Jiri Mountain Tea

"Sourcing Artisan Nokcha From Jirisan"

Tea Blog

Jirisan Balhyocha

Posted on August 11, 2012 at 3:10 AM

Korea and other asian countries description of tea is based on the appearance of a tea’s liquor and not the color or level of oxidation that has occurred to tea leaves during the processing stage. For example, fully oxidized tea leaves are called black tea in the West usually referring to their outwardly leaf appearance or color. However, Korea and other asian countries like China refer to black tea as hongcha (홍차) or red tea because of the color or appearance of the tea’s liquor, and not the color of the fully oxidized tea leaves.

Green tea or nok (녹)means green and cha (차) means tea. The tea liquor can vary from a pale green to olive green depending on the leaf grade, water temperature, steep time, etc... . How do koreans describe bal-hyo-cha? In korean, balhyo (발호) means fermented in general, and cha (차) again means tea. Hence, you have balhyocha or fermented tea where the tea leaves have oxidized between 70 to 90 percent.

Balhyocha’s liquor appearance can be described as yellow-orange or dark orange in color after the water has boiled and the tea has steeped for five minutes. How is balhyocha made? Generally, the base material used for making balhyocha is tea leaves which have been plucked beginning from mid to late May.  

Typically, a jungjak (중작), a third harvest leaf grade (a bud with two open leaves) are used to make balhyocha. However, a handful of hwagae valley tea masters may also use sejak (세작) which is a second flush harvest tea leaf grade for an enhanced sensory experience. The traditional method involves Korean tea artisans manually and vigorously rubbing, rolling, and twisting the tea leaf. The result in layman’s language is that the cell wall of tea leaves breakdown due to natural chemical reactions (oxidation) that take place when they are exposed to air and begin to change color. 

In Korea, the heat source that is ultimately used to dry the tea leaves is one that is preferred by individual tea masters to produce their own, unique balhyocha. Unlike nokcha, balhyocha is not the result of roasting, steaming, nor immersing tea leaves in boiling water shortly after being picked in order to prevent or stop the oxidation process from taking place. Instead the tea leaves slowly ferment/oxidize until they have a dark chocolate brown color and spindly appearance to them when completely dry.

Some tea artisans will use an ondol (은돌) or heated floor in a house to slowly dry the tea leaves to achieve a particular balhyocha flavor profile, while others will allow the tea leaves to naturally dry out in the sun on the hottest part of the day for up to 72 hours. If the outdoor method of processing balhyocha is used, the tea leaves are usually spread out on net tarps or in large bamboo trays either on the flat rooftops of homes or on tarp covered parking lots or in front yards of artisans’ homes on mobile wire racks to sun dry the tea leaves, while others use the indoor (ondol) method of drying, and yet others may simply sun dry them on top of huge boulders to create a totally natural, harmonious quality to them. The tea leaves when undergoing the drying process fills the air with an intoxicating fruity aroma.

When completely dried some tea masters, including my friend, tea master Oh, Si yeong, allow the balhyocha to mature for up to 100 days, sometimes longer, prior to hand packing it. This brief aging process allows the balhyocha to develop more flavorful and complex taste characteristics.

Whatever the processing method used by Jirisan tea artisans, premium handcrafted balhyocha from Jirisan, Hwagae Valley produces what is generally described as a velvety smooth or creamy mouth-feel that tastes delicious and has, among other taste characteristics, barley, cinnamon, hay, honey, and chocolate-like taste notes. A popular korean thirst-quencher during the hot and humid summer months, premium balhyocha from the Jirisan, Hwagae Valley mountain slopes will give you a tasty and interesting sensory experience that will refresh your palate!


Live well,

Jirisan Gabriel  

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