Autumn has come fast to Victoria. It moved in with cold wet temperatures blown in by high winds. Winds that blew the first of the dry leaves off startled trees and seem to change the colour of green leaves to more vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows overnight. The streets are filled with piles of these colourful leaves, trampled upon by people coughing and tying to adjust to natures seasonal progression. Ahh... the perfect time for a cup of Korean yellow tea ("Hwang Cha" or "Bal hyo cha").
On this package of Ssang Kye balhyocha the processing is clearly stated:
First this tea is picked and withered in the shade. It then goes through intervals of rubbing over a rough straw mat and rest several times. The leaves are then shaped, pressed, and stuffed into Onggi pots. They then are dried over a charcoal fire before being left to ferment (presumably in Onggi pots) for 1000 days.
It roughly follows the formula used for other Bal hyo cha. The exception is the long fermenting time- 1000 days. 1000 is auspicious in Korea and can indicate the completion of a full cycle of energy (fermentation) but with still an abundance of power left for the new cycle which it has just entered (i.e. the step of infusing and drinking this tea). With this said, is this tea experience simply like that of other Korean yellow tea, or somehow more energetically auspicious? Let's bring the brazier to a boil on this gloomy fall day and find out...
The largish dry leaves are a dull grey with greenish hues and smell of muted walnut and oak. The leaves emit a maple surup-/ brown sugar- like sweetness in the warm teapot.
The first infusion imparts a very juicy subdued fruit taste of citrus and persimmon which glide smoothly across the tongue and down the throat. A woody, sweet taste is left in the mouth and turns to a prune-wood fruit taste on the breath. The mouthfeel coats the mouth in a thin dryness which softly sends the saliva retreating and makes the tongue noticeably tingle. This is a very enjoyable sensation in the mouth.
The second infusion involves brown-sugary, mushroom, sweetness striking first followed by spicy wood persimmon notes. Its aftertaste remains sweet and juicy. The mouthfeel now sofly encroaches on the throat. The qi of this tea is warming especially comforting the upper and mid body. A soft, fuzzy sweat covers the forehead. This tea also has an overall drying feeling and quality in the body.
The third infusion is smooth and filled with subtle spices. It has started to loose some of those fruity and juicy tastes. The aftertaste is hardly sweet and tastes more of dry oak. The mouthfeel is much the same.
The fourth infusion sees light, watery, spicy wood tastes ending in a drier oak finish. Flashes of fruity tastes are spotted that fade quickly to wood in initial taste but more so in the aftertaste. A wave of spicy notes encroach minutes later. "Dry wood and persimmon fruit" sum up this tea's base flavours nicely.
The fifth infusion develops a taste that holds for many infusions to follow. Now woody notes start to take over with sweet-fruity nuances pushed into the distance. There is some spicy warm notes that appear especially in the aftertaste. The mouthfeel remains thin and dry.
When these leaves are put to long, overnight infusions they yield very flavourful, vibrant, fruity-spicy, woody-bread, persimmon notes that are quite enjoyable.
Edit (Jan. 22/2012): Note that this Ssangkye balhyocha is different than Ssangkye's "Balhyo Saejak" that is only fermented for 500 days. Ssangkye's "Balhyo Saejak" is available from Good Green Tea here.