Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Travel Tea

This is the most convenient way to consume good tea on the go.

Just add matcha. Add cold water. Shake vigorously.
And so this is how one heads out with tea.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

2008 'Mo Am' Ujeon Jiri Mountain Yellow Tea

These dry leaves are the tiniest one has ever seen in a yellow tea. That doesn't come as a surprise as the tea is produced from the first spring growth.

The smell of the dark brown dry leaves could as well be the smell of Christmas baking from grandmas house. The smell is wonderful milky chocolate and roasted nut, the most savored of oxidized tea smells in Korea. It's a real festive treat for the nose as it taunts the tastebuds. This tea couldn't smell any better. With tea smelling this good, its hard to believe that its taste could live up to its smell.

Just like Santa on Christmas eve, this tea doesn't disappoint. The brew is very smooth and coats the mouth in creamy milk chocolate and nutty tones with a subtle undertone of spice. The mouthfeel mirrors taste and is creamy, rich, and smooth. The first few infusions leave a festive spiciness on the breath. Later infusions seem to leave more chocolate than spice.

As the session progresses the liquor develops a noticeable, but not at all distracting, citric sourness that is mostly cloaked by prevalent chocolate and nutty tones. Its mouthfeel develops a slight fuzzy feeling, emulating the warm fuzzy feeling you get when drinking this delightful tea, or when spending time with loved ones on Christmas morning.

This tea has a lightness and vibrancy to it that only such young leaves could possibly emit. Its energy is a beautiful balance between fresh, young exuberance that is typical of Korean green ujeon teas and grounding, settling, stability that is found in most Korean oxidized teas.

In the end you can't help but walk away from this one smiling.

Merry Christmas to everyone.
Wishing you lots of holiday cheer.


*** Housekeeping note- Please halt all generous tea shipments. One will be leaving Korea in a few weeks and embarking on a journey around the world. One will not have a permanent address for, at the very least, a few months as one travels in search of experience, knowledge, and probably more tea. Also those who were expecting some Christmas goodies may have to wait a few months. Right now one doesn't know where one will settle back down. Most likely it will be someplace other than Korea.

Double Peace

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Wintery Erabo Style Tea Bowl By Sel Young Jin

Fall has passed. Winter is here.

A few weeks ago one awoke at the break of morning to little wet snowflakes that coated everything as they rode the light mountain winds to the ground. It was marvelous to embrace the red hot embers of the brazier so early this frigid morning and share tea with the first snowflakes of the year. They barely clung to their majestic, ice-crystallized form, dancing outside one's large windows before melting into the ground, quenching the dry winter's thirst.

As the seasons slowly change to winter, one usually migrates from loose leaf green tea and spring oolongs to yellow and black teas, as well as puerh. But the one thing that stays pretty much consistent, is one's consumption of matcha.

Drinking matcha from Sel Young Jin's erabo style bowls are like drinking matcha from the snowy winter mountain. This bowl is heavily glazed, like the slick snow that is beaten by the winds and molded by the blinding winter's sun upon the eves of a mountain temple. It gleams like it too was born of the elements.

It's form only further validates this imagery of cold winter. It's rim is most impressive as it maintains this feeling of snow bulging over the eves, a haphazard drift of snow whipped about by cold winds now leans above one's head.

It's foot is littered with dark black cracks which seem to jump out in the backdrop of white. These could as well be the cracking ice that covers the winter pond. The other small markings left by the ash in the kiln are amplified in these whiteout conditions.

The three spur marks left on the rim of the foot almost resemble foot prints in the snow.

Sipping tea, one marvels at the beauty of this tea bowl, the beauty of this season.


Friday, December 12, 2008

2008 Yunnan Yunxian Huimin Chachang Chupin ... And Puerh Induced Stomachaches

This cake, not to be confused with 2008 Yunnan Yunxian Huimin Chachang Chupin High Mountain Semi Wild Puerh, is a regular offering from this company. It doesn't boost of any 'wild' or 'high mountain' claims and is about half the price its bigger brother.

Its dry leaf shows no resemblance to its snazzy sibling. These leaves are a nice mix of fresh light coloured leaves that smell of creamy, sour tobacco puerh.

When prepared in a modest yixing pot this tea is a bit sweet like melon with a creamy mild tobacco finish. These flavours fight to be noticed over a smoky, common puerh taste that seems to dominate throughout the session.

The mouthfeel is wonderfully oily. It becomes slightly gritty which only acts to compliment the oily viscosity in later infusions.

The energy of this little guy is a killer. It stagnates in the lower abdomen- a perfect recipe for an upset stomach, especially in such a newly minted shang puerh.

