Monday, October 3, 2011

What Exactly Is Korean Balhyocha (Paryo cha)?: Part 3- How Do We Classify Balhyocha? Is It Red, Black, White, Yellow, Or Oolong Tea?

Please read Part 1- An Introduction and Some Problems With Translation (here) and Part 2- A Detailed Look At The Production Of This Unique Korean Tea (here) before proceeding to read the following...

Some of the confusion around how to categorize this tea is due to Korean dealers of bal hyo cha using different terms to market this tea to the westren/ English speaking world. Boxes of "Balhyo cha" or "Hwang cha" are translated from Korean to English as "Oolong", "Black Tea", "Red Tea", or "Yellow Tea" some even consider it a white tea. In general, Koreans consider balhyocha to be a yellow tea but most westreners don't know what a yellow tea is so it is often marketed as the more familiar red, black, or oolong tea.

It is very hard to classify these Korean teas in the typical 6 traditional categories (green, yellow, red, white, oolong, and black). But Koreans generally consider balhyocha to be in the yellow tea category (hwang cha) beacuse they call the production step of vigerous shaping/rolling, and then slow drying "min hwang" or "yellowing phase". Also, the final product pours yellow. So as a very matter a fact sensory judgement- the tea is a yellow tea.

The reason bal hyo cha is hard to define using the 6 tea classification system is because its production shares some similarities to all 6 classic tea types. The following will compare and contrast bal hyo cha production to each of these classic categories.

Bal hyo cha is different than a red tea (hong cha or what most westerners know as "black tea") beause it doesn't go through a rolling step- which forcefully exposes enzymes to air. Instead bal hyo cha goes through a shaping step that is a bit more violent than the green tea shaping but not as extreme as most red tea processing. Red teas go through quite a violent rolling- they go through an oxidizing stage that is very fast and then are roasted or hot air dried. Bal hyo cha, on the other hand, goes through a process of slow drying which takes days not hours like red tea production. Then the balhyocha is spread out and dried on the heated floor (which is also a relatively slower process compared to red tea). The biggest difference between these teas is that Bal hyo cha does not "fully" oxidize like red teas do because they don't undergo the harsher "rolling and oxidizing" method of red tea but instead undergo "yellowing".

Bal hyo cha is different than a black tea (hei cha) because black tea goes through a kill green stage after it is picked and bal hyo cha does not. However black tea does go through post fermentation or aged fermention stage. Some bal hyo cha also goes through a stage of fermentation or aging similar to that of black teas.

Bal hyo cha is different than an oolong tea because oolong tea goes through a few stages of withering and brusing but then goes through a high heat roll (kill green), shaping, then heat drying. Oolong has no slow drying (withering) stage after being shaped.

Bal hyo cha is different than white tea because white tea is not violently shaped. Also white tea is not fermented, some bal hyo cha is.

To complicate things, bal hyo cha is also different than Chinese yellow teas. Chinese yellow teas all go through a kill green stage first but bal hyo cha does not.

So after considering how bal hyo cha shares many similarities to each of these classic categories of tea, it is understandable that there has been difficulty categorizing it. This is the problem with categories. Perhaps we should just consider it a semi-oxidized tea or just simply "bal hyo cha".



Ho Go said...

Matt, a valiant effort on your part to help explain the mystery of Balhyocha. Not easy for anyone to do that is not involved with the processing of this tea. If I were unfamiliar with Balhyocha, I might be even more confused after reading your sincere effort to help explain it. But, being somewhat familiar with it, I can tell you I still don't know what to call it. This is compounded by my conversations with different growers who all have a different processing method and, some don't even ferment their tea! yet call it by the same name.
It's easy to identify the tea because they all start out as nokcha, green tea, and use the same leaves that we buy as ujeon, sejak, and, jungjak. But after they are picked, what happens to those leaves? 2 farms can be side by side but their product will not taste the same. The only thing in common will be the look of the leaves. Even the aromas will vary, much more so than different green teas from 2 different farms. All this makes for some very interesting taste tests and intrigues me more than the green teas. Balhyochas are right up there on my favorite list of teas. Drinking some this evening and thinking no explanation necessary for me. Whatever the experts decide it is, I'll be drinking it to the end. :-)

Matt said...


"the mystery of Balhyocha"

That's pretty much what it is... a bit of a mystery. Hahaha...

Thanks for your thoughts on this curious Korean tea. You sum it up nicely.