My blog is all about tea (camellia sinensis). This segment of the tea files will focus on the Jirisan area of Hadong County, South Korea. Whether your a tea aficionado, tea connoisseur, tea enthusiast, or tea novice, I hope to provide you with selective information, stories, and my personal tea trekking adventures, and at times, pictures relating to tea and teaware.
|Posted on September 13, 2013 at 3:20 AM||comments (0)|
About a month ago, Sun and I decided to pay a visit to internationally known Jukro Tea Company in Jirisan, Hwagae Valley which was established in 1962. By the way, Jukro translates to 'bamboo dew' I was told. It was 1:00 pm and the temperature was hot and very humid . On the way there, we experienced a brief and light rain shower.
The tea shop is located nearby the tea factory which is a short walking distance from it. The shop looked empty because we discovered that the workers were busy in the tea factory. Sun called out, and a head peeked out from the front of it. It was an employee who asked if we wanted to drink some tea and let us in the shop before leaving us to go back to work at the factory. At this point we were drenched in sweat and hurriedly retreated to Jukro's Tea Shop. Once inside the tea shop, we felt the cool air streaming from the air conditioner. It felt really nice!
The employee was Jukro's tea factory manager. He showed us the hot water urn which I guess would hold about 10 gallons and said to help ourselves to whatever tea was available. In a bamboo basket were ujeon, sejak, jungjak, and daejak nokcha, sejak balhyocha, Tong-E cha, and various herbal infusions.
We decided to taste the sejak (2nd flush) handplucked harvest first . I added about 4 grams of tea into the glass serving vessel that is on the table in the above photo. About 80 degree celsius water temperature was used to "cleanse and awaken the leaves.'
For the initial infusion, I used a slightly lower temperature of around 70 degree celsius.The dry leaf fragrance reminded me of rain permeating bamboo groves and damp mountain moss which yielded a very clear and pale green tea liquor which soothed the palate.The deep taste lingered in the throat throughout the tasting session which was purposefully stopped at 3 infusions.This was followed by a delicious jungjak (3rd flush) handplucked harvest which yielded another three tasty infusions of fragrant nokcha with deep bamboo grove fragrance, and fresh dew tasting flavor. The tea liquor was a light bamboo green.
The last round was reserved for a jungjak balhyocha which we stopped drinking after sipping through about 1/2 liter with Sun. The verdict was that the Jukro balhyocha had a beautiful golden-coppery color, but I thought lacked somewhat in the complexity and nuanced taste characteristics that I have experienced with balhyochas that were produced by other tea artisans in Hwagae Valley. I don't know, maybe it was just a recently processed balhyocha batch . All in all, the balhyocha was smooth tasting, but did not peak the senses. Jukro's slogan is that they focus on making tea that tastes good! This year they didn't disappoint in the sejak nor junjak nokcha taste department.
Jukro tea proprietor and tea artisan, Cho Yun Seok , was on a business trip to China so unfortunately we could not meet with him. So the better part of an hour and half was spent consuming multiple cups of delicious nokcha to the point that Sun and I became gleefully "buzzed on green."
There was not another soul in the shop, so we had a good look around at the interesting pottery and quality awards that Jukro had garnered over the past five years. Jukro had done particularly well in Shizuoka, Japan where he had won awards in the green tea and in the fermented/oxidized tea categories.
After our tea session, we walked up to the tea factory to tour it. Again, we met with the factory manager who showed us the on-site tea processing facility. We were told that the area of Jukro's main nokcha farm was about 16 acres. He then pointed out the tea farm which was located at a mountainside opposite from the one we were on. One could see a bamboo forest which was growing near the center of the tea farm.
We both decided that jungjak nokcha would be the green tea that we wanted to purchase and take with us for future tea sessions.
We thanked our tea host for his gracious hospitality and information and departed Jukro's premises with cooler body temperatures and tea happy!
|Posted on August 3, 2013 at 3:15 AM||comments (0)|
This morning, Sun and I paid a visit to the Hadong Green Tea Institute (HGTI). It was too hot and humid (monsoon season) to go on foot. So, we took a bus which stopped near the entrance of HGTI.