And it did just that, sending one's stomach churning and getting one up and running to the bathroom. This tea caused one to stay away from young sheng for the last month or so.
One can't entirely blame this tea as it could have just been the have been the accumulation of drinking so much young sheng, something that one fully knows the dire consequences of, or other uncontrolled factors. Either way it prompted one to drink up some of the older sheng and some shu puerh that's been hanging around for a while. It also allowed one to enjoy the many wonderful yellow Korean teas that one has been posting about lately.

A few days ago, craving the sunny freshness that only an infant puerh can offer, one tried some 2007 sheng and things went well. Feeling confident, and curious whither this tea actually caused one's upset stomach, one decided to test these waters out again. Even with considerably less leaf this tea gave the stomach a good whoppin' not nearly as bad as before but, none the less, uncomfortably noticeable.

If you're lookin' for a fight this tea is for you, otherwise consider this a warning.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Joseon White Porcelain

Although white porcelain tea sets like this one are not a common sight on this blog, they were once the most sought after pieces in Korea.

Korean white porcelain was first popularized during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and so it is often referred to as Joseon White Porcelain or as Joseon Baekja. The Joseon nobility governed the country using the principles of Confucianism. When Joseon rose to power they attempted to stamp out and repress all things synonymous with the previous rulers of Korea, the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392).

Under the Goryeo Dynasty, Buddhism was the state religion. At this time powdered tea, similar to the way tea was prepared in the Sung Dynasty of China, was the preferred method of enjoying tea. The Joseon Dynasty despised all things 'Buddhist' and gradually began drift away from preparing tea in this manner.
The Confucian literati played a crucial roll in popularizing the use of leaf tea in Korea. They claimed that the best way to experience tea is in a Joseon White Porcelain cup using loose leaves. They poetically praised how the white colour allows for the jade green liquor to be fully appreciated. Their influence must have been widespread because even Cho Ui, the Korean Saint of Tea, and a devout Buddhist, sings praise for Joseon white porcelain cups, in his masterpiece titled Dashinjeon, the story of the tea god (1830). He claims that cups as white as snow are best because they don't distort the colour.

It is important to note that during the Joseon Dynasty these pieces were once very difficult to produce using a wood fired kiln. The whitest pieces were the most sought after during this time. Nowadays, modern gas-fired kilns make producing this style much easier. This, in part, has lead to the relative decline in popularity for pieces like this today. If you visit a tea shop in Korea you are bound to see at least one set of Joseon white porcelain on display. It is quite common for famous Buncheong masters to try their hand at the unpretentious form and simple blue designs of Joseon Baekja.

The set pictured here is a beautiful example of this style by Kim Jeong Oak.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

2008 Na Rang Cha Jiri Mountain Yellow Tea

These dry leaves have deep, but fresh, fruity top notes. The exceptional smell of cherry in these slightly longish dark brown leaves mixed with a lighter brown type bring one deep within the tea It's no wonder 'Na Rang Cha' means 'with me tea'. From the first sniff this tea is unquestionably 'with me'.

When brewed up, the intimate brownish-yellow liquid embraces my mouth. Its juicy liquor revels its flavour to be a slightly acidic citrus apple sauce. One can also taste wild berries. This tea finishes with a sweet taste of creamy oats. This tea is complex and pretty good. Its feels juicy in the mouth but leaves the tongue feeling mossy. It targets the front of the mouth and tongue.

This tea is powerful and fast moving. It pushes one into a sweat as its energy pools in the head before descending throughout the body.

It seems to lack a definite roasted taste that is found in some Korean yellow teas but contains a woodsy creaminess that characterizes many wild Korean greens from the Jiri Mountain region. The flavour stays pretty much constant throughout many infusions. Stamina seems to be one of many strong points this tea has. Consequently, when one drinks this tea, it is 'with me' for quite a long time.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Three Main Tea Producing Areas In Korea: Boseong

