My blog is all about tea (camellia sinensis). This segment of the tea files will focus on the Jirisan area of Hadong County, South Korea. Whether your a tea aficionado, tea connoisseur, tea enthusiast, or tea novice, I hope to provide you with selective information, stories, and my personal tea trekking adventures, and at times, pictures relating to tea and teaware.
|Posted on November 18, 2013 at 11:25 PM||comments (0)|
Today, Sun and I paid a visit with Lee Deok Joo. It was a beautiful autumn day. The morning was cool, but then it warmed up to 20°C/ 68°F. As we were approaching his tea factory, he was actually leaving his tea site to go somewhere when we flagged him down. He stopped his car, turned around and went back to his tea center and opened the doors again for us. He was indeed very considerate. After we walked around his ~1 acre/0.4hectare picturesque tea garden, Sun and I proceeded to enter what turns out to be his multi-purpose tea center where he invited us for tea. Here you can pay to make your own hand-plucked teas, learn about teas, and enjoy drinking teas. While sipping on Sejak (2nd flush) nokcha, he informed us that his total tea growing acreage consisted of about 3.6 hectare/8.9 acres.
This was not my first visit to his tea center. This past 2013 spring, after trekking around the Jirisan, Hwagae Valley mountains and hamlets for about 12 kilometers/7.5 miles. I wearily descended down from mountain country and walked a few more kilometers when I spotted his tea sanctuary. From my viewpoint one can see the meandering Seomjin River, South Korea's fourth largest river. Seomjin translates into 'toad ferry' and it drains into the Korea Strait. The multi-purpose tea center was built around 2009 and has a small tea shop and tasting room as one enters his front doors. Local tea artisans who don't have their own tea processing equipment can pay him to process their fresh plucked teas at his tea center. Tea seminars are also held there from time to time.
In his seventies and going strong, we talked about many things. The man is a third generation tea farmer, tea artisan, and teapreneur. His knowledge of the tea industry is amazing. He told us about the time he spent in Taiwan, China, and India and was mentored by a few famous tea masters of those countries. He learned unique tea processing techniques from them which he later applied to his own Korean tea processing methods to produce among other teas his own brand of unique and tasty nokcha, balhyocha, and yuja-balhyocha, to name a few, in Hadong, Hwagae Valley, South Korea.
Today, we mainly talked about balhyocha which translated directly means 'fermented tea.' In a general sense, balhyocha can best be described as Korea's unique version of partially to substantially oxidized/fermented black tea. The extent to which the tea leaves are allowed to oxidize/ferment depends on the preferences and tea processing methods unique to each Korean tea artisan. It is typically less fermented/oxidized than what westerners are accustomed to drinking, which is a completely and strongly oxidized (~100%) black tea from say the low country tea gardens located in southern Sri Lanka, but can be exquisitely delicious with its own unique taste.
To our surprise, Lee Deok Joo plunked down on a large and heavy, rectangular-shaped, handcarved wooden table what appeared to be a dried hollowed out tangerine stuffed with some kind of tea. After inspecting it, I learned from him that the small, dried, hollowed out fruit is called 'Yuja' which translates to 'Citron.' It is an east asian hybrid citrus fruit which supposedly tastes something like sour mandarin and grapefruit. He told us that the organic yuja fruit was harvested from a cittaslow (slow city) village on Namhae Island. Namhae means 'South Sea' and is an island off the southern coast of South Gyeongsangnam Province. From an agricultural perspective, Namhae Island is well known for cultivating black and white garlic, yuja fruit, and one can see picturesque terraced rice paddies. With nice sunny skies, warm weather, and gentle sea breezes, Namhae is an ideal place for growing agricultural crops. The tea leaves stuffed in the sun-kissed yuja was organic jungjak (3rd flush) balhyocha of 2012 autumn vintage.
The small, dried hollowed out yuja fruit was stuffed with balhyocha and weighed 40 grams. It was attractively hand-tied with string and packaged in crystal clear cellophane. It is an exclusive artisan citron rind naturally scented leaf tea that is not currently widely available within Korea, and probably not available anywhere else in Asia or the West.
Lee Deok Joo had placed a container of the crushed dried fruit rind mixed with the balhyocha on the table. He infused the concoction with boiling water for about 2 minutes and drained the mildly fragrant golden amber tea liquor into small teacups. The dried yuja permeated the balhyocha leaves which gave the tea liquor a sweet, biscuity taste with trailing dry, mellow, citrus-like notes in the back of the throat. It had an exceptionally pleasant mouth-feel with no hints of astringency or sourness, which I had originally anticipated before the tea session began, and was just plain delicious!
