Tuesday, October 27, 2009

One of Those Obscure, Mystery Farmer Teas: '2009 (No Label) Jiri Mountain Yellow Tea'

This is one of those mystery teas that tea lovers so appreciate. Some obscure, small scale production. No glits, nor glamor. No fancy packaging (which is pretty much a must in Korea). This tea simply came in an common tube, inside the tube a simple foil pack. Completely writing on either- no indications on the packaging as to what when it was picked and produced or who produced it. There is something about these teas that makes drinking it more intimate. Knowing that is was probably make perhaps with more care than say, a large production tea.

Considering the current tea market in Korea as discussed in a post a few days ago, one is thankful to have a try at some of this small production stuff. The friend who sent the tea simply referred to it as “2009 Jiri Mountain Yellow Tea”.

Its small, wiry, jet black leaves smell of rich deep pungent cherry. They fill much of the pot until warm water is added.

The first infusion pours a clear bold yellow. The taste is very juicy, salivatingly sweet with buttery, peppery, and spicy notes that follow. The mouth is left feeling very slippery and full of saliva. Upon first sip it is apparent that this tea is light and uplifting, nice cheer on this cloudy, rainy fall afternoon. The light body of this tea and bright yellow soup suggest less oxidization during production.

As the next few infusions pass on by, the mouth feel becomes more satisfying as it fills out a bit more but still largely remains slippery, juicy- a touch incomplete. Delicious, soft, sour vegital notes arrive within a deep interesting pool of light, juicy, sweet, spicy flavour. Even chocolate notes sometimes make a brief appearance in the complexity of these early infusions. One suspects possible, old, wild growth from the strong, pure qi that relaxes as well as alerts.

This tea is quite flavourful and is a good example of a tea containing the six flavours of Korean tea- sour, sweet, bitter, spicy, bland, and salty. It noticeably has all these in varying proportions.

Although the complex depth of this tea creeps away after the first few infusions, the mouthfeel and aftertaste pick up a bit of the slack. A balance of juicy sweet and sour notes hold on and finish in the mouth with a light dry sensation.

This fun yellow tea is stretched until mainly dry, woody, citrus, earthy tones are all that is left to savor. Even further along, the citrus and dryness drop off.

One drinks this tea in this way as it glows throughout- gently energizing ones soul.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

2009 'Dan Seok' Emperor's Jiri Mountain Yellow Tea

The dry leaves smell of frosty mountain pines. Sweet, sour, citric almost like marmalade.

Although these leaves can handle hot water, one instead uses more leaf and lets the water temperature drop before pouring it into the pot.

The result is a smooth creamy, subtle chocolate soup, that is quite nutty. The mouth is covered in light silk, the breath is witness to its hidden chocolate and more overt nutty tones.

More infusions take place to round out its flavour. Making it fuller in the mouth, more nutty.
The energy of this tea is comforting as it warms the stomach and innards as one sits cross-legged in meditation on the floor. One is coated in the relaxing blanket of this tea, as cool autumn winds blow yellow leaves from the trees outside.

As infusions resume, hotter water is used which brings out more of the nutty profile. Faint chocolate is now long gone. The taste becomes more roasted.
Late into the session ones alert mind senses more woody, earthy tones. The finish in the mouth becomes more dry and more citric. This tea lightens up.

One lightens up.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Another Beautiful Autumnal Buncheong Style Tea Bowl By Uh Sang Myung

This bowl glows an earthy red- an autumn leaf about to change colour.
Its colour is its beauty. Dry, gritty, brownish red.

The outside wall of the bowl is darker and more vibrant on one side then the other. It is marked at the extreme by a burn blotch reaching over the lip of the bowl- an unpredictable scar from the fire in the kiln. Inside the bowl also reflects this imbalance- one side is darker, more colourful than the other. This is also the case as ones eyes move from the rim down on both the inside and outside of the bowl.
This effect is profound. It creates a feeling of fleeting warmth. A hazy red sunset that throws the most profound colours in the other end of the sky. Beautiful.

This feeling of calm is challenged slightly by the rough, exposed clay around the foot. A foot that exudes simplicity, and gentle ruggedness.

The globs of cloudy white gaze drip down the side and suggest slowness. They seem as if they are still slowly creeping down the sides of the bowl. They remind us to slow down.

If we cannot take the opportunity to slow down when drinking tea,
when else will we?
When watching the sun set?
When watching the seasons change?
When watching the autumn leaves turn?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Economics & Green Tea: Premium Green Tea In Korea This Year and The Story of the Small Scale Producer

Loose leaf Korean green tea is expensive. There are many things that result in the high price of Korean tea.

Firstly, there is not so many tea producing areas in Korea. Not so much tea is produced. Almost everything that is produced is consumed in Korea. In fact, most tea consumed in Korea, isn't even Korean tea but comes from China, Vietnam, or other neighbouring nations that can produce tea much more cost effectively.

Secondly, the labour cost of producing tea in Korea isn't cheap. Remember Korea is a G-20 nation, one of the most developed countries in the world. The cost of production is therefore much higher then that of neighbouring nations like China and Vietnam.

Thirdly, most loose leaf tea is produced by hand in Korea- a very labour intensive way to produce tea. The only tea in Korea that is produced almost entirely by machine is from O'sulloc Tea Company on Jeju Island. All other tea that is produced in Korea have some stage that requires human labour.

The tea produced from Jiri Mountain and surrounding area, is thought of as the best tea in Korea and is produced entirely by hand from the picking of the leaves to the bagging of the leaves. Except for those who live in that area, tea of this quality is a luxury.

This year one has gotten some signals of how tight economic times are effecting the market for premium Korean tea...

