Saturday, August 28, 2010

Korean Tea Classics Book Club- Cha Bu: Rhapsody To Tea By Hanjae Yi Mok 1. Preface

"Although the merits of tea are the highest of all, there has been no one so far to celebrate it. This is like mistreating a worthy person; what could be worse?"

from Cha Bu: Rhapsody To Tea By Hanjae Yi Mok Translated in Korean Tea Classics

Feel free to join the online book club at anytime by simply purchasing Korean Tea Classics. The classics will be covered one section a week which will go on for about a year.


Note: This will be the continuing format for the book club. One will post an interesting quote from each section and discussion about the whole section will commence in the comments. The discussion does not have to be about the quote- it can involve anything you want to add relevant to the section. The quote is just there to spark conversation about the section. If you are taking part in the book club please try to at least say something about each section. The more participation, the more interesting the discussion will be. So... let us begin...

Double Peace

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How Should Someone Share Tea?

"Moreover, Subhuti, when a bodhisattva practices generosity, he does not rely on any object--that is to say he does not rely on any form, sound, smell, taste, tactile object, or dharma--to practice generosity. That, Subhuti, is the spirit in which a bodhisattva should practice generosity, not relying on signs. Why? If a bodhisattva practices generosity without relying on signs, the happiness that results cannot be conceived of or measured. Subhuti, do you think that the space in the Eastern Quarter can be measured?"

"No, World-Honored One."

"Subhuti, can space in the Western, Southern, and Northern Quarters, above and below be measured?"

"No, World-Honored One."

"Subhuti, if a bodhisattva does not rely on any concept when practicing generosity, then the happiness that results from that virtuous act is as great as space. It cannot be measured. Subhuti, the bodhisattvas should let their minds dwell in the teachings I have just given."

Chapter 4 of The Diamond Sutra translated on The Joygae Order Of Korean Buddhism homepage

Generosity for the sake of generosity. :)

With this in mind one would like to announce a free Dao Tea sample package to readers. Pedro of Dao Tea agreed to provide the samples and one will cover the shipping. Here is what's in the package:

5 g Kim Shin Ho 2009 saejak green tea
5 g Kim Shin Ho 2010 saejak green tea
5 g Kim Shin Ho 2009 jungjak green tea
5 g Kim Shin Ho 2009 Balhyo cha

5 g Kim Jung Yeol 2009 saejak green tea
5 g Kim Jung Yeol 2010 saejak green tea
5 g Kim Jung Yeol 2009 Balhyo cha

This generosity is not completely unattached though...

If you accept this free package you are expected to post your thoughts or tasting notes of the samples on MattCha's Blog. You will get about a months time to sample and reflect on them. After which a post will appear on MattCha's Blog on each of the teas in this package, simply leave your thoughts on that tea in the comment section of the posting. If you cannot commit to tasting the tea within a month and leaving you comments then please don't request the package.

This package should allow even someone with little or no experience with Korean teas a nice primer by allowing for cross comparisons between: producer styles, yearly trends (or the very least an idea of how Korean green tea degrades after aging), different grades, and different types of Korean tea (balhyo v.s green).

The first 10 people to leave comments on this post expressing their interest with their email address will receive the package. One will delete your comment and send you a confirmation email as soon as possible.

Pedro has also offered one sample of 2010 Ujeon green tea to 1 of the very lucky 10. A number will be drawn to see who will receive this extra sample.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

2010 Dong Cheon Semi-Wild Hwagae Valley Ujeon Green Tea

This tea is the third and final Korean tea gifted by Tea Trekker. It is also a jeong cha, Dong Cheon production and is also available from East Teas in the U.K. (although they might only have the 2009 harvest in stock).

On the Tea Trekker web site they say that this is a 2nd pick ujeon. Korean teas are not classified by 'flushes' or 'picks' like colonial tea. Instead they use a system based on the 24 seasonal divisions of the solar calendar (also called solar terms). Ujeon is any tea picked before gok-u (grain rain), a date around April 20th depending on the year.

