Sunday, October 23, 2011

2011 Kim Jong Yeol (Butea) "Saebyeok" (Sunrise) Hwagae Valley Balhyocha

This tea, currently available from Tea Mountain, is one of two balhyocha that was produced by teamaster Kim Jong Yeol this year. His two balhyocha are cleverly named "Saebyeok" (Sunrise) and "Noeul" (Sunset). They are both made from the tea of the same semi-wild garden but the "Sunrise" is made of earlier picked, smaller, and more delicate saejak grade leaves where the "Sunset" is made of later picked, larger, and more robust jungak grade leaves. See the comments in Michal Tallo's (Poetry Of Tea) excellent post on "Sunset" for the deeper meanings behind these names.

Today we will be sampling the Saebyeok "Sunrise" balhyocha, the early picked and therefore more pricey of the two. This tea from Kim Jong Yeol's Butea brand has been highly recommended by both HoGo and Pedro- regular commentators here on MattCha's Blog and people who know their Korean tea. Pedro kindly gifted 15 grams of this much talked about tea, enough for two sessions. One thought it appropriate to fire up the charcoal brazier for the occasion on this chilly Fall day.

The dry leaves have very creamy, distinct chocolate bread-like aromas that are strong and sharp for such smallish leaves. There is an mix of colour with the help of light brown buds in the mix. Once the natural Korean oak charcoal is glowing red and the steam from the ceramic brazier starts to audibly stir the lid on top, the mind becomes clear and the tea session begins. The leaves emit a sharp, almost bitter chocolate aroma as they hit the warmed pot.

This tea starts off subtle and light, its pale yellow colour indicating its light nature. The initial taste is of very light creamy faint chocolate tastes. The mouthfeel is also very light. The aftertaste is of bread, light chocolate, and soil notes.

The second infusion contains more bread-chocolate notes in the initial taste which coast across the tongue- subtle vanilla appears before vanishing in the aftertaste. Overall the aftertaste is a slow concentration of these tastes. The chest and heart feel light, the mind clear, as the qi of this tea softly quells one's mind. The energy seems thermally neutral, neither warm nor cool in ones body.

The third and fourth infusions contain soft, light, smooth barely vanilla tastes that build quickly into creamy chocolate, almost nuttty flavours appear at times. These flavours give way to faint wood notes. The aftertaste soon embraces nice chocolate tastes. This progression of flavour is as soft and gentle as the tea itself. This tea is light but its mouthfeel starts to round a bit and delivers a very soft coat to the mouth and sinks as deep as the middle of the throat. The chaqi softly ascends to the back of the skull.

The fifth and sixth infusions offer a similar creamy chocolate start now along with juicier notes. These flavours linger for a bit and then seem to traverse to a more wood-chocolate even soft nut taste. The mouthfeel builds with each pot and now seems rounder in the mouth and throat. The body feels comfortable- the upper body even a bit warm. The aftertaste doesn't linger as long as it once did and fades into the nice soft mouthfeel. It seems to reappear randomly then disappear again minutes later.

This tea continues to hold its ground in the seventh infusion presenting more milky-wood notes becoming most prominent in the initial taste before fading into a primarily nut-chocolate taste.

The eighth infusion has even more distinct juicy, wood-nut notes. The chocolate tastes are almost non-existent here if not just appearing just faintly in the aftertaste as a creamy-coco along with the more dominant nut and wood tastes. The mouthfeel becomes just slightly drying here but still quite soft and full.

The the ninth infusion is proof of this teas stamina. The once light colored soup gradually darkens throughout the session and develops a deeper brown-yellow colour. The tastes of this long infusion is of coco and wood. It is dry with very brief flashes of bitter milk. The soft dryness is felt deep in the throat.

This tea is put to another long infusion and delivers once again. This time a very juicy and flavourful apple-pear infusion is enjoyed cold the next morning.

This tea shows lots of movement and evolves lots over the long session. Like late Summer to Autumn, this tea gets deeper and darker as the session progresses.


Korean Tea Classics Book Club- Final Comments

Thanks to all who participated in the Korean Tea Classics Book Club. It was a learning experience for all. A special thanks to Steve Owyoung, one of the translators of the book, for his added and detailed commentary.
See here to bring up all the Korean book club posts for review/ reference.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

2009 Hai Lang Hao Yi Wu Zheng Shan

Have been recently following ol' Hobbes recent run-ins with Hai Lang Hao factory cakes. It seems he had slipped one a few samples of the 2009 and 2010 offerings a few months back. Scott of Yunnan Sourcing still stocks this cake and offers some brief background on his site. Today lets have a closer look at the Yiwu Zheng Shan from 2009 produced under the direction of tea master Hai Lang...

