Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Korean Tea Gardens & Farms: Farm Cooperatives, Company Farms, Large Family Gardens, & Micro-Gardens

Korea is quite a unique place. Even the largest tea farms and gardens are very small scale compared to the growing operations of its neighbors in China and Japan. Simply put, all Korean tea gardens are tinny. However, within Korea there are increasingly smaller productions. This post will look at the four types of tea farms/ gardens in Korea.

Farm cooperative use is the most common way Korean agricultural products are brought to market. Tea is an agricultural product so, quite naturally, tea coops do exist. Many family owned tea farms are all picked and the tea is produced together. Usually, the tea is either hand or machine picked but almost always it is machine produced to maintain consistency of the final product. This method of production is common in Jeju and Boseong producing areas but are quite uncommon in Hadong. The quality of tea produced from coops varies greatly. Examples of these are DAVIDsTEA's Korean Sejak picked in Jeju, almost all Boseong tea, and even Dong Cheon of Hadong.

Company farms/gardens are usually quite small and can involve either machine or hand picked tea leaves. Company farms can be some of the biggest gardens seen in the country but are still quite small compared to the tea fields of China and Japan. They can vary from almost exclusively machine picked and produced tea (such as O'sulloc in Jeju), to completely hand picked and produced teas such as all companies in Hadong (such as Jukro, Joytea, Ssangkye, Woon Sang). Many of these producer farms in Hadong actually have some of the best geographical locations that produce some of the finest hand produced semi-wild tea in Korea.

Larger family farms are actually not that large at all. They are small operations which are almost exclusively hand picked and produced, usually they are of a semi-wild tea plant which is minimally cared for. The difference between these farms and company farms is that these farmers live right off the land. The farms are usually somewhat smaller than the company farms as well. There is large variability in their harvests from year to year. Examples of these are Kim Jong Yeol's Butea and Kim Shin Ho's Samtea. Alternatively, some families in Hadong just keep large semi-wild tea fields but don't produce their own tea. Instead they rent the fields to teamasters who wish to produce their own tea.

Micro-gardens are extraordinarily small productions by locals who have lived with tea and on the land for decades. Often these people have simply been making tea their whole life in this manner. These teas are your only chance for true wild tea in Korea but are very hard to come by even in Korea. These teas rarely get sold outside Korea and are purchased by teamasters within Korea. They rarely hit the shelves for sale to the general public and, if so, often sell for very steep prices. Within the next year or so I imagine these teas will make their way into the Westren market.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

2011 Hankook "Jungsun" Jungjak Korean Green Tea

Is it Spring or still Winter? The movement of the seasons seems confused, this Winter, this day. Late afternoon snow falls on chilly cherry blossoms outside- a warm green tea seems just right.

This tea, a jungjak grade, comes gifted from Sam of Good Green Tea. The tea is Hankook Tea's standard jungjak (for more on Hankook Tea see here). Let's heat up the ol'hotplate and enjoy this tea as the sun sets between snow heavy clouds.

The longish dark green dry leaves emit a cereal-grassy odour and leave a trail of heavy floral sweetness behind it. These leaves are placed in the warmed teapot and the first infusion is prepared.
It offers very smooth deeper forest notes which turn to a creamy sweetness in the mouth. It has a creamy grassy-wood undertone to it, simple and smooth throughout. The mouthfeel is light and stimulates mainly the front of the mouth.

The second infusion presents prominent creamy-grass-wood notes along with a creamy-sweet taste that is hard to separate from the initial taste. There is a consistence about this smooth creamy taste that stabilizes the profile of this tea. The mouthfeel is now felt prominently on the front half of the tongue. The aftertaste is first of grassy-lime sweetness that traverses to a heavier, tangy, floral sweetness. This aftertaste is long and is felt between the teeth minutes later.

The third infusion has stronger, blander, wood notes which arrive first in the mouth. The grassy forest notes are suppressed by simple wood tastes. The aftertaste comes under these distinct and simple wood notes and reveals that tangy-lime floral quality. An underlying creaminess ties everything together. The qi is mild/weak on the body and mind.