Most Korean companies, including Dong Cheon, offer a very expensive premium ujeon. The premium ujeon is generally first days pick of the year and is all carefully hand produced. Usually it comes in a box of two small 20g, 25g, 30g, or 40g foil bags. The box packaging of premium ujeon is usually very extravagant. This premium tea is usually insanely expensive and is never really purchased for personal consumption, but is rather used as a gift. So, most companies usually have two ujeon grade teas.

This one is the standard ujeon from Dong Cheon, but really, there is nothing 'standard' about this tea at all...

Two small packets are emptied into a small ceramic pot. The smell coming from the dry leaves is deep raspberry with a very sweet floral note. They have a silvery sheen to them being as they are the youngest of shoots.

The cooled water embraces them for a short time, the first infusion is born.

It is very juicy and creamy. Soft floral notes creep with berry notes in a light, fresh broth that finishes sweet. The mouthfeel dries a bit and covers the mouth in mild stimulation. The aftertaste is sticky, fruity, and long. This first pot is enjoyed deeply and meditatively.

The second pot that is prepared is tangy and alive with ethereal berry-floral notes with a fresh green finish. The flavour of this tea is distinct. The mouthfeel is very satisfying and seems to cement the flavour over the whole surface of the mouth.

The third infusion brings more of the above mentioned enjoyment. This infusion finishes a touch bland which is mixed into the fresh green characteristics. The aftertaste of this tea always seems to highlight the lighter more subtle notes- in this infusion it happens to be fruity and light, if not a touch rubbery.

The forth is prepared the sweet, tangy, juicy berry notes dominate- they are airy, light, rounded and distinct. The aftertaste is a continuation of such delights. The mouthfeel is sticky and mossy and can be noticed even in the upper throat.

The fifth infusion is mellow and creamy and slips and slides over the tongue. The later infusions become more light, creamy like this. They have a certain sweet briskness to them. There is still nice fruity flavour to enjoy.

This session seemed to be riddled with interruptions out of ones control, but in the end this tea offered one peace and happiness with every cup.

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.


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!


Saturday, August 14, 2010

"Korean Tea Classics" Online Book Club Second Call

It has been about a month since one first proposed the idea of an online book club for the newly released book "Korean Tea Classics". One had hoped to have published the first post by now. It turns out that we have "lost communication" with Seoul Selection, the publisher who was supplying the two book discount. For the time being we should assume that the promotion they offered is over.

As such there may still be some readers out there who haven't ordered their copy of "Korean Tea Classics" ISBN: 978-89-91913-66-0. It turns out that amazon currently has some copies of this book. Ordering only this book with the free shipping actually is cheaper than ordering from Seoul Selection. Purchasing it with "The Korean Way Of Tea" will only cost a dollar or two more than the Seoul Selection discounted price.

The book club will start with its first post in about 2 weeks. This should give those who haven't ordered the book enough time to receive it.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

2008 Raon (Korean Wrapper) Puerh

This puerh came from a Korean tea shop owner and puerh enthusiast that has a shop on the same block as ones former residence. It is composed of this mao cha, posted a few years ago. The Korean Nei Piao (larger description ticket) describes the tea from its origin 1800 meters above sea level that is either from an area between two famous Yunnan puerh producing areas or tasting somewhere between the typical taste profiles of two famous tea areas.

The dry leaf is somewhat tightly compressed. It has many down covered leaves which smell of slight creamy sweetness. There is a slightly sour edge that blends into these leaves.

Water boils vigorously, things are rinsed vigorously, steam rises from the table. The first pot is prepared.

It is very sweet right off the bat. There are strong sweet goji berry flavours initially that give way to smokier, deep, murky, chalky tastes. These deeper, grittier flavours are short-lived as this tea finishes sweet, light on the breath. The mouth and throat are painted in a full sensation, a theme that would continue for the duration of the session.

The next few infusions sees more of the same but with some bitter elements and even tobacco notes lingering during the middle grittier presentation. This rougher middle seems to harmonize quite nicely with the lighter, sweet initial and aftertastes. The initial tastes although very light and fresh is beginning to develop an airy malty, hazelnut profile. The aftertaste becomes more creamy and filled with the berry flavours detectded in the initial sweetness. The chaqi is powerful but not at all violent and pushes ones mind into an ultra state of alertness very early in the session.