Early in the morning these red tinged, longish, dry leaves smell of muted creamy and sweet scents with suggestions of floral notes to come.

The first infusion pours a light green yellow and presents first with creamy and spicy florals with a mushroom finish mixing with an interesting spiciness. The mouthfeel has a soft, light gritty sandy feel to it right off the bat.

The second infusion starts with a barely creamy green-woody taste transitioning nicely to wood, spice, and mushroom tastes in its finish. It seems there is a green-wood-bark type of base underneath its overall profile.

The third infusion reveals an initial taste that is more dirt and wood bark tasting. It is more dry in the mouth now, still sandy. Floral notes start arriving here later in the aftertaste with dry wood and dirty, meaty tastes. There is enough going on to make this tea interesting.

The fourth infusion presents a green, sour, woody start then finishes as dry spicy wood. This tea has watery almost empty moments but slight floral appearances continue to make it interesting. These tastes are much more obvious in the fifth infusion. In the fifth the floral tastes come along with the returning sweetness after the tea is swallowed. The bright morning sun brightens the room.

In the sixth, seventh, and eighth infusions the subtle floral nuances are most noted over a light dry woody, grass base. Minutes later in the aftertaste tropical fruit tastes such as papaya can be sensed and enjoyed. The qi of this tea is also very light and barely detected by one's sleepy body and mind.

In the ninth, tenth, and eleventh infusions wood notes turn grainy and smooth in the mouth with swirling sweet florals which come later with the very subtle returning sweetness. This tea has lots going in its very light profile.

This tea is taken to seventeen infusions where tropical fruits are highlighted. This tea has very good stamina, a very subtle tea.

Link to Hobbes (The Half-Dipper) Tasting Notes

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Korean Tea Classics Book Club- Dong Cha Song- Hymn In Praise of Korean Tea- Epilogue

"Tasting Cho-ui's Fragrant Green Mist. picked before Gogu, it is as delicate and fine as the tongues of birds."

Feel free to join the online book club at anytime by simply purchasing Korean Tea Classics. Dong Cha Song is 17 stanzas in length, we will go through each stanza week by week. Jump in and join the discussion as you please.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Korean Tea Classics Book Club- Dong Cha Song- Hymn In Praise of Korean Tea- 17

"With no other guests but a white cloud and a bright moon, I am raised to a place far higher than any immortal."

Feel free to join the online book club at anytime by simply purchasing Korean Tea Classics. Dong Cha Song is 17 stanzas in length, we will go through each stanza week by week. Jump in and join the discussion as you please.


Monday, October 3, 2011

What Exactly Is Korean Balhyocha (Paryo cha)?: Part 3- How Do We Classify Balhyocha? Is It Red, Black, White, Yellow, Or Oolong Tea?

Please read Part 1- An Introduction and Some Problems With Translation (here) and Part 2- A Detailed Look At The Production Of This Unique Korean Tea (here) before proceeding to read the following...

Some of the confusion around how to categorize this tea is due to Korean dealers of bal hyo cha using different terms to market this tea to the westren/ English speaking world. Boxes of "Balhyo cha" or "Hwang cha" are translated from Korean to English as "Oolong", "Black Tea", "Red Tea", or "Yellow Tea" some even consider it a white tea. In general, Koreans consider balhyocha to be a yellow tea but most westreners don't know what a yellow tea is so it is often marketed as the more familiar red, black, or oolong tea.

It is very hard to classify these Korean teas in the typical 6 traditional categories (green, yellow, red, white, oolong, and black). But Koreans generally consider balhyocha to be in the yellow tea category (hwang cha) beacuse they call the production step of vigerous shaping/rolling, and then slow drying "min hwang" or "yellowing phase". Also, the final product pours yellow. So as a very matter a fact sensory judgement- the tea is a yellow tea.

The reason bal hyo cha is hard to define using the 6 tea classification system is because its production shares some similarities to all 6 classic tea types. The following will compare and contrast bal hyo cha production to each of these classic categories.

Bal hyo cha is different than a red tea (hong cha or what most westerners know as "black tea") beause it doesn't go through a rolling step- which forcefully exposes enzymes to air. Instead bal hyo cha goes through a shaping step that is a bit more violent than the green tea shaping but not as extreme as most red tea processing. Red teas go through quite a violent rolling- they go through an oxidizing stage that is very fast and then are roasted or hot air dried. Bal hyo cha, on the other hand, goes through a process of slow drying which takes days not hours like red tea production. Then the balhyocha is spread out and dried on the heated floor (which is also a relatively slower process compared to red tea). The biggest difference between these teas is that Bal hyo cha does not "fully" oxidize like red teas do because they don't undergo the harsher "rolling and oxidizing" method of red tea but instead undergo "yellowing".

