On a single tea stem there is a tender leaf, the bud, and then there are the older parts. When we are stir frying tea, the tender parts curl up. This we then further roll to make a very tight string. When the leaves are too old though, they don’t curl up. These leaves are not desired. This is what is referred to as yellow leaves.
The yellow leaf is a leaf that is too old and no longer good. This is why you can’t go strictly by one bud one leaf, or one bud two leaves, because every tea stem is different. One may only have one bud and one leaf, but this leaf is too old and no good. These leaves, or yellow leaves, should always be removed as part of the tea refining process.
If you are ever shown a batch of tea that is full of yellow leaves, this means that the people who made the tea did not care enough go through with the refining process and pick them out. This usually happens when the labor cost would exceed the cost of the actual tea. So a batch of tea full of yellow leaves is usually not made from good tea to begin with. While this is not a direct sign of a tea’s quality, it usually shows a tea’s quality. For all true origin teas, this is a necessary step.
Selling yellow leaves is not always a bad thing though. While the yellow leaves have less flavor and complexity, they are usually sweeter; though they tend to only last a few brews. It is not uncommon for people to make cakes of the yellow leaves , especially if they are from more pristine locations, and sell it for a lower cost. As long as the seller provides the correct information about what he is selling, and sells it for a reasonable price, this is a fair practice.
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