The fourth infusion is basically the same as the last with perhaps a thicker, chalkier mouthfeel.

The fifth is dryer and woodier still a very simple woody forest taste. The creamy sweetness is no where to be found. A chalky-smooth tangy aftertaste lingers. Faint qi can be found pooling in the back of the skull. The sixth infusion is dry and unpalatable.


Monday, February 20, 2012

2011 Dong Cheon "Dan Cha" Semi-Wild Hwagae Valley Red Tea

Arthur Park of Morning Crane Tea kindly sent the four Dong Cheon teas that he distributes. Of all the hundreds of Korean teas one has tried, never were they red tea. Over the last few years Koreans started developing a pallet for red tea (English call it black tea). So, quite naturally, one was egar to try this unlikely Korean tea.

First, there needs to be a comment on the name of this tea, "Dan-cha". Arthur stated that the teamaster at Dong Cheon Tea, Kim Jong Gyun, prefered to call this tea "Dan-cha". This is interesting because red tea in Korea is commonly known as "hongcha", the Chinese transliteration. What is also interesting is that this tea is not named the literal red colour in Korean which is "Bbal kang". So this begs the question, "Why is the name "Dan-cha" preferred?

The name "Dan-cha" has Daoist roots and implies good health. More specifically "Dan" here is alluding to the "Dantian" or "cinnabar field". Essentially it is referring to a deeper essence of red or cinnabar red. It has health implications because it suggests that the chaqi of this tea can touch our essence as it traverses the three chambers of our body. Arthur has since commented that the name was intended to imply "Dan-yak" or "miracle cure", another Daoist view of the teas potential health benefits.

Let's sit down with this tea meditatively and see if this tea is truly red tea, if it stands up to its name, and if its chaqi is at all penetrating.

The dry leaf is comprised of small black saejak grade leaves. They smell of deep, meaty, licorice notes with light woody-raisin notes in the distance. There is an interesting meaty-pungent odour in there as well.

These leaves are placed in a warm pot and water that spends only seconds in the cooling pot is makes its way over these leaves.

The first infusion presents with smooth-creamy bitter-sweet mild astringent black tea initial taste. The colour of the pour is a vibrant red-brown- if any doubts about it being a hongcha have arisen they are completely gone. A woody-raisin taste with a smooth sweet finish fills the mouth. There is a lingering mahogany-date quality to the finishing taste. The mouthfeel is full and goes down to the lower throat, coating it. One breaks a sweat all over, cheeks feel flushed, ones mind accelerated. A maple syrup-like sweetness is left on the breath appearing minutes later.

The second infusion presents with a smooth-deep wood raisin bittersweet taste before a tangy undercurrent passes by. There are strong notes of walnut which present first here as well. The taste fades until faint chocolate notes appear. It finishes as more of a mahogany-chocolate taste, sweetness circles the mouth as well with raisin and deeper foresty wood on the breath. The aftertaste is long and complex, the mouthfeel is deep and full. Each cup pushes one into a hot flash and sweat- this qi is strong and warm, penetrating indeed.

The third infusion has tangy notes that are almost citrus and present first over the wood-raisin base. They evolve to a creamy, raisin, walnut, almost-chocolate, deep wood taste. There is a prominent and even sweetness throughout. The mouthfeel is more chalky and thick but a soft quality coats the full throat and mouth. A sweet syrupy-nut-raisin is left in the long aftertaste.

The fourth has a soft chalky wood start which becomes tangy before the deeper raisin wood is revealed. It turns tangy again as the wood-faded raisin sweetness holds in the aftertaste. The mouthfeel now has a soft, dry quality to it. The qi still pushes hard with each cup.

The fifth sees the soft, sweet, deep walnuty-wood taste becoming lighter now and evolving into a deeper mahogany raisin which comes out later and lingers with sweetness.

In the sixth soft, sweet, tangy wood start fades into a juicy and faint fruity nutty watery raisin taste. The fruit notes come out in this infusion. The mouthfeel is slowly coming out of the throat and more into the mouth, it is a little drying.

The seventh infusion is much the same with fruit notes more obvious and a touch of malty-syurpy sweet finish noted. The mouthfeel continues its evolution to a thinner chalkier type.

