Monday, February 6, 2012

DAVIDsTEA Korean Sejak: The First Big Tea Chain To Sell Korean Tea



There are both good and bad things about a large tea chain offering Korean tea. The bad is that these big tea chains often don't store tea appropriately so the tea becomes somewhat stale. They also often stock the cheapest tea and sell it using descriptions that often misrepresent the tea. If someone who has never tried Korean tea is first exposed to this improperly stored tea that is of less quality, they may feel that all Korean tea is not so good. On the other hand the good things about big tea chains selling Korean tea is that it exposes a wider audience to Korean tea. This is likely to implore tea drinkers to explore other Korean teas (see an extensive list here). Also it allows the sale of relatively expensive Korean tea for an inexpensive price that anyone can enjoy. This sort of leads to another point- it makes Korean tea less pretentious and exclusive and more casual.

So, with that said, Canadian tea company DAVIDsTEA is that store- the very first large tea chain store in the West to sell Korean tea! DavidsTea was founded in Toronto by David Segal and Herschel Segal just a few years ago and has really exploded thoughout Canada over the last few years. Currently, they have over 70 stores from coast to coast across Canada and have locations in all medium sized Canadain cities and multiple locations in the larger cities. They now have expanded into the US market and have three stores in New York City. They offer a very slick, welcoming, contemporary-minimalist feel with passionate and outgoing staff. They are what's "Cool" in Canada besides the weather.

The Korean tea they offer is called "Korean Sejak". The name "Korean Sejak" is in reference to both the origin of the tea, Korea, and when it was picked, Sejak. Seajak teas are picked between April 30th-May 10th and contain a smaller leaf. This tea is much cheaper than other teas grown in Korea. At $7.00 for 50g it very accessible to those wishing to try Korean tea for the first time or for those who are just curious (sip, sip). Early accounts of this tea source it from Jiri Mountain however now DAVIDsTEA is clear that it comes from Jeju Island. The description of this tea is as follows, "Grown in a monastic style garden in the Halla Mountain Slopes of Korea, this tea is lovingly tended by those who enter into a monk lifestyle to devote their lives to tea." When a spokesperson from DAVIDsTEA was contacted about the source of this tea he confirmed that this tea is sourced from two Jeju Island tea cooperatives not a monastery as the description would have you believe. He also stated that the leaves are handmade or partly handmade.

Having a look at the dry leaves it very much looks like this tea is mostly if not completely machine produced. This is often done to produce consistency of product that is comprised of tea from different gardens and locations. The leaves are a real mix in colour and size with many broken pieces. They smell of a cloudy, very fruity passion fruit, citrus, and mint. There are floral odours as well that are less established. These softer notes have a very thin dry grass note undernieth. The colour range is from light lime green to deeper rich, oily dark green.

These leaves are placed in a warmed pot. Water that has cooled considerably is poured into the teapot.



The first infusion delivers distinct floral-orange initial tastes along with limey, pondy, green wood depth. Bitter notes slip by with fruity suggestions of sweetgrass and hay. The aftertaste is very long and transitions to a bland lime taste with distant floral suggestions. The sweet orange-melon florals stay in the long aftertaste with notes of lime as well. The orange taste is much like that of the Jeju citrus famous in that region, the Jeju gamgyul. The mouthfeel is chalky mainly on the tongue and lips and coats the mouth in a chalky-stickiness that reaches the mid throat, this mouthfeel really satisfies as it stretches the aftertaste.



The second infusion is of lime, chalky strongish bitter pushing at moderating sweetness. This initial taste has a long distinct tangy orange peel aftertaste. There are some very distant florals on the breath minutes later after the orange taste weakens a bit. After these tastes have disappeared a saltiness is left in the mouth. The mouthfeel remains very full.



The third infusion starts with distinct rose flavours early and stretch slowly into a lime, almost dry wood, taste- a very simple profile. The aftertaste contains bitter-bland florals with some very faint orange still left. There is a saltiness that is left on the breath. The mouthfeel is all coating, chalky, and thick and is becoming drying at times. The qi is felt in the eyes, making them clear and heavy. The chest and shoulders feel a little relief- the qi is pretty mild here but not insignificant.



The fourth infusion has faint florals with a light bland wood taste that gets more bland as it stretches into the aftertaste. A faint floral sweetness punches through. Minutes later a salty aftertaste emerges.



The fifth infusion is of faint florals with a wood-lime base. A subtle salty-lime aftertaste is left in the still solid mouthfeel. This simple taste repeats itself in the sixth infusion but is more bland and woody now.



Found that this tea can turn bitter fast with either too much leaf or too hot of water. Less water and cooler temperature yeilds much better results with this tea.