There is only one tea producing season in Korea- it is in the Spring, starting in early April and pretty much ending in early summer (although there are sometimes rare autumnal teas produced in the fall). Because the timing of the 'global economic crises', being that things really fell apart in the fall of 2008, the spring 2008 tea production went on as usual. As the crisis loomed, Koreans cut back. This resulted in less loose leaf tea being purchased and less high end tea being bought up.

With tea from the 2008 season still available for sale and with indicators that the demand for high end Korea tea just wasn't there, many small scale producers simply didn't produce tea this year. The ones that did perhaps chose to produce more Saejak (2nd flush) than the more labour intensive, expensive Ujeon (first flush) grades.

For instance, small producer 'Nok Ya Won' was planing on making a Seajak grade instead of Ujeon this year but instead decided to just sell off the remaining Ujeon from the 2008 production year and just produce a more cost effective semi-oxidized tea this spring.

Even one of the oldest companies in Korea, Jookro, is offering 80g boxes of Saejak grade as opposed to the 100g boxes offered last year.

The selection of teas this year just seems to lack the local farmers batches that are always interesting to have a spin at.

One is grateful to have, at least, a few of these teas to try out this year.

Note: check out this link to an older post on Economics and Ceramics in Korea.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

2008 100% Lao Ban Zhang (Nada)

With a long haul of young puerh consumed over the last few weeks from the Yunnan Sourcing Tasting Event, one thought it a good time to try another. The label in this sample says simply, "100% Lao Ban Zhang".

This sample was sent a while back but was not forgotten. Its very dark brown dry leaves present sweet pungently deep odours. One sniffs away until water boils. A few light coloured furry tips induce curiosity.

Mmm... Creamy notes are suspended on the tongue for a while, a strong tobacco melts into a slight sweetness leaving a full feeling on tongue, roof, and cheeks. Qi swings through ones body. This tea is strong. Tobacco undertones become stronger when more leaf is added.

The next few infusions tingle on the lips, the throat is stimulated, the feel of this tea covers all bases. There is a subtle fruity taste that blips in only in some sessions. The tea finishes very cool. The tobacco notes infringe upon sweet during these infusions, pushing them into the aftertaste. The yellow of the liquid mirrors the tinny chrysanthemum next to it. The qi moves briskly- energizing, stimulating , then sedating.

As the sessions pushes onward the qi becomes stronger as the flavour becomes more gentle. The harsher tobacco edges smooth out and this tea becomes a lot lighter and enjoyable. The aftertaste, now shares most of the grit. The compounded affect of many back to back infusions can push the mouthfeel over the top, almost choaking one as one chokes back this delicious tea.

Because of such power this tea can be enjoyed through many, many, many infusions. Even when other teas would have turned into water this tea still gives birth to lively, light, sweet tea. The mouthfeel and qi push this one through.

Ones body surges with energy, almost making one ill. It's time to call it quits.


Monday, October 12, 2009

A Beautiful Autumnal Buncheong Style Tea Bowl By Uh Sang Myung

This bowl is autumn.
Everything about it seems in harmony with the goings on outside ones window these days.

Its traditional blotchy buncheong style holds ones attention. Most bowls of this style seem to emulate the onset of spring, the colourful blotches representing the blossoming spring flowers outside. This bowl is not your ordinary buncheong bowl.

The dry look-gloss sets the overall mood of the bowl- the feel of autumn. The dry feel is especially apparent as one cradles this bowl in attentive palms. It feels soft but rough, dry but not abrasive.

The muted, neutral, lighter blue hued grey of the bowls sides provides a perfect backdrop for the colourful spots. Like the changing leaves outside, these spots have a center that is being infringed upon by encroaching colour.

The pattering on the inside of the bowl captures the movement of falling leaves. The sparse blotches near the wood-brown rim of the bowl seem to act like leaves blown from tree branches, accumulating in piles on the shallow of the bowl.

This movement is made more profound as frothy green matcha is sipped away from its insides.

Vibrant green changing to autumnal reds.
Summer to Autumn.
This is the movement of now.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

2009 Margaret's Hope Estate Oolong 2nd Flush Darjeeling

This is something one has never tried before- an oolong from India. Let's tear open the foil pack and see what it's all about...

The dry leaves are a mix of colour from distinct whites, greens, and browns. They smell very light with a touch of that infamous musketel mixed with faint cloudy chocolate raisin.

The leaves embrace ceramic and water fills the pot. The lid covers the transformation inside. When the time is right the resulting infusion leaves the pot and makes its way into cracked ceramic cups. Cups to lips.
This tea is very smooth. It is light with a juicy feel- a mild stimulation that takes a while to develop in the mouth. It is full of flavour as soft sour tones approach sweet. Soft raisin is left in the mouth.

Another infusion allows the raisin tones to become more pronounced. The juiciness evolves into manageable bitterness that cloaks the flavour and drys out the tongue. This tea is light and cheery but lacks a deep bottom.

As more water is put through, a flowery taste becomes prominent especially in the aftertaste. The tea loses taste but still has that bitter bite and fullish dry feel.

This tea becomes thinner and thinner as the session rolls along. It gets a bit chalky in the mouth, choosing to stay mostly in the front of the mouth. Some noticeable fruity and flower tones still hang on.

The energy found in this tea is a lot smoother than most Darjeeling. Smoother. More Gentle.

The wet leaves reveal small leaves and lots of buds that are mainly torn. Not ideal leaves for an oolong but even the smell of the wet leaves make one ponder another pot.


Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Rounder Shaped Tea Jar By Kim Kyong Soo

This is a more typical shape for a Korean tea jar. It is more rounded, soft, and subtle than the cube jar. This gritty, oxidized finish is a signature of Kim Kyoung Soo works.