Out of all the tea areas in Korea none conjures up such romance as the tea fields of Boseong, South Jeolla Province. This is partly because a famous T.V. drama was filmed here. But, the romance of these rolling green tea fields transcends all the T.V. commercials, advertisements, movies, and T.V. dramas filmed here. One can get a sense of this when first entering the valley where Boseong's tea grows...
As your car rolls over a hill and firsts descends into Boseong's tea plantations, the scenery takes your breath away. You are thrown into a valley where you are completely surrounded by tea plants all lined up in perfectly manicured little rows. The lines of bushes are so well maintained they almost look artificial. As you weave the winding road descending deep into the shallow of the hilly valley, you get so close to the bushes you can roll down your window and touch them. With tea towering over all sides of you, you can't deny that you are in tea heaven.
Although tea was probably planted in Boseong for quite some time, it wasn't until 1939, during the Japanese occupation of Korea, that tea was cultivated in Boseong in a similar manner as it is today. It was during this time that the Japanese imperialists planted seeds of an Indian variety on this land. They searched for the best place to grow black tea and, after many experiments around Korea, decided that the environment around Boseong was best suited for their ambitious pursuits.
In 1945, at the conclusion of World War Two, Korea gained its independence. Shortly after, Korea was plunged into the Korean War. The resulting poverty that ensued caused the plantations started by the Japanese to become overgrown as most were abandoned. At this time Korea had survival on there mind, not tea.
As the years passed, Korea became more stable and these tea fields were once again brought back to life, surpassing the glory that once was.
Today Boseong's tea fields are usually bustling with visitors eager to walk between the same rows of tea bushes as their favourite actors once did. Some even come for the Annual Green Tea Marathon, to dine in the green tea fed pork restaurants that line the streets, or to bathe in hot spring green tea baths. Some of the more academic types might even pay a visit to the Boseong Tea Research Center.The busiest time of year is undoubtedly during the Annual Green Tea Festival at the start of May that draws tens of thousands of tea drinkers yearly.
Those who are there for tea should expect quite a typical cup of green though. After the Japanese got the boot, the Korean tea producers went back to their roots and once again started producing quality green teas. The tea is 'typical' because, like most Jeju teas, Boseong teas are produced mechanically, but are usual picked by hand.
Tea sporting the Boseong tea label comes from a type of cooperative where the organic tea produced on many different fields is mixed and sold according to the date it was picked. The result is a fairly good, but quite 'normal' cup of green tea. Along with tea, Boseong also sells green tea cosmetics under its label.
From what one has already wrote, you can probably guess that Boseong is the 'Hollywood' of Korean tea areas.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Three Main Tea Producing Areas In Korea: Jeju Island

In the next few weeks one will be featuring posts on the three main tea producing areas in Korea. Enjoy.

In 1454 King Sejong of the ruling Joseon Dynasty did an extensive geological survey of all the resources of their kingdom. One record shows a map with tea producing areas marked. This record shows over thirty tea producing areas in total that include Ulsan, Miryang, the current tea producing areas of Handong and Boseong, the city that first produced famous celadon, Gangjin, and even areas as far north as Okgu. This must have been at the height of tea production in Korea. The records don't show the volume of tea produced or wither it was exported or not, but one could image the amount of tea being produced at that time was immense.

Although Jeju Island was not producing tea at the time of the Joseon Dynasty's geological survey, it is unquestionably one of the most famous tea producing areas in Korea today. Even in the mid 1800s there was little if any tea on Jeju island, a semi-tropical island to the south of the Korean peninsula. This fact is often alluded to in a famous exchange by perhaps two of the most famous tea masters in Korean history.

In this famous exchange Kim Jeong-Hui, a famous confucius scholar, literati, and calligrapher makes a plea to his Buddhist friend, and Saint of Tea in Korea, Cho'ui. Kim Jeong-Hui is banished to Jeju island and he cannot find any tea. He claims that he is almost out of tea and can't wait for Cho'ui's next shipment which will be delivered through a visitor who is scheduled to come to the island soon. A desperate Kim Jeong-Hui is growing impatient and suggests that Cho'ui send tea sooner using a different method. Oh, could you imagine being stuck on an island with out tea!

If you visit Jeju these days you will be confronted with an abundance of tea. Tea was likely first planted on Jeju by the Japanese during their occupation of Korea in the early 1900s as they attempted to scout out the best place for a plantation in Korea. Nowadays, the largest tea plantation in Korea, the O'sulloc Tea Plantation and its famous tea cup shaped museum, is found in Jeju. The Japanese proved that the the clean, rolling hills of Jeju are perfect for producing quality good tasting tea year round.

O'sulloc tea, as well as many other Jeju teas, are planted, maintained, picked and produced exclusively by machines the same way tea is produced in Japan. Tea produced in this way sacrifices subtles in taste and quality that only hand picking and producing can create. With all this said, there is wild tea that grows in the mountainous regions of Halla mountain and is produced all by hand, these teas are quite rare and hard to come by. Either way, walking the vast tea fields of Jeju and visiting the first tea museum in Korea is sure to lure even the timid tea drinker.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Gye Yal Style Buncheong Tea Bowl By Shin Hyun Chrul

Shin Hyun Churl is not really known for his tea bowls. This bowl stood out from a selection of his bowls. The haphazard nature of the 'gye yal' or brushstroke on this particular bowl reminded one of a breaking wave. The glaze on this buncheon piece is also nicely cracked, a whole shattering into pieces like the breaking of a wave. The clean cut Han Gyab style foot seems almost to act in opposition to such an idea and brings it whole again. One applauds such dichotomy in a piece of art... A million pieces return to one.