Thursday, May 29, 2008

Marathoning with Tea: Running the Boseong Green Tea Marathon

Fireworks explode into the air, men and women dressed in skimp workout gear trickle out of the rural stadium to mark the beginning of a long and hilly run.

In this small farming town, the runners pass tea bushes that line the edges of simple farm houses. Within the first kilometers of the run, just on the outskirts of the small town, typical polly-tarped greenhouses are identified by a sign that reads 'Boseong Green Tea Reseach Station'. This is tea country. This is where the most identifiable tea in Korea comes from- Boseong Green Tea.

The course points out of town and into the country where small patches of tea can be spotted on the side of the mountain. The runners take in the sweeping green mountain sides and river valleys- sweat dripping down their heads in the humid sun. One must remember to stay hydrated, a stop at the water station is needed to replenish electrolytes. To ones surprise water as well as tea is offered. One gulps back a cup of green before trudging along once again.

Soon kilometers come and go, muscles, start to tighten and burn- 42.195 kilometers is a long time to run, but the energy of the tea pushes one forth.

More kilometers slip away, more tea is sipped away. Soon one hits the wall as the rolling hills take a toll on aching, burning muscles. Wavering on the brink, barely able to push on, ones body begins to shut down, then almost in that instant, distant chanting can be heard...

“Nok Cha, Nok Cha, Nok Cha”

Nok Cha is Korean for Green Tea... Is ones mind going crazy?!?

The chanting is getting louder, approaching from behind...


Soon the small group of men catch up and engulf the exhausted runner. Now we all chant together, “NOK CHA, NOK CHA, NOK CHA”

The mantra of tea induces a last push, a runners high, oral adrenaline. Ones body is broken but feels alive once again. Pushing through to the finish line dispite ones body now in shambles- one gives thanks to tea.

One lines up for green tea noodle soup served with green tea kimchi- special green tea cuisine served right up after the marathon. Ones body is in such rough shape that one is unable to finish the tea laden meal. One collapses at a nearby hotel and, a few hours later, wakes up to excruciating pain as the muscles of the body disdain even the idea of contraction.

A local offers one a lift to the green tea spa, a perfect remedy for these tired muscles. On the way to the spa we snake around valley roads completely surrounded by tidy rows of bright green tea bushes.

Dipping ones tired muscles in 42 degree hot green tea baths puts them at ease.

After an hour or so stepping in the tea, one went down the street to try some of the famous green tea feed pork. Tea is in such quantities here that it is fed daily to the local pigs. One gives thanks for the best pork one will probably ever try and for the life that was sacrificed for this pleasure.

Looking back as one leaves this small town one whispers,

“What a crazy tea filled day.”


Monday, May 19, 2008

Making Green Tea the Traditional Korean Way- Part Four: Final Processing

When leaves have gone through the cycle of drying and rolling a few times, it becomes apparent that they cannot endure another round of rolling without breaking. The once soft and suble green leaves have become a crisp, brittle, dark grayish-green purple. When the leaves display these features it is time for them to rest.
They are carefully removed by hand and laid to rest on large screens, the same type that functionally adorn window sills. These screens allow for the largest surface area of the leaf to be exposed to air. In this way the tea sits idle, maintaining its preserved energies overnight.

The next day the tea awakens only to be returned once more to the cauldron. This final round of drying is under low heat. The fragile and brittle leaves are carefully turned by hand for a long period of time. As the tea is drying it emits a yellowish-white powder as it has done throughout repeated, long exposure to the heat of the cauldron. This powder leaves a residue in the aluminum cauldron and coats the dark hair of those working over the cauldron in a ghostly white film. The yellowish-white powder is actually the chemical constitute of caffeine. As the bitter-fresh leaves are exposed to long bouts of heat, caffeine is coxed out resulting in the final sweet taste and smell of Korean green tea.

After long hours of special handling over low heat, the leaves are completely dried. They are then placed on a traditional woven sifter where they cool. When they have cooled down, an old lady picks up the sifter and sifts out the dirt, dust, and chipped pieces of leaves using a method that has been passed down for hundreds of years in Korea. Her motions push the unwanted pieces to the edge where they are removed from the rest of the leaves.

After they have been sifted and have completely cooled they will be taken away to be placed in foil bags, the foil bags will be placed in boxes, and the boxes placed on tea shop shelves. It is here where these preserved leaves wait patiently for one to prepare them. They eagerly anticipate a time to come when warm water hits their shriveled, shrunken, curled, grayish-purple bodies, transforming them into what they were before, bright green and full of energy.

Cho Ui wrote the following about the final steps of making tea,

After one is finished making tea, it must be dried and placed into a chest. The chest must be sealed with paper for three days to allow tea to restore its true essence. After three days have gone by, tea must be retreated over low heat in an iron cauldron so that it becomes fully and completely dried.

Once the tea is dried and then cooled, it needs to be stored in a container. Tea needs to be gently guided into a container. Tea needs to be covered with bamboo bark,before the lid is sealed with thin white paper that is wrapped around the opening. A brick that is taken from the flames and then cooled is placed on top to completely seal the opening when the container is placed in storage. It is crucial that no wind makes its way into the container and it is also important that the container is not placed near open flames. If wind makes its way into the container, the tea leaves take on cold, negative qualities and if the container is near open flames, the tea leaves prematurely take on a yellowish colour.

