|Posted on November 18, 2013 at 11:25 PM|
Today, Sun and I paid a visit with Lee Deok Joo. It was a beautiful autumn day. The morning was cool, but then it warmed up to 20°C/ 68°F. As we were approaching his tea factory, he was actually leaving his tea site to go somewhere when we flagged him down. He stopped his car, turned around and went back to his tea center and opened the doors again for us. He was indeed very considerate. After we walked around his ~1 acre/0.4hectare picturesque tea garden, Sun and I proceeded to enter what turns out to be his multi-purpose tea center where he invited us for tea. Here you can pay to make your own hand-plucked teas, learn about teas, and enjoy drinking teas. While sipping on Sejak (2nd flush) nokcha, he informed us that his total tea growing acreage consisted of about 3.6 hectare/8.9 acres.
This was not my first visit to his tea center. This past 2013 spring, after trekking around the Jirisan, Hwagae Valley mountains and hamlets for about 12 kilometers/7.5 miles. I wearily descended down from mountain country and walked a few more kilometers when I spotted his tea sanctuary. From my viewpoint one can see the meandering Seomjin River, South Korea's fourth largest river. Seomjin translates into 'toad ferry' and it drains into the Korea Strait. The multi-purpose tea center was built around 2009 and has a small tea shop and tasting room as one enters his front doors. Local tea artisans who don't have their own tea processing equipment can pay him to process their fresh plucked teas at his tea center. Tea seminars are also held there from time to time.
In his seventies and going strong, we talked about many things. The man is a third generation tea farmer, tea artisan, and teapreneur. His knowledge of the tea industry is amazing. He told us about the time he spent in Taiwan, China, and India and was mentored by a few famous tea masters of those countries. He learned unique tea processing techniques from them which he later applied to his own Korean tea processing methods to produce among other teas his own brand of unique and tasty nokcha, balhyocha, and yuja-balhyocha, to name a few, in Hadong, Hwagae Valley, South Korea.
Today, we mainly talked about balhyocha which translated directly means 'fermented tea.' In a general sense, balhyocha can best be described as Korea's unique version of partially to substantially oxidized/fermented black tea. The extent to which the tea leaves are allowed to oxidize/ferment depends on the preferences and tea processing methods unique to each Korean tea artisan. It is typically less fermented/oxidized than what westerners are accustomed to drinking, which is a completely and strongly oxidized (~100%) black tea from say the low country tea gardens located in southern Sri Lanka, but can be exquisitely delicious with its own unique taste.
To our surprise, Lee Deok Joo plunked down on a large and heavy, rectangular-shaped, handcarved wooden table what appeared to be a dried hollowed out tangerine stuffed with some kind of tea. After inspecting it, I learned from him that the small, dried, hollowed out fruit is called 'Yuja' which translates to 'Citron.' It is an east asian hybrid citrus fruit which supposedly tastes something like sour mandarin and grapefruit. He told us that the organic yuja fruit was harvested from a cittaslow (slow city) village on Namhae Island. Namhae means 'South Sea' and is an island off the southern coast of South Gyeongsangnam Province. From an agricultural perspective, Namhae Island is well known for cultivating black and white garlic, yuja fruit, and one can see picturesque terraced rice paddies. With nice sunny skies, warm weather, and gentle sea breezes, Namhae is an ideal place for growing agricultural crops. The tea leaves stuffed in the sun-kissed yuja was organic jungjak (3rd flush) balhyocha of 2012 autumn vintage.
The small, dried hollowed out yuja fruit was stuffed with balhyocha and weighed 40 grams. It was attractively hand-tied with string and packaged in crystal clear cellophane. It is an exclusive artisan citron rind naturally scented leaf tea that is not currently widely available within Korea, and probably not available anywhere else in Asia or the West.
Lee Deok Joo had placed a container of the crushed dried fruit rind mixed with the balhyocha on the table. He infused the concoction with boiling water for about 2 minutes and drained the mildly fragrant golden amber tea liquor into small teacups. The dried yuja permeated the balhyocha leaves which gave the tea liquor a sweet, biscuity taste with trailing dry, mellow, citrus-like notes in the back of the throat. It had an exceptionally pleasant mouth-feel with no hints of astringency or sourness, which I had originally anticipated before the tea session began, and was just plain delicious!
After we drank about 4 pots of the delicious organic handmade yuja-balhyocha, we talked so more about autumn tea that was currently being hand harvested in Hwagae Valley, before leaving with a thoroughly quenched palate.
It was an inspiring and colorful tea session which we thoroughly enjoyed with yet another kind, interesting, and expert tea artisan in these parts of Hwagae Valley, Jirisan.