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.