Paraphrased from a Translation of Cha Shin Jeon in The Book of Korean Tea by Yang-Seok Yoo with changes


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Making Green Tea the Traditional Korean Way- Part Three: Rolling the Tea, Drying the Tea

When the tea leaves have spent some time on the hot cauldron and are becoming soft and subtle, it is now time for them to be rolled. The first rolling takes place in the hot cauldron. The old ladies working over the hot heat of the cauldron push down on the leaves, briefly compressing them before they are rolled together. This process allows the moisture in the leaves to dissipate thereby sealing within the fresh energy of the tea.

When the leaves have absorbed enough of the heat they shrink, wilt, and loose some of their bright green luster they once proudly displayed. They are removed from the heat of the cauldron and are laid to rest on linen tightly pinned to a wood tabletop. They are then hand rolled much in the same way fresh dough is hand rolled and kneaded. This rolling is done to achieve maximum flavour and aroma evenly distributed over the surface of each leaf. It also conditions the leaf to curl tightly on itself as it drys. The soft leaves are rolled vigorously, but carefully. One must be careful not to rip, tear, or shred the skin of the leaves.

After the leaves are rolled they will get some deserved rest. These leaves will go through this cycle of drying over the cauldron, rolling, and then drying in the open air two or three more times. The leaves go though this cycle to achieve balance and harmony. If the leaves are dried to quickly they will be in shock and will burn, if the leaves are dried to slowly they become exhausted and will loose their qi. Making Korean tea the traditional way requires one to be closely in tune with tea and the world in which it is a part of. One must strive for the middle path.

Cho Ui wrote the following about this balancing act,

Place hot tea leaves on a screen, shake several times to cool off, and then filter out particles from the leaves. One needs to repeat this cycle of stirring and cooling with less heat each time to properly dry the leaves...

The mysterious taste of tea starts with the sincerity of those who make the tea. It requires refined tea making skills and fine brewing to achieve harmony between water and tea.

The quality of tea is determined as the tea leaves are placed into a hot cauldron and stirred the first time. The clarity of tea depends on water and fire. The correct level of heat produces clarity of aroma while the essence of tea remains in the cauldron. Low heat removes the sublime aroma and taste while high heat burns the tea leaves. Firewood that is immature will not burn well and will cause the jade colour of tea to be lost. Tea leaves would become overly ripe if the heat is too long, and less ripe if there is not enough heat.

If tea leaves are too ripe, the colour fades to yellow. If tea leaves are less ripe, the colour turns to black. Only the appropriate level of heat will yield the smooth and sweet taste, if not the taste becomes harsh and astringent. Tea leaves with white marks are acceptable. Tea leaves that are evenly treated are the best.
Paraphrased from a Translation of Cha Shin Jeon in The Book of Korean Tea by Yang-Seok Yoo with changes


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Making Green Tea the Traditional Korean Way- Part Two: Heat Treating the Leaves

After the leaves have been picked they are transported to the production site, an open air facility that allows elements of nature to creep in and comfort the newly picked tea. Here the leaves are dumped from the large mesh bags onto a fibrous rush mat where they sit only for some time, awaiting their fate as tea. The leaves rest, a reprieve from what is to come.

At this time the twigs, old and torn leaves, and anything else that has made it into the basket and isn't top grade tea is picked out.

While the tea is left in calm, the cauldron is heated. Traditionally, the cauldrons were made of iron and fired by wood. Nowadays, they are made of Aluminum and are fired by gas. These changes were made out of modern convenience as it is extremely difficult to maintain a consistent temperature with the traditional wood burning type. It is very important that the temperature is stable and that the cauldrons are properly preheated between 250-350 degrees Celsius.

When the cauldron is ready, the leaves are thrust upon it. The dense pile of vegetation cries out in a hiss or cackle as the the moisture in the leaves connect with the hot heat of the aluminum. The result of this altercation is the smell of fresh tea that is carried by hot steam, released into the air, enveloping ones being. The smell is indescribably good, a smell that one will always remember, a smell that a blog can't give justice to.

The smell of the leaves are accompanied by brisk, tossing hand motions as the tea is careful stirred. It is important they are constantly being stirred as not to prevent burning. The technique used to hand stir the tea allows all of the leaves to be exposed to the heat for an equal amount of time so the flavour is evenly distributed throughout the leaves. As they are exposed to this initial step oxidization stops, the leaf is softened and the life energy of green tea is sealed within.

Cho Ui wrote the following about these steps,

After tea leaves are plucked, one must sort out old chipped leaves, and twigs. Put one and a half geun (approx 1 Kg) of tea leaves into a hot iron cauldron, about 2.5 feet in diameter and hand stir it. The cauldron must be extremely hot before tea leaves are placed into it. The leaves must be stirred quickly, but throughly and fully. One must not change the temperature of the cauldron while stirring the leaves...

