Friday, April 27, 2012

2011 Hankook Tea's Certified Organic "Doo Mool" Jungjak Korean Green Tea

Before sitting down with this tea thought one would throw down a bunch of random facts about Hankook that have not been covered in previous posts (see here and here):

1- It is common for Korean tea to carry poetic names, this organic jungjak is named "Doo Mool" which means something like "liquid water" and follows the trend set by the organic saejak which is called "Chut Mool", something like "first water". These names both speak to the natural quality of Korean teas and may also allude to the seasonal terms which follow after "grain rain" or "gogu", the solar marker of ujeon grade.

2- Forgot to mention in the Introduction of Hankook Tea that Hankook played an instrumental role in popularizing the now famous O'Sulloc tea brand. O'Sulloc is now by far the most recognizable and mainstream of Korean tea brands. See this article for more details on Hankook's famous tea master, Seo Yang Won, who helped shape recent Korean tea trends.

3- Mina, a representative from Hankook Tea who kindly gifted this tea, is a busy blogger. She has recently been posting on both Hankook Tea's blog as well as on her own blog. Thanks again Mina and keep up the blogging!

Okay, enough with that, let's see what this tea is all about...

The dry leaves disperse woodsy, deepish yet distinctly fresh green notes from the medium sized green leaves. The woodsy smell is more prominent with a very subtle greeny-grain sweetness.

The first infusion is of soft mellow green forest sweetness with light, sweet foresty aftertastes. There are slight edges of berries and wood later in the aftertaste then progressing to very subtle florals. The mouthfeel is light but full enough in the mouth coating it in a layer of thin sensitivity.

The second infusion presents a wood-forest taste which comes first followed by a green-woody sweetness with very slight floral-berry edge revealing itself later on the breath. The aftertaste is long and evolves that way. The mouthfeel is somewhat heavy and grainy but full and coating. There is a certain fresh-greeniness that is not usually found in jungjak.

The initial wood taste continues to get more distinct as the infusions pass. In the third infusion it continues deeper into the aftertaste as well. A greener-forest taste meets with the wood base. A slight creamy green forest sweetness is left on the breath. This sticky-fresh-forest taste clings to ones mouth minutes later. The mouthfeel continues to get heavier and more coarse.

The fourth infusion follows the trend of becoming more woody and coarse with less of a transition to green-forest which is now only present in the aftertaste. Like last infusion, it presents as a sticky, creamy forest taste. The qi of this tea is a weak, mild- a subtle relaxing type.

The fifth and sixth infusions are now woody and bland in the initial taste with a finish of creamy-wood-forest very slight sweetness. The profile has simplified leaving a bland-wood taste in the mouth mixed with subtle woody-green-forest.


Monday, April 23, 2012

2010 Jukrim Certified "No Agrichemicals" Boseong Korean Yellow Tea

Had purchased the 2009 version of this tea from a friend's shop in Korea and thought that it was alright. After scouring the house for balhyocha, one stumbled on a box of this 2010 Jukrim balhyocha that had not been opened. So it found its way into the teapot and seemed to be a bit more engaging than the 2009 version. This is not completely uncommon as small hand made productions from single estates in Korea often change quite a bit from year to year. With a new found excitement for this tea, one decided to dig around for a bit for information on Jukrim.

Jukrim's teamaster, Lim Won, claims that this balhyocha is all hand produced in Bosong from tea plants in a valley surrounded in a bamboo thicket. According to the Cha Sin Jeon these are ideal conditions for tea plants. Jukrim's tea is certified "No Agrichemicals" as denoted with the Korean blue label certification. This means that the soil, water, and tea have been tested by the Ministry of Agriculture and have found to have no pesticide residues and the soils has less than half the industry norm for chemical fertilizers. Lim Won also claims that many prominent Buddhist monks including the late Beop Jeong Sunim, the once head of the Joygae Order of Buddhism in Korea, used to enjoy his Woojeon. There is no website for Jukrim but there are a few Korean blog posts that feature Lim Won and show pictures of his tea garden and all hand production (see here and here).

So lets open the bag and see what this tea is all about...

