Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The State of The 2011 Korean Tea Harvest

This year was another tough one for Korean tea. It was marred by a colder than seasonal Winter and Spring with frost impacting most of the harvest in Hadong (and even Boseong), pushing back the harvest. The result was the destruction and damage of much of the early spring growth resulting in extremely low yields, somewhere around 50% lower than last year! The result has been higher prices for tea that is already relatively expensive.

Pedro of Dao Tea claims that the price of leaves bought directly from the farmers in Hadong are approximately 200% higher this year than 2009. Fortunately, not all of these price increases have been passed down to the consumer in Korea although there are slight increases on the shelf price. Those who are trying to bring Korean tea to the Western market will be hit the hardest paying the brunt of the difference as Korean tea farmers are demanding more dollar for less tea and see bulk sales as the way to recoup their loss. It makes sense considering that the demand is still relatively high but there is simply less tea to be had.

As far as the quality of the 2011 harvest, most say that it was unaffected. Korean tea farmers take pride in their harvests and are ensuring that the quality remains high. HoGo (aka Tea Off) was recently on the ground in Hadong sourcing some original Korean ceramics (see here for some of the pieces that he has brought back for sale). He felt that the ujeon harvest was not as nice as previous years, he is definitely not alone in his criticism.

This years Korean tea has not yet arrived on the door step so we'll have to wait and see.

Watch for updates to the List of English Online Korean Tea Vendors in the months to come.



Ho Go said...

Thanks for the plug for my new teaware site. One correction is that all the teaware one sees on the site is with the potter and is shipped directly to the buyer from its country of origin.

Although my experience with Korean green tea at Hadong this year was disappointing, one revelation that more than compensated for the 'disappointment' of the green tea was the balhyocha. IMO, it is by far, the best and most interesting tea Korea has to offer. Some will disagree but balhyocha is not like any other tea I know of. My 2 favorites were oxidized and then fermented for several months in Hwagae Valley. Not all balhyochas are fermented. Some are just oxidized. I asked the farmers why? Mostly a matter of taste. I had an excellent balhyocha from wild tea collected in the hills above Naju in Jeollanam-do south of Gwangju which was not fermented. I also had a good one from Boseong. A lot of the result will be due to the tea master who processes it.

The good news is balhyocha is a lot less expensive than green tea and for me, a lot more enjoyable. This is a tea many have yet to discover, Matt.

Matt said...


Thanks for giving us the details of your project with these potters.

Your comments on Balhyocha (Korean yellow tea) reminded one to finish up a series on this unique tea:

See part one: http://mattchasblog.blogspot.com/2010/08/what-exactly-is-korean-balhyocha-paryo.html

And part two: http://mattchasblog.blogspot.com/2010/08/what-exactly-is-korean-balhyocha-paryo_16.html

In part two one states: "teamasters add their own special touches such as crushing the dried tea to induce more oxidization or storing the final product in onggi, the clay pots used to ferment kimchi, for a few months of fermenting before they bag the tea."

You had mentioned that you felt the quality of the Ujeon harvest this year was lower than past years. Did you feel as if the quality of Balhyocha was impacted this season as well?


Anonymous said...

Hi, I am interested in some of that beautiful Korean teaware you linked to in your blog post. But I can't figure out how on earth to contact someone to purchase any....Is there a contact address?


Ben M

Ho Go said...

Ben, I realized that people couldn't reach me through the link that Matt posted. Try this one through Teachat.com

I hope to have it on it's own website in the not too distant future.

Matt, sorry if I'm violating any of your rules by posting this.

Ho Go said...


The balhyocha (paryo cha) is not impacted because what is being sold now is from last season as many producers need several months of processing. Also, balhyocha is generally made from jungjak leaves, the 3rd picking of the harvest, and, these leaves should not have been affected by the frost if I understand correctly.

The sejak should also be ready for shipment by now and this will probably be more to most people's liking and budget.

BTW, I had an interesting balhyocha that I found at the Hadong Tea Festival. The farmer took the balhyocha and packed them into the hollowed out rind of a citron fruit. This was a real taste treat as the citron flavor and aroma mixed nicely with the leaves for a nice 'desert' tea. Very cute looking, too!

Joseph said...

Last month, the tea master at the shop I always visit in Seoul opened a fresh package of organic Ujeon from Hadong. The taste was fine but he did comment that there were quite a few leaves that shouldn't have been in the mix.

Matt said...


That's right- most balhyocha comes out later due to the larger leaf used and fermenting stage. There always seems to be some Korean yellow tea that are of ujeon or seajak grade that make it out before late summer/ early autumn though.


Thanks for your assessment of things on the ground in Korea. Generally, as quantity of usable tea goes down so to does the quality control of producers. One things is for sure -their reputation is always on the line.


