Huangpian Gets No Respect
Somewhere along the line, huangpian [the huge, yellow/gold leaves in some puer blends] got a bad rap for being ugly. In most Chinese markets, consumers will pay a premium for buds, or two leaves and a bud. Maybe it is carry over from enthusiasts of other teas? Maybe most people find them aesthetically displeasing? Maybe people hate (or think they hate) the flavors of the big leaf? Whatever the reason, it is a modern aesthetic. Traditionally, the huangpian, also called jintiao [golden strands] in the past, were left in when processing cakes. Even the shift in nomenclature from huangpian to jintiao suggests a widespread lowering of its status.
However, this shift is actually good news for people like me who enjoy huangpian for a few reasons:
- I can buy huangpian that other people pick out of their puer for a discount
- When you tell farmers you want to keep some huangpian in your blend, they love you because it increases their tea weight and lightens the work load
- You can feel superior to the whiny princesses out there who want perfect, pretty tea. Toughen up, Sally.
Some people’s love of huangpian is so deep they don’t drink anything else. The above cake was that I got from a farmer in Guafengzhai who said he drinks majority huangpian from fall. He told me that he prefers them because they are not as fussy, and he pressed the cake above to give to friends who visit. Admittedly, this is more cost effective than gifting high grade gushu [old arbor tea]. But, I appreciate the gift. Gushu huangpian is in my tea rotation.
There is a litany of other reasons why huangpian are great, but this artcle is going to focus on just one; it is perfect for drinking before bed.
Huangpian: Lower Caffeine, Better Dreams
Huangpian have naturally lower caffeine than the leaves which are higher on the stalk. I learned this just from trial and error. You brew a pot of huangpian and steep it 5 times and there isn’t a caffeine kick like a fresh green tea or other young puer tea. Luckily, someone out there actually did scientific testing to back up my casual observations (Thank you, Elmwood Inn):
Nigel Melican’s caffeine percentage findings are:
Second leaf- 3.6%
Two leaves and a bud-4.2%
Stealing Mr.Nigel Melican’s data, we can see that there is a steady decline in caffeine content as you go down the stem. Reason enough to keep a pot of huangpian near the bed stand.
The other important fact to take away from his study is that the amount of caffeine that remains in the leaves decreases as you steep. If you are particularly sensitive to caffeine, you could brew and toss the first few steeps and get an even lower caffeine intake.
The other obvious solution for the caffeine sensitive tea drinker is just drinking caffeine free herbals or warm goat’s milk, but if you have read this far in the article, you are probably a puer addict anyway. Herbal? Come on. Who are you trying to kid?
For me, it is a matter of mood. I do drink herbal teas. Fresh mint or licorice root are favorites on mine at night. But, sometimes I need that depth. A huigan [sweet aftertaste] or kuwei [bitterness] or a mineral feel in the mouth. And my trusty ol’ huangpian are there to rescue me.