The long gangly dry leaves are a dusty grey colour. They smell of faint pungent pine wood and beach sand. The pre-warmed pot is stuffed half full of these leaves.

The first infusion is prepared and a sweet, juicy brown sugar and deeper honey sweetness arrives with spicy prominent persimmon, cinnamon, and baked apple tastes. This tea is juicy and flavourful. The mouthfeel is very light and thinly coats the mouth. The aftertaste is sweet and trails off with these tastes.

The second infusion presents with sweet, juicy cinnamon-persimmon tastes with a slightly cool pine wood finish in the mouth. There are also the much more obvious spicy prominent persimmon, cinnamon, and baked apple tastes encountered in the first infusion. The mouthfeel has a very slight, thin dryness which develops on the lips, tongue, and cheeks. The qi feels warm and climbs up to the head, flushing the cheeks.

The third infusion is the same arrangement of tastes with more cool, dry wood infused into the delicious taste profile. The throat feel is also noticed here as it has rounded out with a slight dryness in the mouth and tingle in the upper throat.

The fourth infusion is much the same with a notable sweet, fruity aftertaste and qi that is very mild, very relaxing on the mind, and slightly warming on the abdomen.

The fifth infusion has very sweet and spicy persimmon and cinnamon notes. The spiciness is such that you can feel a warm tingle in the nose. This is apparent throughout the infusions. It is nicely balanced with a slight woody, cool aftertaste. The mouthfeel holds and even becomes more round and full here. It drys the tongue just slightly resulting in a cool tingling sensation.

The sixth and seventh infusions are watery, very subtle versions of previous tastes. There is an inaudible tangy wood taste that is barely detected under these watery and sweet notes. There is a cool, almost salty, aftertaste now.

This tea is taken for a few more long and overnight infusions and yields full flavoured, watery, spicy persimmon tastes.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The State of the 2012 Korean Tea Harvest

This year's Ujeon grade Korean green tea harvest and production is underway in Hadong right now. This harvest is in line with traditional dates for picking the earliest and most delicate green tea that Korea has to offer. Traditionally Ujeon is picked before Gogu (April 20th) according to the 24 seasonal divisions. In years past where Winters were very mild, some of the first small leaves and tender buds were even being picked in very early April.

Having polled a variety of people on the ground on Jiri Mountain, the following is the general consenses on this year's harvest...

This Winter was cool so the harvest is on track with the traditional picking dates and the rainfall has been, in some places, just a bit less than average. With this said these are within the "average/normal" climatic factors for Jiri Mountain this time of year. The tea farmers and producers are very optimistic and early signs indicate that this year's harvest will be great! Certainly it should be better than the 2010 and 2011 seasons which were complicated by a colder Winter and late Spring frost which damaged some tea plants and slightly decreased the quality of a few teas from a few select farms/ producers.

This year's Ujeon looks promising- look forward to trying a few.  Nature has done its part, now its up to the producers.  Stay tuned.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Daejak Grade Korean Teas and a Tasting of 2011 Dong Cheon Daejak Semi-Wild Hwagae Valley Green Tea

One doesn't normally drink that much daejak grade loose leaf tea. This is mainly because this tea is not that common and is usually reserved for teabags or simply peasant tea. This tea consists of larger, hardier tea leaves that result from being picked in the Summer season (June onward). Daejak translates literally to "big work" and conjures an image of hard toiling in the hot sun of Summer. This tea is normally simple with a nice unchanging hardier profile and mild qi. It is a fitting tea for someone who doesn't prepare tea gong fu style or is desiring a unpretentious, no-nonsense tea that is easy to prepare. One drinks daejak grade only occasionally. If you're going to pay the money for Korean green tea, might as well make it worth your while and buy jungjak grade (picked around Somen, May 21)?

Conversely, some producers who produce completely hand picked and processed tea probably feel the same way with daejak grade tea- its not worth all the labor for the return. So most, but not all, companies that produce and market daejak grade tea involve either partial or compete machine harvesting or production to make it more cost effective for the farmer. This is perhaps the case with this 2011 Dong Cheon Daejak which is hand picked but machine processed. On this wonderfully busy but very sunny Spring day, an unpretentious simple tea such as this deserves a fitting review...

