Monday, April 19, 2010

2009 Dao Tea Kim Jong Yeol Hwagae Valley Saejak Green Tea

Spring is in full swing. When spring comes, so too does the new season's tea. With the energetic season of spring upon us, one has enjoyed finishing up most of the delicate green teas of 2009. It just feels right this time of year.

A friend in Korea commented that the first flush of Ujeon grade tea is a bit behind schedule this year due to an unusually cool spring. Traditionally Ujeon grade (the first flush in Korea based on the 24 seasonal divisional Asian calendar) is harvested on or before April 20th or 21st. The last few years in Korea have seen this harvest pushed up earlier and earlier in the month- this year will be closer to the actual traditional dates. Unlike the shincha production in Japan this year, the cool weather hasn't seemed to cause any damage- just a delay in production. Good news.

The green that fill today's cup is an offering from Dao tea. This is one of two Korean greens that one has been sipping the last few weeks. Again, both are from Dao Tea and both are from the same producers as the yellow teas reviewed last month. This one was made by Teamaster Kim Kim Jong Yeol.

The dry leaves smell musty and deep- nutty chocolate can be glimpsed at amongst the depth. When the leaves are revealed they are quite small for a Saejak, and exhibit a turquoise hue to them. When the water temperature dictates, the session begins.

The first infusion is light with slight, sweet floral notes. It ends nutty in the mouth with suggestions of a roasted taste to come.

In the second infusion comes that roasted flavour which somewhat overtakes some of the subtleties of the first infusion but, with it, brings some breadth to this tea. The mouthfeel is from the lips to the throat. Light roasted tea notes ride their way out on the calm inhalations and exhalations.

The third infusion is creamy and sweet initial with a subtle twist of lime. These flavours turn chalky and full in the mouth and end with a welcomed roasted nut taste. There are some sweet and sour fruity notes that appear here (sometimes these notes are even apparent in the first infusion but to a lesser extent).

The fourth infusion is creamy and roasted with most of the sweet notes dispersed. The aftertaste is much more tart.

The fifth and sixth infusions are still roasted and deep but have much more of a floral touch to them. The sixth becomes grainy, the finish is nutty and tart.

Due to the wonderful processing of this tea, it can be easily enjoyed into the seventh infusion. Here a watery creaminess fills the throat, there is still some floral notes left. With a sip the whole mouth astringes under the influence of this tea. There are earthy and wood suggestions at the end.

The gentle chaqi softens and alerts without much fuss as one enjoys the warm spring breeze flowing through the room.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Trafficking Tea In B.C.: A Suspicious Puerh Sample From A Friend

One is walking down the hall when out of the blue a friend approaches. She slips a small carefully paper wrapped and taped package into ones hand and says "this is it". Then hurried, she walks away. Passers by give one suspect glances.

Here in British Columbia most little packages handed off in this way are usually filled with marijuana- not tea. To each addict, their own...

Later this friend said that this sample is from a king bing that is about 4-5 years old- producer and region unknown. It came from an anniversary cake that was purchased by her aunt in Hong Kong to commemorate the birth of her nephew- a common practice in Hong Kong. It turns out that she managed to get a good chunk of the cake last time the family got together.

The dry leaves are pungent, sour with a lingering mellow sweetness to them. The whole sample is dumped into the pot. Rinsed and the first drinkable pot steeped up.

The first infusion is buttery and spicy with under defined tobacco tones. This tea is very smooth with very little bitter left in it. The aftertaste is a touch malty- a sign of its age. The mouthfeel is mainly on the front of the tongue. This tea is smooth.
The second infusion reiterates sweet, smooth malty tobacco. The mouthfeel still mainly waits in the front of the mouth. The liquid is a clear bright yellow with peachy tones.

More smooth sweetness follows the third infusion. This tea is quite slick- nothing offends. It's smooth character creates an air of kind simplicity.
In the fourth infusion the leaves are pushed with a slightly longer infusion time. The tea now shows some light bitter tastes but is not that much more complicated. Subtle metallic tones emerge with the other tastes under such pressure.
The chaqi exerts a cumulative affect on the mind and body. It builds up slowly to mid-session, around the fifth infusion- where it clears ones mind. The fifth infusion brings more of the same.
During the sixth, seventh and eighth infusions the flavour weakens a bit. Faint sweet notes start, leaving dry metallic notes behind in the mouth. This tea still retains a soft feel.
The tea is left overnight and a few more infusions are enjoyed the next morning.

In the morning the tea is velvet, creamy, malty, and sweet. One tries to squeeze the last out of these leaves like a pothead puffing a joint down to their fingertips.

Friday, April 9, 2010

2009 "No Agrochemicals" Boseong Yellow Tea

This tea is from the tea growing area of Boseong. The box and bag of this tea displays the blue label of organic certification which indicates that no agrochemicals have been used on this tea. As the water boils, one takes a whiff of the long, gangly, dark greyish leaves. They smell of salty, fruity smells.

The water is left to cool in the cooling pot for a short while before it plunges over the dry leaves resting in the pot.

The first infusion is very juicy with a warm sugary, spicy cinnamon chai aftertaste that turns salty in the mouth. There is no astringency in the mouth but rather a light coating that results from this light bronze-yellow liquor.

The second infusion is also very juicy with a light, fresh, watery feel its flavour is initially bitter, buttery, with the slightest suggestion of chocolate. The second is the only infusion where any chocolate tones can be pushed out of this tea. This flavour comes and goes after you slurp a mouthful back. A deatened, dry, salty-nut flavour is left behind in the aftertaste. The mouthfeel is full here and covers the whole mouth in a delightful fuzz.