Bal hyo cha is different than a black tea (hei cha) because black tea goes through a kill green stage after it is picked and bal hyo cha does not. However black tea does go through post fermentation or aged fermention stage. Some bal hyo cha also goes through a stage of fermentation or aging similar to that of black teas.

Bal hyo cha is different than an oolong tea because oolong tea goes through a few stages of withering and brusing but then goes through a high heat roll (kill green), shaping, then heat drying. Oolong has no slow drying (withering) stage after being shaped.

Bal hyo cha is different than white tea because white tea is not violently shaped. Also white tea is not fermented, some bal hyo cha is.

To complicate things, bal hyo cha is also different than Chinese yellow teas. Chinese yellow teas all go through a kill green stage first but bal hyo cha does not.

So after considering how bal hyo cha shares many similarities to each of these classic categories of tea, it is understandable that there has been difficulty categorizing it. This is the problem with categories. Perhaps we should just consider it a semi-oxidized tea or just simply "bal hyo cha".


Sunday, October 2, 2011

2011 Ssang Kye"Chun-Go-Hyang" Yellow Tea... On A Cold Autumn Day

Autumn has come fast to Victoria. It moved in with cold wet temperatures blown in by high winds. Winds that blew the first of the dry leaves off startled trees and seem to change the colour of green leaves to more vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows overnight. The streets are filled with piles of these colourful leaves, trampled upon by people coughing and tying to adjust to natures seasonal progression. Ahh... the perfect time for a cup of Korean yellow tea ("Hwang Cha" or "Bal hyo cha").

On this package of Ssang Kye balhyocha the processing is clearly stated:

First this tea is picked and withered in the shade. It then goes through intervals of rubbing over a rough straw mat and rest several times. The leaves are then shaped, pressed, and stuffed into Onggi pots. They then are dried over a charcoal fire before being left to ferment (presumably in Onggi pots) for 1000 days.

It roughly follows the formula used for other Bal hyo cha. The exception is the long fermenting time- 1000 days. 1000 is auspicious in Korea and can indicate the completion of a full cycle of energy (fermentation) but with still an abundance of power left for the new cycle which it has just entered (i.e. the step of infusing and drinking this tea). With this said, is this tea experience simply like that of other Korean yellow tea, or somehow more energetically auspicious? Let's bring the brazier to a boil on this gloomy fall day and find out...

The largish dry leaves are a dull grey with greenish hues and smell of muted walnut and oak. The leaves emit a maple surup-/ brown sugar- like sweetness in the warm teapot.

The first infusion imparts a very juicy subdued fruit taste of citrus and persimmon which glide smoothly across the tongue and down the throat. A woody, sweet taste is left in the mouth and turns to a prune-wood fruit taste on the breath. The mouthfeel coats the mouth in a thin dryness which softly sends the saliva retreating and makes the tongue noticeably tingle. This is a very enjoyable sensation in the mouth.

The second infusion involves brown-sugary, mushroom, sweetness striking first followed by spicy wood persimmon notes. Its aftertaste remains sweet and juicy. The mouthfeel now sofly encroaches on the throat. The qi of this tea is warming especially comforting the upper and mid body. A soft, fuzzy sweat covers the forehead. This tea also has an overall drying feeling and quality in the body.

The third infusion is smooth and filled with subtle spices. It has started to loose some of those fruity and juicy tastes. The aftertaste is hardly sweet and tastes more of dry oak. The mouthfeel is much the same.

The fourth infusion sees light, watery, spicy wood tastes ending in a drier oak finish. Flashes of fruity tastes are spotted that fade quickly to wood in initial taste but more so in the aftertaste. A wave of spicy notes encroach minutes later. "Dry wood and persimmon fruit" sum up this tea's base flavours nicely.

The fifth infusion develops a taste that holds for many infusions to follow. Now woody notes start to take over with sweet-fruity nuances pushed into the distance. There is some spicy warm notes that appear especially in the aftertaste. The mouthfeel remains thin and dry.

When these leaves are put to long, overnight infusions they yield very flavourful, vibrant, fruity-spicy, woody-bread, persimmon notes that are quite enjoyable.

Edit (Jan. 22/2012): Note that this Ssangkye balhyocha is different than Ssangkye's "Balhyo Saejak" that is only fermented for 500 days. Ssangkye's "Balhyo Saejak" is available from Good Green Tea here.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Korean Tea Classics Book Club- Dong Cha Song- Hymn In Praise of Korean Tea- 16

"With one cup of Jade Flower, a breeze rises beneath my arms, my body grows light and I ascend to a state of supreme purity."

Feel free to join the online book club at anytime by simply purchasing Korean Tea Classics. Dong Cha Song is 17 stanzas in length, we will go through each stanza week by week. Jump in and join the discussion as you please.