The dullish large-medium mid-green leaves smell of grains with slight sweet and wood smells. The tea when prepared is pure, simple with a light sweet corn taste, reminiscent of Corn Pops cereal. The mouthfeel is light with a touch of grittiness on the tongue. The chaqi is mild but alerting. The later infusions develop a slight-simple grain-wood base profile underneath.

Thanks for Cho Hak of Morning Crane Tea for sending this sample. Don't hesitate to contact him if you are looking to buy any 2011 Dong Cheon teas to hold you over until the new seasons tea come out in a month or so. I'm sure if you mention this post he will cut you a deal this late in the season.

This tea is also available from Phoenix Tea.


Friday, April 13, 2012

2011 Hankook's Certified Organic "Chut Mool" Saejak Korean Green Tea and Details on Hankook's Organic Line

Hankook Tea's organic line is produced exclusively at its organic tea garden in Jangseong, South Jeolla Province. It is certified the highest level organic (dark green label as seen above) using the Korean organic labeling system as well as through the USDA. The difference between the way the Hankook's organic fields are tended and the way Hankook's non-organic fields are tended is that the organic garden only uses organic plant based fertilizer. Perhaps as a result Mina from Hankook Tea feels that this organic line is lighter and fresher than the non-organic line whereas the non-organic line has more depth. She also feels that the organic line holds longer when steeping large amount of leaves gong fu style. Of course, she enjoys both lines depending on what she wants to get out of her tea that day.

Mina kindly sent Hankook's whole organic line, so lets see what Hankook's Organic teas are all about and start off with the "Chut Mool" saejak...

The dry leaves give off a very clean, fresh forest smell with deeper, roasty, woodier forest notes that are more faint and come later underneath softer, fresh green. The leaves are of mixed size and shape but are relatively small and hold a deep green with light lime green edges on some of the smaller leaves. They are added to a warm pot and steeped with water that has cooled significantly in the cooling bowl.

The first infusion has very soft, fluffy, florals which greet the mouth and softly waft into a mellow sweetness. There are soft fresh green forest notes supporting pure light sweet florals. The mouthfeel is full and soft and produces some saliva in the mouth. The aftertaste is long with a fluffy, creamy, floral-sweet finish. The Qi is mellow- right off the bat the mind is calm.

The second infusion pours a syrupy fresh forest initial taste turns into somewhat thick, goopy, but fresh florals. There is a long distinctly chalky-fresh floral aftertaste. The mouthfeel is thick, chalky, but soft and fluffy. The qi present with undulating waves passing through the body.

The third infusion starts much the same as the second infusion. The florals seem relatively lighter here but still very distinct- very much the same taste as the second infusion. the florals have more of a tangy, livelier edge. The aftertaste of strong floral gives away to some glimpses hiding fruit tastes that become distinct fresh melon notes.

In the fourth infusion starts off with that fresh, chalky, soupy, green forest taste which now merges seamlessly with a deeper woodier taste. The sweetness has dropped off this infusion, the mouthfeel has developed a dry edge, it reaches the edges of the upper throat. The aftertaste is more forest than floral with a thin melon taste in the distance. A monotone forest-wood base over arches the profile.

The fifth and sixth infusion sees the initial taste as lime-wood which transforms to a bland undertone then this taste also drops revealing just the slightest suggestions of thick florals lingering. The taste fades into the aftertaste with slight, barely creamy, vanilla edge which trails off in the aftertaste.

The seventh and eighth infusions deliver a bland-forest initial taste- some floral notes still support the base of fresh-forest. A foresty-faint-floral taste lingers on the breath mouthfeel becomes a bit sticky in the end.

Edit (April 24/2012): This tea is also available at Good Green Tea.


Friday, April 6, 2012

2011 Dong Cheon Saejak Semi-Wild Hwagae Valley Green Tea

Freshness becomes an issue this time of year. The Spring-like temperatures in the air nudge us in the direction of green teas but the latest harvests have not yet been produced. This is a good time to finish what is left of last year's harvest to make room for the upcoming spring teas. Quite naturally, green teas that have sat for a year have lost much of their more subtle qualities.

