick and covered with felt-like white hair. Accordingly, the total annual capacity of the tea garden is rather low, at a few hundred kilos only. The associated tea factory, which is actually the only source of authentic Junshan Yinzhen, employs around 20 people.
The processing of Junshan Yinzhen requires a full 3 days (72 hours) cycle. An initial 10-hours outdoor withering phase follows a sequence of individual roasting and drying stages. This sequence is interrupted twice by the “Meng Huang”, which takes up to 48 hours and more. The “Meng Huang” or “Piling for Yello” is a specialty of yellow tea processing. For this purpose, the tea leaves are first packed in strong, rough, moisture-sensitive paper. Due to the lack of oxygen, a slow fermentation process begins during which the tea develops its specific aroma. This creates heat. Therefore, to avoid overheating and ensure even fermentation, the packets need repeated turning over during this process.
As with green tea and white tea, there is no or almost no oxidation involved in yellow tea processing. The fermentation process taking place during the “Meng Huang” removes the fresh, “green” taste from the tea leaves in favor of a smooth, round, velvety taste. In addition, Junshan Yinzhen has a characteristic resinous-sweet note owing to the specific terroir and the variety.
Tall glass vessels are the first recommendation for preparing Junshan Yinzhen. On the one hand, this is the best way to observe the “dance” of the tea bud needles. On the other hand, the glass brings out the taste of this special treasure among Chinese tea classics best. Alternatively, infusing the buds in a tea pot, Gaiwan or Shiboridashi is also quite enjoyable. Notably, the water temperature for infusing Junshan Yinzhen should be 90 degrees. Infusion period and number of infusions, however, need to take orientation on the acutal dosage. Good starting parameters for newcomers to yellow tea are 5g/100ml and 30 seconds each for the first three infusions. Then, 45 seconds and 1 minute for infusions number 4 and 5. Then, add some time for each subseqent infusion.