After we drank about 4 pots of the delicious organic handmade yuja-balhyocha, we talked so more about autumn tea that was currently being hand harvested in Hwagae Valley, before leaving with a thoroughly quenched palate.
It was an inspiring and colorful tea session which we thoroughly enjoyed with yet another kind, interesting, and expert tea artisan in these parts of Hwagae Valley, Jirisan.
|Posted on October 20, 2013 at 7:20 AM||comments (0)|
All over Jirisan, autumn is a splendid place to be for casual hikers, serious trekkers, and nature watchers. Trekking in Hwagae Valley in the early morning hours, one can experience fine mist softly caressing the face and skin. It is a time when the surrounding mountainsides and valleys come alive vivid colors that soothe the senses.
Here are a few mid- autumn pictures that I took while trekking around Hwagae Valley.
A morning picture of a traditional Korean pavilion perched above semi-wild camellia sinensis bushes growing among boulders with fog descending from above.
In this picture taken in the afternoon, butterflies were attracted by the highly fragrant perfume of Anise Hyssop commonly known as licorice mint with cropped camellia sinensis shrubs in the background.
A light dusting of autumn leaves greet neatly pruned nokcha bushes to welcome them to the fall season.
|Posted on September 13, 2013 at 3:20 AM||comments (0)|
About a month ago, Sun and I decided to pay a visit to internationally known Jukro Tea Company in Jirisan, Hwagae Valley which was established in 1962. By the way, Jukro translates to 'bamboo dew' I was told. It was 1:00 pm and the temperature was hot and very humid . On the way there, we experienced a brief and light rain shower.
The tea shop is located nearby the tea factory which is a short walking distance from it. The shop looked empty because we discovered that the workers were busy in the tea factory. Sun called out, and a head peeked out from the front of it. It was an employee who asked if we wanted to drink some tea and let us in the shop before leaving us to go back to work at the factory. At this point we were drenched in sweat and hurriedly retreated to Jukro's Tea Shop. Once inside the tea shop, we felt the cool air streaming from the air conditioner. It felt really nice!
The employee was Jukro's tea factory manager. He showed us the hot water urn which I guess would hold about 10 gallons and said to help ourselves to whatever tea was available. In a bamboo basket were ujeon, sejak, jungjak, and daejak nokcha, sejak balhyocha, Tong-E cha, and various herbal infusions.
We decided to taste the sejak (2nd flush) handplucked harvest first . I added about 4 grams of tea into the glass serving vessel that is on the table in the above photo. About 80 degree celsius water temperature was used to "cleanse and awaken the leaves.'
For the initial infusion, I used a slightly lower temperature of around 70 degree celsius.The dry leaf fragrance reminded me of rain permeating bamboo groves and damp mountain moss which yielded a very clear and pale green tea liquor which soothed the palate.The deep taste lingered in the throat throughout the tasting session which was purposefully stopped at 3 infusions.This was followed by a delicious jungjak (3rd flush) handplucked harvest which yielded another three tasty infusions of fragrant nokcha with deep bamboo grove fragrance, and fresh dew tasting flavor. The tea liquor was a light bamboo green.
The last round was reserved for a jungjak balhyocha which we stopped drinking after sipping through about 1/2 liter with Sun. The verdict was that the Jukro balhyocha had a beautiful golden-coppery color, but I thought lacked somewhat in the complexity and nuanced taste characteristics that I have experienced with balhyochas that were produced by other tea artisans in Hwagae Valley. I don't know, maybe it was just a recently processed balhyocha batch . All in all, the balhyocha was smooth tasting, but did not peak the senses. Jukro's slogan is that they focus on making tea that tastes good! This year they didn't disappoint in the sejak nor junjak nokcha taste department.
Jukro tea proprietor and tea artisan, Cho Yun Seok , was on a business trip to China so unfortunately we could not meet with him. So the better part of an hour and half was spent consuming multiple cups of delicious nokcha to the point that Sun and I became gleefully "buzzed on green."
There was not another soul in the shop, so we had a good look around at the interesting pottery and quality awards that Jukro had garnered over the past five years. Jukro had done particularly well in Shizuoka, Japan where he had won awards in the green tea and in the fermented/oxidized tea categories.
After our tea session, we walked up to the tea factory to tour it. Again, we met with the factory manager who showed us the on-site tea processing facility. We were told that the area of Jukro's main nokcha farm was about 16 acres. He then pointed out the tea farm which was located at a mountainside opposite from the one we were on. One could see a bamboo forest which was growing near the center of the tea farm.
We both decided that jungjak nokcha would be the green tea that we wanted to purchase and take with us for future tea sessions.