The eighth infusion presents more of the fruity-wood bark initial taste with that red tea astringency gone this tea now tastes like quality balhyocha. It evolves into a deeper woody taste. The mouthfeel hold the upper throat and mouth.

This tea is enjoyed for another four or five pots. Here woody notes are more dominant but still full complex flavours can be found. Of note are the appricot and faint coco undertones enjoyed in these late infusions.

Link to Cha Yi Ji's Tasting Notes

Link to dicipleoftheleaf's Tasting Notes

Currently 2011 Dan-cha is available from the following vendors:

Morning Crane Tea

Phoenix Tea House


Thursday, February 16, 2012

2012 Victoria Tea Festival

Every year more and more people attend Victoria's Annual Tea Festival. Every year the Victoria Tea Festival becomes more and more mainstream with an increasing amount of large tea companies taking up space on the floor. Also many non-tea exhibitors have managed to proliferate the conference floor. This is good and healthy because it indicates a more mainstream acceptance of tea, but has less to offer those who are truly serious about their tea.

Someone who has exhibited every year said that the Victoria Tea Festival has lost its small local feel and has become more corporate. However there are still some great returning small tea vendors that have stuck it out.

Here is a list of a few of these must see exhibitors that tea enthusiasts might want to check out this Saturday and Sunday at Crystal Gardens:

May Ip Gallery- Have a conversation with the charming grandma from Yunnan, it will make your day.

Chado Tea House- Peter and Fumi offer possibly some of the best Japanese tea at the Tea Festival served up in proper Japanese style. Compare their Japanese teas to the local favorites Silk Road and Jagasilk.

Jagasilk- Let Jared and Miyu serve you up some of the freshest matcha you will ever taste outside of Japan.

Silk Road- You won't be able to miss this local favorite, Michelle's booth is always beautifully decorated and the most interesting to explore.

Remember all proceeds go to charity so why not check it out anyways?


Sunday, February 12, 2012

2011 Hankook "Teuksun" Saejak Korean Green Tea

This saejak grade tea comes courtesy of Sam of Good Green Tea. In chatting, Sam had mentioned that he recommends Hankook tea's to those people who have weaker stomachs but who still wish to enjoy Korean green tea. So what makes this green tea better on your stomach than most other Korean tea? Hankook's tea is steamed in the kill green stage instead of the traditional pan frying. Steaming causes biochemical changes which lead to a green tea that is much easier on the stomach. One has been taking advantage of this over the last week or so by squeezing in some tea sessions late in the afternoon on an empty stomach.

Today the azaleas in front of the house are just starting to bloom a healthy vibrant pink- this feels right. The recent bloom of flowers is starting to feel more natural. Also it feels more natural to choose this saejak to drink today.

In examining the dry leaf we are greeted with deep and fresh green forest notes. The deep notes are like the leaves of deciduous forests while the fresh notes are like freshly cut grass. There is a faint roasted barley smell in the distance.

The first infusion is prepared and a very light, sweet, watery, soft, hardly roasted, grainy taste is noticed. There are soft suggestions of fruit that never really develop- an almost ghostly blueberry taste is just in the distance. The soft mellow sweetness lingers into the aftertaste without too much fuss but delivers a soft creamy floral sweetness. The mouthfeel is soft and a bit chalky.

The second infusion presents a light, smooth, somewhat simple, creamy initial lime taste which meets a deep forest taste. These flavours brush against a blandish-dry-tree-bark taste before it transitions to wood in the mouth. The wood moves into a distinct sweetness before it finishes with distinct sweet fruit. The sweetness mixes with the light chalky mouthfeel and is accentuated. This transition of taste is slow, long, and is therefore easy to observe. A creamy somewhat sweet floral taste is left in the mouth. A melon taste develops on the breath minutes later.

The third infusion delivers an initial taste of creamy, somewhat sweet, start which is flanked by simple woody-grain notes. These notes fade slowly and get more woody as the cereal notes disappear then traverse slowly to a simple sweetness. Like in the second infusion these tastes are somewhat simple and transition slowly and clearly. Faint fruits try to develop but don't quite. The mouthfeel is light and a bit chalky. A soft sweetness clings to the somewhat sticky mouthfeel most noted on the sides of the mouth. This taste stays for a long time afterwards.