We met with our informative tea guide and tea researcher, Kim Jong Cheol PH.D, of the Institute of Hadong Green Tea. We listened to information about the ancient history of Hadong green tea, the birthplace of green tea, Hwagae Valley's tea terroir, and the current tea masters in South Korea. I was surprised to learn that there are only five designated tea masters in South Korea, and three of the five live in Jirisan, Hwagae Valley. The other two tea masters are from Jeollanam Province in southwest Korea. One being from Suncheon and the other from Gwangju.
We also learned about commercially available green tea products made from camellia sinensis, such as nokcha soap, tea oil, tea latte, suncream, and supplements among other things.
A short promotional video about the familiar yet always interesting traditional Korean handmade tea processing techniques that Hadong green tea is known for was available to view with a click of a mouse. I was a little surprised and amused to see well known Hwagae Valley tea artisan Kim Shin Ho shown in it. I will have to ask him about it when I see him again.
Our personalized tea tour lasted about 45 minutes and we heard many interesting facts and tea tidbits about Hadong's green tea industry and various tea related research projects concerning camellia sinensis.
Sun and I thanked Mr. Kim Jong Cheol for sharing his valuable time touring HGTI with us and explaining the various tea exhibits. His detailed knowledge about tea and Hadong's colorful green tea history, which he gladly shared with us, made it a very interesting and informative tour.
For those of you who may be planning to visit Hadong, South Korea, I would highly recommend paying a visit to HGTI. It has lots of good information pertaining to all things related to Korean nokcha.
All in all it was an interesting and cool diversion from the sweltering heat today in Hadong!
|Posted on July 20, 2013 at 7:10 AM||comments (0)|
This morning Sun and I trekked to a tea garden in Jirisan, Hwagae Valley that I had visited once before back in March of this year. At that time, the tea farm had experienced some frost damage to their tea bushes. Today, in contrast to that last March day, the tea shrubs were vibrant and flourishing.
It was today that Sun and I got an opportunity to seat down and drink some tender ujeon with tea farmer, Park Cheong Sook, under a traditional Korean pavilion. The morning temperature today already reached 32 celsius with ~75% humidity. We hiked up about 200 meters when we were met by Park Cheong Sook. My forehead had beads of sweat dripping down on my shirt which became stained with perspiration, and I had an ice pack wrapped in a towel around my neck. The time was about 10:30 am. The pavilion was modernized with electrical outlets to allow for an electric fan. Shielded from the hot morning sun with air circulating currents of cool air, it provided an comfortable outdoor respite.
The location was picturesque and one could see for kilometers along Hwagae Valley and Hwagae Cheon (stream) which drains into the Seomjin River, one of Korea's longest and cleanest rivers.
We had a cordial conversation with Park Cheong Sook while enjoying the beautiful view when the discussion turned to the matter at hand, nokcha. I found out that the tea bushes on her farm were only planted about 10 years ago. I was told that the farm was about 8 acres, but that the tea bushes that were planted made up only about 4 acres of the total. At ~350 meters elevation where the actual tea bushes were growing, the terrain was steep and had rocky and loamy soil which makes for difficult tea plucking. Between the organically grown and pollution free nokcha bushes grew many Japanese apricot trees, chestnut trees, and various flowering plants.
After savoring the moment with a few sips of somewhat astringently prepared ujeon green tea, I asked Mrs. Park about the origin of her tea farm's name, "Yu Tea Farm" and whether it had a special message behind it. Loosely translated, she replied," It is a place where people can gather and be happy in peaceful surroundings."
Nearby is the small on site tea processing unit. While sipping this year's ujeon crop, I was told that it came from nokcha bushes that grew under chestnut trees and was the main reason that they had avoided frost damage. Nevertheless, the ujeon crop was smaller than usual compared to previous years. Total ujeon yield from her farm was only about 1 kilogram in 2013. On the other hand, the sejak grade nokcha harvest yield was more robust and produced about 5 kilograms of tender leaf material. After drinking several small cups of ujeon from a lotus leaf designed dawan, I was content to be able to purchase some fragrant ujeon and sejak nokcha. After Sun and I thanked Park Cheong Sook for her hospitality and valuable time, we headed back to town.