Today, I contemplate a 2011 saejak from Dong Cheon kindly sent by Cho Hak of Morning Crane Tea. It seems impossible to compare this 2011 to the 2010 saejak tasted just a month or two after harvest. You must keep these things in mind when comparing- it is just better to enjoy the tea for what it is than waste time and thought comparing this to that... so let's just simply enjoy.

These vibrant, slight blue toned, green dry leaves are strong, pungent, and smell of fresh cherry and musty very deep forest odours.

The first infusion presents soft, sweet florals which turn creamy and soft as it slowly trails off in the mouth. The sweetness has a sugary edge. There is a almost unnoticeable suggestion of flat woody forest base in the distance. This taste is very smooth and light.

The second infusion is of soft florals and now slightly fresher foresty initial taste which turns creamy and faintly sweet. Some faint tart cherry tastes appear in the background as well as some very subtle sweet cereal notes. The mouthfeel is of a very faint chalkiness and grips just lightly minutes after swallowing.

In the third infusion soft floral tangy-sweet initial taste comes first followed by some light woodiness. The tangy taste increases in the aftertaste as cherry tastes are evident in the distance. The mouthfeel is now in the upper-mid throat as well as in the mouth imparting a softness in the throat. The qi is mellow and very relaxing on the wind. The birds chirping on this rainy day sound more beautiful under the influence of this tea. The aftertaste gradually turns into a more woody affair minutes later on the breath.

The fourth infusion gives off a creamy wood initial start. With the floral almost gone now turning into a sweet wood before turning fading into aftertaste. The mouthfeel has thinned slightly- lighter notes balance with light wood and very soft sweetness on the breath. The woody-forest base starts to nudge out subtle tastes in this infusion. A flat floral taste finds its way into the mouth late into the aftertaste minutes later.

The fifth infusion presents a woody-forest-taste only flashing suggestions of tones lighter than this base flavour. There is a sugary empty-sweet aftertate with a faint dry- bland-wood flavour in the distance. The mouthfeel is a good balance between soft smooth and dry chalkiness, overall it is mellow. A very faint floral sweetness is found minutes later in the wood but disappears quickly.

The sixth contains a watery, woody simple initial taste followed by a watery, sweet barely noticeable berry finish. A very faint, almost overlooked, lingering floral can be found between these tastes. The bland wood base dominates.

The seventh its very simple flat wood start with florals still lingering in the background.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Myanmar (Burmese) Puerh Tea?

The recent media attention Myanmar (Burma) has been receiving brought back memories of what a wise tea Korean master/ producer had once said...

He inquired, "Where in the world are the highest quality untouched tea plants located?"

I responded, "Korea?"

"Hahahaha.... no, no. They are in Burma, bordering Yunnan." He cheerfully added.

He then went on to say that the old growth big arbour trees that boarder Yunnan are of the same variety but that trees do not make artificial boarders like people do. He also added that as soon as Myanmar becomes open to the outside world he plans on visiting to make local connections, gather mao cha for puerh, and press some cakes.

What is interesting is that there is absolutely no mention in English of puerh ever being produced in Burma. There are a few sites on the web which mention Burmese tea varieties such as green, oolong, and black (See here and here). However, most information on Burmese tea focuses on lahpet tea (tea leaf salad), a type of tea that is unique to Burma as it undergoes pickling and is eaten. No sites even mention Puerh tea and instead focus purely on plantation tea. This makes sense because Burma has a long history of cultivating tea. The legend of how tea came to be cultivated in Burma speaks to tea's historical importance in Burma. As it goes...

Myanmar people believed that tea growing was first initiated and introduced during the Bagan era. Legend has it that King Alaung Sithu, (AD1113-1167) on his majestic royal tour to Namhsan, a small town in Northern Shan State, presented some tea seeds to the local Palaung people in that area. From then onwards, tea growing increases rapidly and flourishes throughout Myanmar in areas with favorable climatic condition. (from Nagar Pyan Tea).


Wonder if that Korea tea master has booked his flights yet?

(World) Peace