Sunday, August 15, 2010

What Exactly Is Korean Balhyocha (Paryo cha)?: Part 1- An Introduction To Balhyocha and Some Problems With Translation

There seems to be much confusion in the world as to how to classify balhyocha (paryo cha, Korean yellow tea, hwang cha, Korean semi-oxidized tea???). This confusion stems from translation and language issues, not understanding the production, and problems with the classification system of tea. This three part series of posts will tackle these issues in hopes of clarifying this Korean anomaly.

Balhyocha is transliterated from Korean and means "fermented tea" or "oxidized tea"- the Korean language leads to this ambiguity. Hwang cha is transliterated from Korean and means "yellow tea". Hwang cha is always balhyo cha, but balhyo cha is not always hwang cha- this is important to understand. There are two categories used by Koreans to classify their tea: balhyo cha and bul balhyo cha, where bul means "not" (not fermented/oxidized tea). Bul bal hyo cha is exclusively green tea in Korea. Bal hyo cha is all the other Korean teas.

The production of Korean yellow tea was made famous by Jeong Yak Yong, a famous Cheoson Dynasty teamaster about 200 years ago. Yellow tea seemed to wane in popularity during much of the last century perhaps due to a resistance to Japanese occupation of Korea. The Japanese were primarily concerned with finding the perfect production area for another oxidized tea, a fully oxidized "Red tea" (Hong cha) or "Black tea" as it is called in England and most of the western world.

However, within the last few years Hwang cha has seen a dramatic rise in popularity. Hwang cha's recent popularity has spurred a bit of a shift in naming conventions. These days "Balhyo cha" seems to be more of the popular title for Hwang cha. The change of name preference and recent popularity reflects a growing health trend in Korea (and to a lesser extent worldwide) that appoints much health benefit to a regular diet of things "fermented/oxidized" (examples: Kimchi, yogurt, probiotics, etc).

It also reflects a general trend to more attention paid and more loose leaf tea being consumed by the average Korean, it is simply an option to the Korean who wants a change from green tea. Because it is very simple to produce, it offers a less expensive option to the expensive and labour intensive domestically produced green tea.

This blog uses "yellow tea" instead of "balhyo cha" simply beacause that is what ones first teamaster refered to it as. One is considering a change to "Balhyo cha"... the wonders of language!



Ho Go said...

The first tea I sipped in Korea with Brother Anthony was Hwangcha. It was 7c outside, the coldest April in 100 years. He thought this tea would be warming for a warm weather softee like myself. It was love at first taste.

When leaving Seoul, I stopped in at Mr. Ha's and saw a tea marked 'black' tea. I bought some as I never heard of a Korean black tea. It was a dark colored oxidized wiry leaf. To this day, I cannot distinguish it from a Hwangcha. Both teas brew a dark amber color. If the North Koreans held me at gunpoint, I would be forced to call the teas Hongcha!

Matt said...


Hahaha... Good story... :D

Also met with Brother Anthony and the first tea we had together was a hwang cha as well. Believe it was in autumn- also a great time to enjoy a balhyo cha.

Think you'll enjoy part 3 of this series where we examine which category Balhyo cha fits into.


michele said...

Glad to learn about Korean Balhyocha as I am not familiar with it. Look forward to learning more.

Matt said...


Glad that your glad...