Sunday, October 2, 2011

2011 Ssang Kye"Chun-Go-Hyang" Yellow Tea... On A Cold Autumn Day

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.



Ho Go said...

Matt, I hate to say it, but not one grower has ever mentioned the 1000 days of fermenting to me. In fact, every grower I've talked to that actually fermented their balhyocha, many do not ferment it, talk in terms of months. The stuff we've raved about from Kim Jong Yeol was from the 2010 harvest according to my conversation with them.
I'm afraid it's very difficult to use any standard of measure when speaking of balhyocha. Many styles exist. Rinzai or Soto, Sudden or Gradual, not this nor that. What the hell is this stuff? :-)

Matt said...


Have also not heard of any other producer fermenting balhyocha for 1000 days. As you say, most ferment months not years. However one has heard of longer fermenting of balhyocha before. This is likely some marketing thing, a unique way to distinguish it from the other balhyocha out there. Ssang Kye has written it on the packaging and they are a very reputable producer, so one has no reason to doubt their claims.

Ah, wrote "Of note..." in the post where one meant "Of exception..." in reference to the 1000 days. Perhaps that is what you are referring to- one has since edited it for clarity.

Again, thanks for your thoughts.

"What the hell is this stuff"....




Ho Go said...

I never got the chance to try ssanggye's Balhyocha. I will have to leave it for next trip but it will be on my list. All this will give me more to discuss with the various farms.

BTW, did you enjoy the Kim Jong Yeol 'sunrise' tea? I also like Woomung's Balhyocha.

Matt said...


The mouthfeel of this tea was interesting for a balhyocha- a much rounder and active feel than most. Could it be a result of long fermenting of semi-wild leaves???

Regarding the long fermentation time- was recently told that Jukro ferments its famous "Uricha" balhyocha for 3 years! One always thought that this tea gets 3 months (not years) of fermentation but, could be wrong (world slowly falling apart... hahaha). Will have to double check with the producer and let you know which one is correct.

Just finished the second long overnight steeping of spent leaves of the Kim Jong Yeol "Sunrise" this morning. It still yields wonderful very juicy and flavourful apple-pear notes. This is a very light balhocha. Expect a full post on this in the next week or so.

Don't think Woomung's Balhyocha has ever graced one's pallet.

The mystery balhyocha #1 here:

Didn't last long enough- a great balhyocha.


eric said...

Hi Matt,

I have been greatly enjoying reading your posts on Korean yellow teas. So much so that I am wondering how to get some of the tea myself. Would you have any suggestions? Especially for someone who is unable to read Korean. :)

I have seen two at Dao Tea, but would love to try some of the others referenced in your posts. Any help would be greatly appreciated, and forgive me if I am, missing something obvious.


Matt said...


Check out the extensive list of Korean Yellow teas for sale by English vendors here:

As far as recent posts on 2011 Korean Yellow tea go, you can purchase the 2011 Jukro balhyocha from Coreacolor see the link at the end of this recent post:

Although the site is in French, the staff at Coreacolor can communicate in English. Jukro's balhyocha is a classic.

The 2011 Kim Jong Yeol Sunrise balhyocha mentioned in the above comments can also be purchased from Teamountain (Martin can also communicate in English) see here:

There will be a post on this tea in the next week or so.

Hope that helps,


Eric Benoit said...

Thanks Matt!!

I somehow missed that Coreacolor link. I knew about the links you had provided previously in the 10/07 post, but spaced on remembering where I saw them. However, I should have specified the predominate interest in the 2011 Jukro balhyocha, so the link to Coreacolor is very helpful.

All the best, and thanks for helping someone who needs to pay a bit more attention. ;)

Eric Benoit

Pedro said...

The stove! Matt, don't finish that charcoal too soon :) I'd love to see it (and the David Louveau teapot) in action... keeping a few Saebyok leaves for the occasion.

Matt said...


Ah, you spotted the stove in the Jukro Balhyocha post?

Last week one prepared the Kim Jeong Yeol Saebyok (sunrise) balhyocha with water boiled over traditional Korean oak charcoal in a Kim Jeong Hoon ceramic tang gwan. You don't know what you're missing... Hahaha.

Hope to see you soon over good tea.


Matt said...


Jukro's balhyocha was actually fermented for 3 years until the 2011 harvest. A representative from Jukro actually said that last year they had used up all of their three years fermented stock of balhyocha. This could account for the lighter than usual loose balhyocha this 2011 season. See here:

This may also be the reason Jukro started producing the cake form of balhyocha so that its aging potential could be reached.


Ho Go said...

Thanks for the good info.

Matt said...


Interestingly, Jukro now ferments this tea (at least the 2011 harvest) for about 3 months. Just as one suspected... Hahaha...