Yellow tea is little-known and little-spoken of. An offshoot of green tea with the relatively light oxidation of white tea, yellow teas aim to retain the health benefits of green teas while removing the grassier notes and being easier to stomach. However, not many yellow teas exist in the world, and some can no longer even be created; their processing techniques have become extinct and unknown. In spite of much searching, no scholars have yet found any person with the required knowledge to reproduce these yellow teas.
Although the exact time that yellow tea was created is not known, it is generally speculated to have been conceived during the early Qing dynasty of 1644 to 1912.
Some yellow teas are now produced as green teas in order to help them sell or because the original processing technique has been lost. They remain an expensive specialty that does not survive well in the poorer markets where they are produced, and so most if not all yellow teas are currently in a dangerous position.
Yellow tea was only very recently recognised and included as one of the six main types of tea, the other five being green, white, black, oolong and puerh.
The Kamakura Shogunate fell in 1333 to the warring Northern and Southern dynasties, as situation that had occurred due to a large split in the royal family. It was during this time that the then-famous game of Toucha became popular among the gekokujou, a group of upstart nobles. It was played by inviting the guest to distinguish real tea (honcha, which literally means genuine tea. Honcha was tea sourced only from Toganoo) from other tea. As tea diversified and spread across Japan, Toucha also diversified to fit its audience; it became a game combining skill, knowledge and luck, where guests would guess which plantations different teas had come from.
Toucha was the game of choice for so many that it even became normal to bet money and extravagant items on it, so much so that a skilled player could almost earn a decent living on it. Toucha gatherings were common and as time went on many of the poorer classes in feudal Japan were also introduced to it. While they could not afford to be as extravagant as their higher-class brothers and sisters, this didn’t stop them from betting amounts more appropriate to their income.
The humble herbal tea, as many of you have already discovered, is indeed not a tea at all.
This distinction can be traced back to how the word “tea” was originally used. That is, tea is a plant that is steeped in water to produce the drink we know as tea – the catch being, that plant can only be a variety of camellia sinensis.
So what does that leave our humble little herbal ‘tea’ with? Not much? Not so! Herbal teas actually have a proper name, which is ’tisane’ (pronounced tis-aine). This name helps distinguish them as not containing any trace of the plant camellia sinensis, and also distinguishes them from herbal tea blends, which contain both tea and herbs to create a finished product.
Although the word tisane is still relatively unknown, it is gradually being uncovered by the tea drinking community and we are all too happy to facilitate and spread its use.
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