It is virtually impossible to express the minute details of stirring tea leaves on a hot iron cauldron. When the heat is just right, the colour and aroma of tea leaves reach the ultimate level of beauty and the miracle of tea takes place, resulting in the mysteriously sublime taste of tea.
Paraphrased from a Translation of Cha Shin Jeon in The Book of Korean Tea by Yang-Seok Yoo with changes


Making Green Tea the Traditional Korean Way- Part One: Picking Tea

One took part in the making of green tea on May third and forth in Hadong, an area known for its rich history in making tea. The following is a description of how green tea is made in Korea.

In the valley of the Jiri Mountians just outside Hadong, old ladies, geared up in sun visors and long sleeve shirts, mesh bags hang ready at their side with straps draped around their shoulders, carrying bright plastic strainers, scatter amongst the wild tea bushes. These ladies smile, chant, and hum traditional verses as they work early in the morning sun. Verses of tea, verses always used to cheer the soul when toiling in the fields. They happily pluck only the young, bright green, top shoots from the bush.

In one efficiently smooth motion the new leaves depart from their home. Usually, the needle-like top leaf is picked along with one newly revealed brother or sister leaf and another partly unfurrowed sibling leaf. This is done as to not disrupt the harmony, the bond between siblings.

After a sufficient amount of these leaves have been gathered in this way, the ladies pool their leaves into one large bag and they are taken off to be dried and hand processed as they depart from the calm of the mountain valley.

The Korean Saint of Tea, Cho Ui, wrote the following about tea picking in his book, Dashinjeon, (The Way of Tea, or The Story of the Tea God),

Regarding the picking of leaves, timing is important. If it is too early, the fragrance of the tea will be imperfect and if it is too late, the spirit of the tea will disperse... The best leaves are the ones with a purple tint, wrinkled leaves are second, and rounded curling leaves are the next best. Leaves that shine but resemble the leaves of dwarf bamboo are the worst. It is best to pick leaves that are soaked in the early morning dew from a cloudless night, leaves picked in the sunshine of midday are the next best. Picking leaves when it is cloudy or rainy should be avoided. The tea trees in the mountain valleys are the best, tea trees that grow in bamboo forests are second best, next are tea trees which grow in rocky fields, and tea trees that grow in yellow sand is preferred after that.
Paraphrased from a Translation of Cha Shin Jeon in The Book of Korean Tea by Yang-Seok Yoo with changes


Friday, May 9, 2008

Abundant Tea, Abundant Mind

Tea is a food.
Tea is a beverage.
Tea is a medicine.

In the abundant wild tea fields that line the misty mountain valleys of Jiri Mountains this time of year, tea flourishes. While in season, the bright youthful exuberance of tea is abound.

It hides in all foods, adding flavour, giving it energy. Its fresh, sweet, green tasty leaves hide on beefy steaks, amongst leafy salads, and atop of ones simple, store bought instant noodles.

It's almost mind boggling how much tea can be seen around town. Its uses seem as endless as its abundance.

When injuries occur in the seclusion of the mountain valley tea is used to heal. Tea heals both mind and body.

One witnessed its medicinal use. A scratched arm in the tea fields, a burned arm on the hot cauldron used for heat treating the tea, tea sooths all ailments as fresh young leaves are pounded into a paste and then hastily applied to the wound.

One must always remember that tea is not just a tasty drink.

Tea is tea.

Using tea only for a beverage restricts tea, restricting ones mind.

How do you use tea?

Friday, May 2, 2008

2007 Douji "Yiwu Mountain"

One has been riding this tea out for quite some time now. If ones memory serves one correctly (which it never ever does), it shows signs of resembling the 2006 cake of the same factory tried some time ago. With no notes on the 2006 cake it is impossible to make proper personal comparisons, but for a excellent review of the 2006 cake please see Hobbes' notes.

With wonderful and informative posts by Bill on Ancient Tea Horse Road and Marshaln on A Tea Addicts Journal, now is as good time as ever to post a review on this young beeng...

The dry multicoloured mix of fresh greenish puerh leaves hints at tobacco.

The lively flavour comes in complex layers and waves, kicking around in ones mouth. Initially, a fresh slippery, minty, sweetness is felt. A lot of sweetness. It makes way for a pleasant slightly sour-bitter-rubbery taste that coats the sides of the tongue, cheeks, but mainly the roof of ones mouth. The mouthfeel is reminiscent of one of those teas that feels like the roof of ones mouth, specifically behind ones front teeth, has turned into rubber.

This mouthfeel creeps to the throat before retreating, leaving ghostly tobacco footprints. Minutes after the session, when breathing deep rhythmic breaths, it feels as though one may have had a freshly rolled, unlit smoke dangling from ones lips. Each breath is a treat and reminds one of the joy of tea. The joy of breath.

The qi of this tea is strong and wild. Like a young rodeo bull it kicks and jerks throughout ones body. Its vibrant energy is both warm and cool- a characteristic of a young puerh. It is felt around the shoulders, lungs, and heart as it accepts the effect of the tea. This tea leaves one more inclined to go for a long run than to sit in meditation. And so one listens to the tea and ones body as one laces up old, worn out shoes.