In the fourth, barely sweet-creamy notes are now shared with an increasingly dry-wood-forest taste which present first. They transition to a fresher-lime-sweet edge which shows itself before disappearing as the soft, faint, sweet aftertaste. A soft but distinct sugary-sweetness coats the thin chalky mouthfeel. There is a slight fruity berry edge here.

The fifth is even stronger on the dry-wood-bark initial taste. The transition to a sweet, but still distinctly woody, taste is simple and holds this line into the aftertaste. The woody notes gradually drop off and interesting faint floral notes arrive in the sweetness revealing themselves minutes later on the breath. The qi of this tea is quite mild with not much going on.

The sixth infusion is dry, woody, and bland- this tea has little but a slightly sugary sweetness. A very light spicy aftertaste is enjoyed which turns to floral and lingers even minutes later.

This tea is also available directly from Hankook Tea in 100g size.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Korean Tea Exhibition

Just wanted to inform any interested readers that The Tea Institute at Penn State is hosting a five day long Korean Tea Exhibition. Some heavyweights of Korean tea will be presenting which include Brother Anthony of Taize, Steven Owyoung, and Hong Kyeoung-Hee all of which are authors of The Korean Way of Tea and/or Korean Tea Classics. The Penn State Tea Institute is the same group that brought Stephane of Teamaster's Blog and author Tea Parker to Penn State last year (see here).

The exhibition runs from April 3rd-8th and will offer many events that are free to the public. Those interested should contact Jason Cohen, the president of the institute, for details at


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.


Friday, February 3, 2012

Hankook Tea Introduction and 2011 Hankook "Gamnong" Early Saejak Korean Green Tea

Hankook is one of the oldest tea companies in Korea and have been producing tea since the 1950s. They are famously known as the first Korean tea company to set up shop in the West when they opened their store in Los Angeles years ago. Hankook Tea has a strong presence in Korea and their teas can be found in upscale department stores such as Lotte Department Store. They are quite popular in their hometown of Gwangju, Korea's sixth largest city.

Currently they own four tea gardens in the southwest of the peninsula in South Jolla Province. Had once heard a Korean teamaster refer to these areas broadly as the "Gwangju tea growing area". More specifically they have gardens in Haenam, Youngam, Jangsung, and famous Boseong. All the tea they produce is hand picked and machine processed. Hankook uses the steaming method instead of the more traditional iron cauldron frying method to kill green. The result is less traditional but more stable quality green tea.

Hankook currently has two tea lines- a classic line and, starting last year, an organic line. The classic line is produced from tea that comes from a mixture of their four tea gardens with the taste standardized by the machine processing. The organic line is produced exclusively from a single certified USDA organic tea garden in Jangsung that is also certified green label (the highest standard of Korean organic certification).

The very generous Sam of Good Green Tea has kindly gifted the entire classic line in the new Hankook Tea 40g cylinder packaging. Expect reviews of these teas in the coming weeks and months. The first up is the Gamnong an early Saejak. A bit of an unnatural tea for the middle of winter, but as confused flowers bloom on this bright overcast day, it somehow feels right.

The very small deep green leaves smell of a rich, deep, smooth rubbery sweetness with distinct creamy florals. Distant wood notes and lighter vegital green forest layers are also pined down. These leaves are added to a prewarmed tea pot and the first infusion commences.

The first infusion presents with a soft, smooth, very sweet, juicy taste that rolls nicely to fragrant, flowering florals in a bright green cup. The aftertaste contains some smooth barely green-lime notes but mainly briezy-soft and smooth floral tastes. The mouthfeel is thin but round in the mouth, it induces salivation, its almost chalky.

The second infusion starts with creamy intensely sweet florals which share space with touches of green lime forested tastes. The sweet soft flowing floral taste is all that is left in the full aftertaste that shares room with both green and some lesser deep forest notes. There are soft cherry notes that come out with a slight bitterness when this tea is pushed harder. There is a dominating soft, creamy sweetness in the aftertaste.