Mid session, the initial sweetness is less fruity and more malty, hazelnut, and grainy- it is still quite sweet. The light smokiness that was barely detected in the first infusions is long gone and the throat feel is very noticeable. The grittier notes in the middle are rounding out. This tea is quite sweet and flavourful.

By the eighth infusion things are tasting flat with dry wood notes popping up replacing the once strong sweet flavourful profile. The aftertaste is still long now with very muted creamy, gummy sweetness. This tea doesn't present much stamina, but after getting such a kick is the stamina even necessary?

Content with dragonflies circling ancient red cedars outside,
one examines the medium spent leaves.


Monday, August 9, 2010

2010 Dong Cheon Semi-Wild Hwagae Valley Jungjak Green Tea

Today it is time to try some of the jungjak grade by Dong Cheon. Like the saejak, it comes courtesy of Bob & Mary of Tea Trekker. One doesn't drink much jungjak grade, not because its bad tea but because in Korea it is usually just $10 cheaper per 100 grams then the saejak. If you are going to shell out the cash for a Korean green, why not go the distance. Usually the price difference between jungjak and saejak is not as much as saejak to ujeon.

Here it is important to note that each grade isn't necessarily 'better' than the other. Each grade is a reflection of the energies of season and of the seasonal changes within the tea plant. As a result each grade carries its own uniqueness and characteristic flavours, energy, and feeling.

Let's snip open the bag, warm the pot, boil the water and see what this one offers...

Certainly it offers mouth-watering dry leaves? These leaves are delicious. Strong, deep forest odours fill in the base of very roasted, thick creamy cereal layers with distinct almost chocolaty nuances.

The first pot delivers more of these elements in the mouth. In the cup the liquid shines an almost florescent green tinged yellow. It tastes very smooth and creamy with heavy cereal and nutty tones. It is not sweet at all but quite flavourful. It feels slippery and smooth and evolves to thin and dry. The lingering aftertaste is of roasted nuts and grains.

The second infusion brings a deeper cereal flavour with noticeable chocolate underpinnings in a brisk soup. Some astringency is thrown in for good measure and its result is a nice coating of the sides, roof, and edges of the tongue. The aftertaste is dry and lingering- simple cereal notes stay in the back of the throat.

In the third pot the roasted nutty and chocolate notes seem to overthrow the cereal notes. The chocolate-nut flavour becomes more creamy and less sharp. The distinct roastiness is really felt throughout this tea. The cereal and grainy feel are pushed more to the aftertaste. Even the mouthfeel is grainy in nature.
The chaqi of this tea carries a very warm thermal nature. It is impart due to the leaves being both older growth and, although they aren't certified, organic- the warm qi suggests that they most likely are. The processing method and jungjak grade also adds to the warmth of this tea. As a result, this tea doesn't attack the stomach even if over-steeped. Instead it offers up a very mellow qi that disperses like light rays or a faint mist from the sensation of slight heaviness of the middle jiao.

The first pots were were dark nutty chocolate, this fourth pot is creamy milk chocolate... mmmmm... It seems like the hardier elements have dropped off a bit as even the slight bitterness has faded. One finds amusement from the squirrels pulling walnut fruit from the old tree outside, inside one pulls out nutty chocolate notes from these leaves.

The fifth infusion is more soft, milky chocolate that is shedding some of its depth and complexity to reveal a nice subtle flavour that is full, delicious, and very satisfying. The mouthfeel is fading but enough holds on. This tea is really not so sweet but its deep flavour makes up for it by offering plenty for the tastebuds.

The sixth infusion is now simple grain notes with little deep chocolate nutty flavours left. This graininess is also left on the tongue. The aftertaste is roasted, if there is any sweetness to the tea it is to be found here.

In the seventh and eight infusion things become dry, thin, and bitter. The mouthfeel is harsh. The session is over.

Link to Bret's (Tea Goober) Tasting Notes


Friday, August 6, 2010

2010 Dong Cheon Semi-Wild Hwagae Valley Seajak Green Tea

Recently Ho Go, a regular contributor to MattCha's, had commented on the quality of Dong Cheon's tea on MattCha's Blog (see comments here). That same day a package arrived courtesy of Tea Trekker with the three Korean teas they are currently offering. The tea just happened to be ujeon, saejak, and jungjak from Dong Cheon!