Peace

13 comments:

CloudMountain said...

All Hail The Starbucks of Tea.

Matt said...

CloudMountain,

They certainly are getting Canadians excited about tea though. That couldn't be a bad thing.

In the end it will probably create more interest for more specialized tea shops. Again, not a bad thing...

Hahahaha... "The Starbucks of Tea"

Hahaha

Peace

Tammy Quackenbush said...

There's a large Amercian tea seller called STASH that sells a Jeju green tea, too. I suspect they sell tea of a similar quality to what you're describing here w/ small leaves.

CloudMountain said...

I just not big on chains, especially tea chains. Not very Cha Dao if you know what I mean.

In any case I just hope they never come to my town as I'm in the process of opening a Tea House very soon.

Matt said...

Tammy Quackenbush,

Thanks. Did not know that. Now guess we have to change the title of this post. Hahaha

See here:

http://www.stashtea.com/Stash-Tea-Jeju-Korean-Green/dp/B005DM5O7E

CloundMountain,

Yes, there is something about getting tea from a big chain that feels not right. It is a new concept.

Think there are just some people who will always avoid the whole Cha Dao-ness of tea shops. Maybe they are intimidated by it or cannot relate to it.

For the bustling always consuming consumer- how does the Cha Dao of tea fit with their world view?

So places like DAVIDsTEA or STASH may act like a gateway tea experience that can lead to deeper experiences with tea.

Or maybe not.

Hahaha

Peace

Mary Lou Heiss said...

Matt,

I see this type of innocent or not so innocent manipulation of the truth/ origin, etc about certain teas all the time. This often begins with tea wholesalers or importers and continues with tea retailers who perhaps do not know enough about what they are selling to know the difference or to know what's what or to know that they should care. Tea selling has become a bit like the old wild West - no rules and truth that is stretched every which way. I think that in about 10 years time, once tea has become firmly rooted in Western culture, it will be more difficult for un-truths to be bandied about.

Matt said...

Mary Lou Heiss,

Don't think its fair to single the big tea chains out on misinformation because there was actually some misinformation in this blog post- the founder of DAVIDsTEA is not Karl Moore but the Segal's (this has since been corrected)!

Besides, tea vendors of any shape and size often do this too, its just the first time one has seen it done with Korean tea.

Thanks for bringing this up.

Peace

GoodGreenTea said...

As you mentioned, there are pros and cons about big chain sell Korean green teas. But I am so happy that more people will be exposed to Korean teas. I also worry that a low quality of Korean tea might give bad impression of Korean tea.

Taste is information you get from your brain. Sometimes the taste can be affected by not only quality of tea but also with whom you drink and where you drink. Drinking Korean Sejak of DavidsTea with my best friends can give better taste than drinking Ujeon with ex girl friend. :)

But.... I am very curious to know how DavidsTea can offer only $7 for 50g of Sejak?
It may be just a name, not true Sejak level. :)

Sam

Matt said...

Sam,

You are right that there is a psychological aspect that surrounds tea. Most tea stores are not only selling tea but are also selling something greater than tea- a kind of exclusivity, experience, desire, or uniqueness. We have to ask ourselves this: Would we still really really love that 40 year old puerh cake if everyone had one in their cupboards?

One is also curious how they can offer this tea so inexpensively. Remember that the traditional tea picking seasons don't apply as much to tropical island of Jeju. So saejak grade in Jeju maybe more close to jungjak grade on the peninsula. The tasting notes speak for themselves though this tea has the characteristic Jeju tea notes- the slight citrus acidic notes as well as the salty aftertaste.

Peace

Tammy Quackenbush said...

I bought some of Stash's Jeju tea to try out after discovering it totally by accident. I don't think they promoted it enthusiastically, maybe because they don't have a large quantity of it to sell.

I'm not a tea expert by any stretch but it is a pleasant enough drink.

Anonymous said...

Hi Matt,

Sorry if I gave the impression that my barbs were especially pointed at large tea companies. I was referring generically to tea importers and retail tea vendors of any and all sizes who intentionally or un-intentionally mis-represent the quality or provenance of the tea they sell.

Which is why we are all thankful for all you do to educate everyone about Korean tea and tea culture!

Mary Lou Heiss said...

Hi Matt,

Oops..the anonymous comment above was actually from me. Pushed the wrong button.

Matt said...

Tammy Quackenbush,

Thanks for your report on STASH Jeju Korean Green- pleasant enough.

Mary Lou Heiss,

Didn't think that your comment was specifically referring to big tea chains. Given that we are discussing it in this thread, one just wanted to point out that this is not an issue that we see exclusively with big companies, small companies are just as guilty. That's all.

Thanks again for all the great discussion.

Peace