Reflecting on this morning's tea friendship under Yu Tea Farm's tea pavilion, it turned out to be a cool, enjoyable, and peaceful day to remember instead of just another hot and humid summer day in Jirisan, Hwagae Valley.
|Posted on July 4, 2013 at 11:30 AM||comments (0)|
‘Nokcha Nirvana’ is an exquisite tea tasting experience that I refer to when sipping tender leaf tea from Jirisan's early spring harvest and processed the traditional korean way with a lot of passion by Hwagae Valley tea farmers. How does one get there? A seemingly simple equation:
a)Fresh, tender, handplucked nokcha
b)Fresh, clean water (spring water is best)
d)Tea steeping vessel
e)Teacup, chawan (tea bowl), or gaiwan.
f)Some experience brewing loose leaf teas (helpful)
g)The sensitive taste buds of the tea taster. (helpful) and,
A lot has already been said and written about tea terroir and how it relates to the taste profile of a specific tea. The special tea traits and nuances of various camellia sinensis or camellia assamica leaf teas are due to complex variables such as macro and micro climates, geography, soil quality, weather patterns, plant nutrients, altitude, tea plucking time, etc.. Keeping that in mind, one should try to avoid using a simple one size fits all guideline to brewing green teas for the sake of convenience. Korean nokcha, camellia sinensis variety sinensis, from Jirisan offers a unique taste profile and to experience the full spectrum of tasty nuances that it has to offer, one should exercise restraint with raging water temperatures.
I have discovered through countless nokcha tasting sessions that the young and tender material of both Jirisan ujeon and sejak leaf grades will produce pleasant tasting notes when brewing them with low water temperatures and short steeping times. On the other hand, brewing Jirisan nokcha with boiling water will yield a rich and bitter-tasting nokcha that you won't soon forget.
Briskness can be an invigorating and even desirable tea trait of the camellia leaf. However, a deep, lingering, and astringent tasting tea can surely deny one the simple pleasure of sipping, tasting, and savoring several cups of nokcha while exploring the Jirisan leaf! How much leaf to use in proportion to water? The answer is subjective to every experienced tea sipper of fine loose leaf teas and best left to one's intuition and unique taste buds . But, if your new to Korean nokcha, then please have a look at the (new) nokcha steeping tips webpage on our website for general guidance.
Camellia nokcha can be immensely pleasing to the palate and mind, can invigorate the senses, and can solace the soul, if one practices a little patience and takes a little time to focus on the present while steeping one's way to tea bliss!
|Posted on June 1, 2013 at 3:05 AM||comments (0)|
This year the 18th Hadong Wild Tea Festival began about 2 weeks later than usual. It ran from May 17~19. The weather for the three festive days ranged from breezy and warm to very warm, and was pleasant.
Here are some photos of the 18th Hadong Wild Tea Festival.
The set-up was somewhat similar to last year except that there were fewer musical performances. A few tea artisans were also not represented this year as in years past. There were the familiar green tea based foods available. One could eat everything from nokcha bibimbap to green tea ice cream.
I was offered and drank copious amounts of delicious nokcha and nokcha dong dong ju (동동주). Dong dong ju is a traditional korean unfiltered rice wine, which is similar to makgeolli (막걸리), and has a soup-like milky appearance and tastes sweet. Unlike makgeolli, dong dong ju contains some bits of floating rice (동동)and at the tea festival was laced with green tea to boot.
This year's wild tea festival in general was a scaled back version of years past and was two days shorter than previously held festivals, and I sensed that fewer people attended the tea festival as well. Generally, fewer musicians and fewer artisans to promote tea and tea accessories. For me, at least, there was a general feeling that things could have been promoted better. However, in all fairness, I believe that it was a result of a constrained budget. I was told by a Jirisan National Park employee that Hadong County, which is usually the significant sponsor of the annual tea festival, pulled back the purse strings for this year's wild tea festival.
I suppose that given the limited resources available, the outcome was predictable. It was a good festival, but not a great one, and unfortunately the quality of the annual tea festival leaves one yearning for the better Hadong Wild Tea Festivals of years past.