Ho Go said...

Matt said: 'There always seems to be some Korean yellow tea that are of ujeon or seajak grade that make it out before late summer/ early autumn though.'

I saw only 1 balhyocha that was made of sejak. It was arguably the best one that I tasted. But, I've never seen a balhyocha made from ujeon. Most makers don't use ujeon or sejak leaves because they can get more money for the green tea than the balhyocha. Odd, because there is much more work involved in making a good balhyocha.

Matt said...


Tried a few Ujeon grade Balhyocha, they are rare though.

See here for a post on one such balhyocha:


As far as the processing of Korean tea goes, the traditional all hand made production of green tea is much more labour intensive than the production of Balhyocha (Korean yellow tea). For traditional Korean green tea it takes about 24 hours of almost continuous labour to produce whereas balhyocha is much less intense but is spread out over many days- few hours here, few hours there, kinda thing.

Think this is a factor in the price.

Wonder if a harvest like the one this year would decrease the likelihood of seeing Ujeon or Seajak grade Balhyocha? Remember that one was seeing these Ujeon and Saejak grade balhyocha a few years ago when the price of leaves were maybe twice as inexpensive as they are now.


Anonymous said...


Arthur Park has an informative post on his blog - www.teatourkorea.blogspot.com - with photos of tea bush damage in Hadong area. He has just returned from his 2011 Tea Tour Korea and has quite a bit to say about this matter. More info to come, too! Apparently the loss of tea bushes varies from producer to producer, and for some it is only minimal. Fortunately, newly planted tea bushes grow reasonably quickly (as compared to old tea trees! but of course a young, thriving tea bush produces less tasty tea than old, established bushes ) so hopefully those suffering loss will look positively on the future for a return to full production.

Arthur K. J. Park said...

Hi Matt. I’m glad to read this report. We were in Korea in May at the height of tea picking and saw the bushes first hand. I recently posted images on the Korean tea bush damage on our Tea Tour Korea blog at http://www.teatourkorea.blogspot.com/. When we went on this tour, we were very concerned about the state of Korean tea and found a great deal of damage. But it wasn’t catastrophic and shouldn’t be considered as such. The wild juk-no-cha 竹露茶 “bamboo dew” we picked at the Gu-Chung-Am hermitage behind Hwaeomsa was not affected.
As for pricing, I am sure some farmers will be raising their prices. That however is not true for Dong Cheon Tea. As you know, Dong Cheon is the largest organic tea producer in Hwagae Valley. We had a very knowledgeable group of tea tasters on this group with long credentials. They tasted several of Dong Cheon’s 2010 teas and this year’s Sejak. They considered Dong Cheon one of the best tasting in the valley even compared to the artisan producers. Dong Cheon is not raising their prices even for international markets. You may not know that Dong Cheon Tea is and has been available to retailers through Morning Crane Tea for the Western market. The bottom line is that this year’s bad winter weather did not affect the flavor and Dong Cheon’s high quality Korean tea is available for the Western Market at last year’s prices. I’m sure that some other companies and artisan producers will follow Dong Cheon’s lead.

Matt said...

Arthur K. J. Park,

How can readers of MattCha's Blog go about purchasing Dong Cheon Tea from Morning Crane Tea? Or is it just for wholesale orders for other tea retailers?

If it is open to the public, one would love to include you in the Updated List of English Online Tea Vendors Selling Korean Tea:


Perhaps you could list the teas you offer and the cost?

Wonderful job on letting us know how those tea plants survived the cold this year.


Anonymous said...

Hello Matt,

Where can I purchase Juk-no-cha "bamboo dew" green teas from Korea. One of my tea friends recently came back from Korea and purchased a very pricey green tea called Jade Mist. Absolutely amazing!

Can you share some educational information about Jookro Cha (Bamboo Green) teas.


Matt said...


"Juk-no-cha" or "bamboo dew" green tea is just a poetic name for Korean green tea that is commonly used. It tells nothing about the production, producer, or picking season of the tea. "Jade Mist" is also just a poetic name and still tells us nothing about the tea itself.

"Jookro Cha" can also be referring to a very famous Korean tea producer- "Jo Tae Yeon Jookro". See here: http://www.jukro.co.kr/

For an updated list of English online Korean Tea vendors see here: http://mattchasblog.blogspot.com/2010/07/updated-list-of-english-online-korean.html

One just updated it extensively today- checking all links, adding some direct producer links, a new vendor, and updates with the 2011 harvest.



You mentioned that you might update the UK vendors of Korean Tea - I am one of them, Hello.
I import organic Woojeon, Jungjak and Jaksul.
Hear are some pictures of the tea farm:
If you do update it, please include me. Thank you.