The third infusion presents a full creamy-chalky floral taste which evoloves in the mouth slowly turning a bit woody-lime then into that smooth, sweet, floral aftertaste. This aftertaste is smooth and long and wallows in a mouthfeel that is full but doesn't enter the throat. The mouthfeel is thin but with sustenance.

The fourth infusion presents soft floral greeny lime initial tastes with dry wood notes starting to comprise more of the mix. The greeny-lime notes have encroached on smooth sweet florals. Now the sweeter notes and subtle bitterness reside more in the distance here. The aftertaste is faint wood then slowly to a sweeter-floral-barely woody aftertaste. The qi of this tea is mild-calming on the mind and soft on the body.

The fifth infusion has woody-dry muted tastes which now dominate the initial taste with lime-forest notes revealing a touch of sweetness. The aftertaste is still woody but floral notes can be sensed there. A soft-bitter-bland residue is left in the mouth that has barely sweet edges now. Some chalky fruit element flashes in the mouth. The mouthfeel becomes a touch grainy.

The sixth infusion reveals woody, bland, deeper forest tastes. There is not much left to this tea other than a faint sweet floral taste distant in the aftertaste.

This tea is also available directly from Hankook in 100g size.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

2005 Douji Purple Yi Sheng

Half of a 10g sample pack of this much talked about tea arrived from generous Dr. Hobbes a while ago. One had tried much of the 2006 and 2007 Douji cakes years back when they were fresh but still have not experienced the famous 2005 cakes. So, quite naturally, was excited to finally try this sample. The Pacific Northwest got a dumping of snow a few weeks ago, rare for Victoria. Thought it a perfect time to cuddle up to the fire and spend some quality time with a pot of this tea.

The dry leaves smell of strong raisin-tobacco with a slight underlying pungency. These leaves are rinsed with hot water before the first infusion is consumed. It presents with creamy muted tropical fruits initially within a chalky full mouthfeel. Tobacco and wood present nicely in the aftertaste. Overlapping tropical layers return with a sweetness that lingers long and strong on the breath.

The second infusion first flirts smokey tobacco then nuanced layers of sweetness among the tobacco. The tropical fruit notes have been pushed under these elegantly rugged tobacco notes. The aftertaste is an extension of these full tobacco notes. The mouthfeel becomes expansive. The chaqi warms ones body with a movement from the stomach and traveling upwards making the forearms warm, face softly flush, and forehead pull down- not quite enough to break a sweat as this energy finds no escape thereby warming the body further.

The third infusion starts with light, juicy pear sweetness which carries with it tobacco and wood. The taste stretches into a deeper wood note. The mouthfeel is nice and full. The fourth infusion starts off fruity but more of a melon than pear taste in that familiar tobacco-wood base. The aftertaste is more sweet tobacco then later turns to sweet fruit on the breath.

The fifth infusion presents with more flatter wood flavour initially with faint melon tastes. Tobacco taste fills in the gaps and a cool menthol returning aftertaste is noted. The sixth infusion is much the same with the cool menthol returning tobacco sweetness stronger now. There is also a spicy-pungent melon taste left in the long aftertaste as well.

The seventh and eighth infusions have smoothed out considerably now offering a melon-smooth-tobacco taste with tobacco menthol returning sweetness and a spicy-sweet aftertaste that only reveals itself later on the breath. The mouthfeel has become more rich and oily.

The ninth infusion is quite a deep mix of flavours with the more spicy-wood tastes in the initial taste and the tobacco sweet tastes pairing with the distinctly cool menthol in the finish. The tenth and eleventh infusions see more malty tones come out in these flavours. The tongue feels a bit dry and gritty here.

The twelfth and thirteenth infusions present full flavoured peach and woody, almost anise like flavours that are pushed out of this full mouthfeel in longer infusions.

This tea is also put to a handful of overnight steeping yielding pleasant peachy notes in a deep base and still satisfying mouthfeel.

Hobbes (The Half Dipper) Tasting Notes

MarshalN (A Tea Addict's Journal) Tasting Notes