Dong Cheon uses older growth, natural tea bushes that grow semi-wild near Ssanggyae Temple in Hwagae Valley, Handong County. They also use the Jeong-cha method of production, a rather uncommon way of producing green tea in Korea. The method involves plunging the freshly picked, supple tea leaves in near boiling water. After which, the leaves are shaped and dried simultaneously in the heated iron cauldron without being removed until they are finished. The result is a tea that carries deeper, more augmented flavours and a heavier body.

Let's sit down, put the water on, and open the package of saejak...

Upon opening the bag, an intoxicating odour of strong, deep, tangy, malted cherry/ berry flavours escape into air. These small curly leaves leave a big impression in a roasted base of pine and cereal odours.

Lots of tea is added to the modest grey pot which is still warm from the preheating. One enjoys the wonderful odour of the dry leaf in the warm pot until the water has cooled considerably.

After it is added, the resulting infusion pours a pale green-yellow. This first infusion is sweet and fresh but deep with oak and raspberry fruit tones. The sensation created from these first sips are slippery and they cover the mouth nicely. There is an aftertaste that is slight but deep- pine and fruit.

The second pot is prepared, poured, enjoyed. It brings nutty, pine notes that slip around in the mouth. There are fresh earthy notes as well as some distinct oak and berry notes that have been buried under a dominating roasted nutty taste. The aftertaste develops more complexity to it with the strong berry and wood notes lingering on. The mouth feel seems undecisive between dry and slippery. The result is a lively chalky feeling in the mouth.

The third infusion is more earthy and juicy with a finish of pine on the breath. Floral notes develop in a fresh, creamy fruit flavour much like banana. It moves from deep, juicy, and earthy to sweet, fruity, and creamy when a large gulp is taken. The mouthfeel is pasty, stuck in it is deep flavourful after flavours.

The fourth pot carries a more bitter feel, a reaction, and consequence from trying to push as much flavour out of this tea with such a large amount of dry leaf. The flavours become much softer in this fourth steeping. The bitterness gives way to sweeter, creamier, banana like notes but they struggle under bitterness.

The fifth pot is lighter once more with the flavours muted and smooth floral notes are enjoyed. The mouthfeel is becoming drier but is still of this enjoyable sticky variety.

In the sixth, seventh, and eight infusions the fruitiness wanes a bit, things lighten, bitter edges slowly develop. The aftertaste, creamy and slightly floral, remains relatively strong. This tea is quite palatable even in late infusions if steeping time remains long and temperatures low.

By now the chaqi, which was not so noticeable throughout the session, has snuck up and leaves ones mind swirling.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

O'sulloc: The Largest Korean Tea Company Now Sells Tea On Its English Site

This is a link to their very new English homepage:

The site is extensive, easy to navigate, extreamly informative, and simply fun. One suggests you play around there for a while, they answer almost any question you might have about their tea and so much more.

This is a link to their English Online Store:

There are a few things you might want to know about O'sulloc that aren't on the web page though:

O'sulloc is the largest tea producer in Korea. Three of their four tea gardens are on Jeju Island, one of Korea's three main tea producing areas. One could take a very informed guess without looking at statistics and say that they likely produce 99% of the tea that leaves Jeju Island. Basically, they ARE the Jeju Island tea producing area.

All of their teas are produced using mechanical methods from planting and picking to producing and packaging. O'sulloc utilizes the latest in the science of tea production. This is quite different than the way almost all other Korean loose leaf tea is produced.

O'sulloc's tea is more likely to be found in Korean department stores rather than Korea tea houses. O'sulloc is a very progressive, modern tea company that puts more value in science not so much in tradition. It is at the extreme end in the spectrum of Korean tea with small production, completely traditional, completely hand made wild tea from Jiri Mountain being the opposite extreme. Never the less, it is an important fixture of modern Korean tea culture.

Since Jeju Island is tropical, unlike the other tea growing areas of Korea, tea grows virtually year round. The traditional tea picking seasons and grading/categorizing system of Korean teas don't so much apply to their product. See this link for a timeline that looks at this.