Monday, August 16, 2010

What Exactly Is Korean Balhyocha (Paryo cha)?: Part 2- A Detailed Look At The Production of This Uniquely Korean Tea

Part of the confusion surrounding balhyocha has to do with slight differences in the production between the different producers of this very simple Korean tea. In fact, the wide (yet slight) variance in production was such that the Hadong Green Tea Institute launched a research project last summer looking into the different forms of production in the hopes of finding a standard formula at which they can mass produce. They claimed that because balhyocha production has much to do with instinct, there really is no standard way of production.

One has taken the time to look closely at the production of a handful of balhyocha from different producers and have found that the basic production takes place in the following steps: withering, violent shaping/rolling, slow drying, drying.

Lets take a closer look...

After fresh tea leaves are picked they are left to wither in the sun. They are then left to wither in the shade usually for a considerable period of time. Some producers only let the tea wilt in the shade while others only wilt the tea in the sun. Most producers use a combination of sun wilting and shade wilting. The decision of how long or where to wither the leaves may have more to do with the weather of the day then a prescribed method. Instincts of the teamaster, their past production experience, and their connection to nature plays an important role in the making of balhyocha. This first step allows for the tea leaves to naturally oxidize, taking in deeply the mountain air as biochemical wonders start to transform the leaf.

The second step involves the withered leaves being rolled vigorously on a fibrous mat. Care is taken so that it is rolled vigorously but not torn or shredded. The shaping/rolling process here should strike a nice balance between the lighter shaping of green tea and the violent shredding of red tea. Proper pressure and technique here very much influence the final product. Here a more controlled prodedure is used to actively oxidize the leaf.

The third step involves the tea being left to slow dry on a heated floor in a warm room for a considerable amount of time. Koreans heat their homes using a system of heated floors call "ondol". This is the same system that is used to dry balhyocha. Nowadays ondol is almost exclusively electric but before such conveniences ondol was heated by firewood under the stone foundation of the house.

Some producers simply wait until the tea is completely dry from this method which usually takes a few days. Others may give it one last low temperature roast or considerably increase the heat in the room during the last few hours of drying.

Most times production of Balhyocha ends here but sometimes teamasters add their own special touches such as crushing the dried tea to induce more oxidization or storing the final product in onggi, the clay pots used to ferment kimchi, for a few months of fermenting before they bag the tea.

As you can see the final product has to do with the amount of withering time and the withering method, the amount of force and vigour used to shape/roll the tea, the temperature and amount of time used to dry the leaves, and the final touches.

You can also see that the use of Korean ondol heating and onggi storage makes this tea distinctly Korean.

Peace

13 comments:

Ho Go said...

I bought 2 balhyochas in Korea in May. One was from 2009, the other was current production. The older of the 2 is clearly the more delicious and deeper tea. I wonder if this tea benefits from a bit of age like a Yancha or maybe the producer had that 'je ne sais quoi'. I drank it all afternoon today, it was chilly in Bangkok, only 30c.

Matt said...

HoGo,

Your comparison of the two balhyocha is a bit tricky.

If you purchased your 2010 balhyocha in May it is likely produced using ujeon or early seajak leaf. As such, it is likely a juicier, lighter, and sweeter tea. Often the deeper, hardier qualities you are describing are from a later saejak or even jungjak leaf. So the first question one must ask is, "What are the production dates of both tea?, Are they the same, or different?, Later or earlier?"

Also the size of the leaf can affect the overall feel of the balhyocha with smaller leaves creating higher, juicier, lighter, sweeter notes and larger leaves producing a deeper feel. Leaf size definitely affects the taste, feel, and qi of balhyocha as does the above mentioned picking time. "Are the leaves the same size?"

Obviously annual climatic differences, and different producer techniques will also affect the taste and feel of two different balhyocha as well. This spring was a wacky one in Korea, one still hasn't tried any balhyocha from 2010, but it might have negatively impacted the final product as well. "Are they produced by the same producer?"