We thanked our tea host for his gracious hospitality and information and departed Jukro's premises with cooler body temperatures and tea happy!
|Posted on August 3, 2013 at 3:15 AM||comments (0)|
This morning, Sun and I paid a visit to the Hadong Green Tea Institute (HGTI). It was too hot and humid (monsoon season) to go on foot. So, we took a bus which stopped near the entrance of HGTI.
We met with our informative tea guide and tea researcher, Kim Jong Cheol PH.D, of the Institute of Hadong Green Tea. We listened to information about the ancient history of Hadong green tea, the birthplace of green tea, Hwagae Valley's tea terroir, and the current tea masters in South Korea. I was surprised to learn that there are only five designated tea masters in South Korea, and three of the five live in Jirisan, Hwagae Valley. The other two tea masters are from Jeollanam Province in southwest Korea. One being from Suncheon and the other from Gwangju.
We also learned about commercially available green tea products made from camellia sinensis, such as nokcha soap, tea oil, tea latte, suncream, and supplements among other things.
A short promotional video about the familiar yet always interesting traditional Korean handmade tea processing techniques that Hadong green tea is known for was available to view with a click of a mouse. I was a little surprised and amused to see well known Hwagae Valley tea artisan Kim Shin Ho shown in it. I will have to ask him about it when I see him again.
Our personalized tea tour lasted about 45 minutes and we heard many interesting facts and tea tidbits about Hadong's green tea industry and various tea related research projects concerning camellia sinensis.
Sun and I thanked Mr. Kim Jong Cheol for sharing his valuable time touring HGTI with us and explaining the various tea exhibits. His detailed knowledge about tea and Hadong's colorful green tea history, which he gladly shared with us, made it a very interesting and informative tour.
For those of you who may be planning to visit Hadong, South Korea, I would highly recommend paying a visit to HGTI. It has lots of good information pertaining to all things related to Korean nokcha.
All in all it was an interesting and cool diversion from the sweltering heat today in Hadong!
|Posted on July 20, 2013 at 7:10 AM||comments (0)|
This morning Sun and I trekked to a tea garden in Jirisan, Hwagae Valley that I had visited once before back in March of this year. At that time, the tea farm had experienced some frost damage to their tea bushes. Today, in contrast to that last March day, the tea shrubs were vibrant and flourishing.
It was today that Sun and I got an opportunity to seat down and drink some tender ujeon with tea farmer, Park Cheong Sook, under a traditional Korean pavilion. The morning temperature today already reached 32 celsius with ~75% humidity. We hiked up about 200 meters when we were met by Park Cheong Sook. My forehead had beads of sweat dripping down on my shirt which became stained with perspiration, and I had an ice pack wrapped in a towel around my neck. The time was about 10:30 am. The pavilion was modernized with electrical outlets to allow for an electric fan. Shielded from the hot morning sun with air circulating currents of cool air, it provided an comfortable outdoor respite.
The location was picturesque and one could see for kilometers along Hwagae Valley and Hwagae Cheon (stream) which drains into the Seomjin River, one of Korea's longest and cleanest rivers.
We had a cordial conversation with Park Cheong Sook while enjoying the beautiful view when the discussion turned to the matter at hand, nokcha. I found out that the tea bushes on her farm were only planted about 10 years ago. I was told that the farm was about 8 acres, but that the tea bushes that were planted made up only about 4 acres of the total. At ~350 meters elevation where the actual tea bushes were growing, the terrain was steep and had rocky and loamy soil which makes for difficult tea plucking. Between the organically grown and pollution free nokcha bushes grew many Japanese apricot trees, chestnut trees, and various flowering plants.
After savoring the moment with a few sips of somewhat astringently prepared ujeon green tea, I asked Mrs. Park about the origin of her tea farm's name, "Yu Tea Farm" and whether it had a special message behind it. Loosely translated, she replied," It is a place where people can gather and be happy in peaceful surroundings."
Nearby is the small on site tea processing unit. While sipping this year's ujeon crop, I was told that it came from nokcha bushes that grew under chestnut trees and was the main reason that they had avoided frost damage. Nevertheless, the ujeon crop was smaller than usual compared to previous years. Total ujeon yield from her farm was only about 1 kilogram in 2013. On the other hand, the sejak grade nokcha harvest yield was more robust and produced about 5 kilograms of tender leaf material. After drinking several small cups of ujeon from a lotus leaf designed dawan, I was content to be able to purchase some fragrant ujeon and sejak nokcha. After Sun and I thanked Park Cheong Sook for her hospitality and valuable time, we headed back to town.
Reflecting on this morning's tea friendship under Yu Tea Farm's tea pavilion, it turned out to be a cool, enjoyable, and peaceful day to remember instead of just another hot and humid summer day in Jirisan, Hwagae Valley.