The third infusion the juicy, creamy, buttery chocolate tones are already gone. A thin fuzzy mouthfeel develops especially on cheeks, roof, and in a bit of the throat- less on the tongue. This tea is not that sweet, but the sweetness it does have is more of the unrefined type. The smooth creamy feel and salty aftertaste stand out in this infusion.

The fourth infusion has a salty, nuttier taste and a nice dry mouthfeel that now dries the tongue. The qi of this tea is not at all noticeable but nevertheless do the job of alerting the mind.

The resulting infusions are mainly just salty bland notes. The flavor of this tea drops off fast leaving weak infusions for which to reflect on this tea.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Understanding The Korean Organic Labelling System for Korean Tea

There is no doubt that Korea, once the country with the highest pesticide and chemical use in the world, has gotten the itch for organic products (page 7, 2004 USDA report). Of course, tea has lead the way with this trend being only one of four processed organic products certified by Korea's National Agricultural Products Quality Management Services (NAQS) early in the organic movement in 2003 (page 7, 2004 USDA report).

Korean tea (green tea) is the only processed product to be certified by the NAQS. The NAQS certifies organic products using its own logo that looks like a green and blue apple with a coloured bar beneath it. It is a four colour label system with each coloured bar indicating a different level of environmental friendliness. (these labels can be viewed on page 6 of this 2004 USDA Report). Only three of the four levels pertain to tea production.

The dark green label indicates that the product is organic. For this certification the product has been grown on a farm that has been chemical free for over three years. This review of a 2008 Boseong green tea is an example of a dark green label organic tea.

The light green label indicates that the product is transitional organic. For this certification the product has been grown on a farm that has been chemical free for at least one year but under three years.

The blue label indicates that the product has been grown with no agricultural chemicals. For this certification the product has been tested to ensure that no agricultural chemicals were used and that chemical fertilizers that have been used are within the limits set forth by Korean law. (see page 4-5, 2003 USDA report or page 4, 2005 USDA report).

From ones knowledge the only organic and chemical free tea grown in Korea is in Boseong. It is in this most popular tea growing area that a few local farmers began to be certified organic almost 10 years ago. For their efforts they turned a price premium of 1.54 in 2007 (page 12, 2008 USDA report). Last year some of the farms in Boseong were even granted organic certification by Control Union World Organic Certification. The result left a bit of a buzz in the tea world over this almost unheard of tea growing area in the world.
With all this said, just because the tea is farmed organic it is not necessarily better than teas that are not certified organic. Remember one big word 'farmed'. All tea from Boseng is farmed. On the other hand, tea from Jiri mountain is cultivated much more naturally, using more traditional methods of growing and production.

Furthermore, does the blue label "no agricultural chemicals" really mean anything when it comes to quality tea? It is general practice in Korea to use as little chemicals and fertilizers as possible to retain the tea's delicate tastes. So does the blue label "no agricultural chemicals' certification mean anything or is it just a marketing ploy used by farmers who wish to pay a bit of money to distance themselves from the competition and make a little more profit on their product?

The following post will feature one of these Boseong "no agricultural chemical" yellow teas. Until then...


Edit (April 23/2012): Over the last few years more and more Korean tea gardens are being certified organic this includes Hankook Tea's garden in Jangseong and all of Joytea's gardens in Hadong.  Pictured above is the NAQS Green Organic Label and the Blue No Argichemicals Label.

Double Peace

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Christianity & The Tea Ceremony: Reverence For The Holy Spirit

Being that last week was the holiest week for Christians, coupled by all the media coverage the Catholic Church has been receiving as of late, one spent some time reflecting on the often overlooked relationship that Christians have with tea.

Although tea is usually associated with religions of the east- Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism, the role of tea in Christianity should not be ignored. Historically, this relationship between tea and Christianity was the deepest during the early Jesuit missionaries to Japan in the 16th and 17th centuries. During this time, the tea ceremony was being refined and popularized in Japan by now famous masters such as Sen No Rikyu.

Although the tea ceremony in Japan is often associated with Zen Buddhism it isn't a religious ceremony. In fact Sen No Rikyu made a point to exclude all religious symbols from the tea room. But some say that it is not a coincidence that many old tea bowls have crosses painted on them.

Surprisingly, many of Rikyu's 7 famous students are thought to have been Christian. The strongest in his Christian faith was Justo Takayama Ukon who was exiled when Christianity was outlawed in the early 1600. It is said that Takayama would meditate and pray alone with a statue of Mary and the crucified Jesus for hours in the tea room. The tea room for Christians was a place where they could serve their neighbour with humility just as Jesus taught. When churches were occupied by soldiers , the tea room was used to hold church services. In fact, there is even art depicting churches with attached tea rooms- something the Jesuits tried to incorporate with their church design. The early Jesuit missionaries thought that tea was good at cooling the Kidneys and therefore promoted celibacy amongst its priests (perhaps if the Catholic priests of the last 50 years had drank more green tea they wouldn't be in this current day mess :)

It is hard for Christians to ignore the similarities between the Japanese tea ceremony and the Eucharist (receiving of bread and wine). If they can receive tea as reverently as they can receive bread and wine, then have they not touched the Holy Spirit?

As modern day Christians draw these similarities and look to meld the ancient tea traditions of their nation with Christianity, it is no wonder more and more tea rooms are being attached to churches in Korea and Japan these days.

Perhaps in the not too distant future there will even be tea pots engraved with:

"Tea and Christianity are not two but One."