And as you suspected the lighter notes fall off with age revealing more deeper notes. Often some of the chaqi often will fade as well. Koreans don't normally age this tea. Likely this is due to the fact that the Korean variety of tea plant is smaller than the larger, hardier, and stronger leaf of the cliff teas in China.

Likely it also has something to do with production and the enzymes produced and how they change with age as well.

A cold day in Bangkok is defiantly a sweltering day in Victoria!

Either way 30 Degrees is quite an enjoyable temp.

;)

Peace

Ho Go said...

Matt,

To answer the question of production dates, Mr. Ha said this spring and the other tea purchased elsewhere am told it was a 2009. I didn't keep the bags the tea came in.

In a side by side visual comparison of the dry leaves, both are remarkably similar in size and shape but the newer tea is a bit lighter in color, not much though. They are not the same producer as the bags testify to that. However, the aroma of the dry leaves immediately differentiate one from the other and as I said, the older produces a deeper, more complex flavor that is very satisfying especially on those frigid 30c days in Bangkok!

Matt said...

Ho Go,

Too many uncontrollable variables to say whether it is from aging or not. Either way, sounds like you have (at least) one really good balhyocha, and many 30 degree days to enjoy it. :)

Peace

Guilherme Silveira said...

Do you know a place I can buy korean teas as those (and others you have posted) in the US? Actually Im from Brazil but travel back and forth to the US so it would be easier to buy it there than here.

Matt said...

Guilherme Silveira,

Nice of you to stop in.

Do please check out this post a few weeks ago with a continually updated list of vendors from the USA (and around the world) that sell Korean tea:

http://mattchasblog.blogspot.com/2010/07/updated-list-of-english-online-korean.html

How is the popularity of tea in Brazil?

Peace

Mark said...

Interesting stuff, thanks for this guide, Matt.

Unfortunately, I'm still having a hard time imagining the final product.

The reference to "yellow tea" conjures up the aromas and taste of a typical chinese huang cha.

The reference to "hong cha" is making me imagine, well, typical black tea.

But now the fermentation process is bringing to mind a cooked or aged puerh.

Towards which of these does a typical brewed Balhyocha tend? Some sort of combination of the above? Maybe this will be the subject of your third post, in which case I will patiently wait and read. Or possibly I am missing your point, which is that the tea may lean in any combination of these directions, depending on the processing of the tea?

Matt said...

Mark,

Yes, this is the topic of the third and final part in the series.

But you are partly correct in that the tea can lean toward different directions. Or at least have more or less oxidization.

Peace

Ho Go said...

Mark,

Keep in mind that fermentation and oxidation are 2 different processes. Puerh is a fermented tea. Balhyocha is an oxidized tea, like red teas (black tea in western terminology). I'll let Matt post the 3rd part of his series to further explain this interesting tea.

Matt said...

The Chinese and Koreans use the same word for oxidize and ferment- things often become confusing. One has likely made this mistake before in the past. It is important to note that all balhyocha is oxidized but not all is fermented. Often the fermentation step is very short compared to other teas (i.e. peurh, ddok cha, ect) which naturally ferment for many, many years. Balhyo cha is fermented just a few weeks to a few months.

Peace

Ho Go said...

I'll be looking forward to your 3rd part in the series. I was unaware that Hwangcha is fermented. In fact, Brother Anthony states in his book that it is oxidized. Maybe there are different processes for this tea, but, my point about fermentation which is often misunderstood is that it is a process of deliberately allowing bacteria to act upon the tea leaves. Oxidation may involve a bit of fermentation as there is bacteria everywhere but it is done for a short amount of time and would have a very mild affect upon the leaves. You have to introduce humidity into fermentation.

Matt said...

HoGo,

There is a good article on the difference between oxidization and fermetation in tea production by Robert J Heiss in Issue 2 of The Leaf:

http://the-leaf.org/issue%202/?p=34

Peace

Ho Go said...

I remember reading it quite sometime ago. It is a good read for anyone interested tea processing.