Sunday, October 23, 2011

2011 Kim Jong Yeol (Butea) "Saebyeok" (Sunrise) Hwagae Valley Balhyocha

This tea, currently available from Tea Mountain, is one of two balhyocha that was produced by teamaster Kim Jong Yeol this year. His two balhyocha are cleverly named "Saebyeok" (Sunrise) and "Noeul" (Sunset). They are both made from the tea of the same semi-wild garden but the "Sunrise" is made of earlier picked, smaller, and more delicate saejak grade leaves where the "Sunset" is made of later picked, larger, and more robust jungak grade leaves. See the comments in Michal Tallo's (Poetry Of Tea) excellent post on "Sunset" for the deeper meanings behind these names.

Today we will be sampling the Saebyeok "Sunrise" balhyocha, the early picked and therefore more pricey of the two. This tea from Kim Jong Yeol's Butea brand has been highly recommended by both HoGo and Pedro- regular commentators here on MattCha's Blog and people who know their Korean tea. Pedro kindly gifted 15 grams of this much talked about tea, enough for two sessions. One thought it appropriate to fire up the charcoal brazier for the occasion on this chilly Fall day.

The dry leaves have very creamy, distinct chocolate bread-like aromas that are strong and sharp for such smallish leaves. There is an mix of colour with the help of light brown buds in the mix. Once the natural Korean oak charcoal is glowing red and the steam from the ceramic brazier starts to audibly stir the lid on top, the mind becomes clear and the tea session begins. The leaves emit a sharp, almost bitter chocolate aroma as they hit the warmed pot.

This tea starts off subtle and light, its pale yellow colour indicating its light nature. The initial taste is of very light creamy faint chocolate tastes. The mouthfeel is also very light. The aftertaste is of bread, light chocolate, and soil notes.

The second infusion contains more bread-chocolate notes in the initial taste which coast across the tongue- subtle vanilla appears before vanishing in the aftertaste. Overall the aftertaste is a slow concentration of these tastes. The chest and heart feel light, the mind clear, as the qi of this tea softly quells one's mind. The energy seems thermally neutral, neither warm nor cool in ones body.

The third and fourth infusions contain soft, light, smooth barely vanilla tastes that build quickly into creamy chocolate, almost nuttty flavours appear at times. These flavours give way to faint wood notes. The aftertaste soon embraces nice chocolate tastes. This progression of flavour is as soft and gentle as the tea itself. This tea is light but its mouthfeel starts to round a bit and delivers a very soft coat to the mouth and sinks as deep as the middle of the throat. The chaqi softly ascends to the back of the skull.

The fifth and sixth infusions offer a similar creamy chocolate start now along with juicier notes. These flavours linger for a bit and then seem to traverse to a more wood-chocolate even soft nut taste. The mouthfeel builds with each pot and now seems rounder in the mouth and throat. The body feels comfortable- the upper body even a bit warm. The aftertaste doesn't linger as long as it once did and fades into the nice soft mouthfeel. It seems to reappear randomly then disappear again minutes later.

This tea continues to hold its ground in the seventh infusion presenting more milky-wood notes becoming most prominent in the initial taste before fading into a primarily nut-chocolate taste.

The eighth infusion has even more distinct juicy, wood-nut notes. The chocolate tastes are almost non-existent here if not just appearing just faintly in the aftertaste as a creamy-coco along with the more dominant nut and wood tastes. The mouthfeel becomes just slightly drying here but still quite soft and full.

The the ninth infusion is proof of this teas stamina. The once light colored soup gradually darkens throughout the session and develops a deeper brown-yellow colour. The tastes of this long infusion is of coco and wood. It is dry with very brief flashes of bitter milk. The soft dryness is felt deep in the throat.

This tea is put to another long infusion and delivers once again. This time a very juicy and flavourful apple-pear infusion is enjoyed cold the next morning.

This tea shows lots of movement and evolves lots over the long session. Like late Summer to Autumn, this tea gets deeper and darker as the session progresses.



Eric G. said...

I have a Balhyocha from a female farmer named Oh Yong Soon. Met her at her shop in Seoul this last spring. Her Sejak blew me away, and so did her Balhyocha (made from Sejak leaves). She told me that all her bushes died last winter so all the leaves she purchased from friend who also does picks from wild plants. So sad. Her Balhyocha tastes completely different than what you described Kin Jong Yeol. It has changed somewhat since spring, but it's still very fruity with no taste of chocolate, not to me anyway. I guess this means Balhyocha is very different from maker to maker? Or maybe I'm brewing it a different way.

Will you be reviewing Oh Young Soon's? Out of many balhyocha I tasted in Korea, I thought her's was my all around favorite.

Matt said...

Eric G.,

Have never heard of Oh Yong Soon or of her balhyocha. However in Korea there are hundreds of small producers that can make very good quality, all hand made tea. By the sounds of it, you have found one of these producers!

You are right that balhyocha can taste very different from producer to producer. Once wrote an article about the two main taste polarities of Balhyocha. It sounds like you have found the fruity-juicy type in Oh Yong Soon's balhyocha. See here:

Have heard stories of people's tea crops completely destroyed, thanks for putting a name and face to this story. See Here:

Thanks for sharing your find,