When you think of South Korea, a soothing, relaxing paysage of green tea fields might not be the first image that comes across your mind. Well, it's not your fault - the country is indeed better known for K-POP, its leading cinema industry and technological advances, with the success of some multinational companies such as Samsung and Hyundai.
However, for tea connoisseurs, South Korea is also a country of rare, artisan spring green tea. Why rare? Because South Korea has a really tiny amount of tea production, which only contributes to 0.1% of the world tea production. Therefore, the country's top quality, hand-crafted, tender spring green tea is even rarer to find abroad.
How is Korean green tea made?
As Korea has been historically influenced by both China and Japan in the past, its tea production methods have also been influenced by that of both countries. Korean green tea is either pan-fired like Chinese green tea or steamed like Japanese green tea. Pan-fired green teas exhibit a slightly nutty undertone whereas steamed green teas show a similar profile to Japanese sencha green tea.
Does South Korea only produce green tea?
The answer is no. Although green tea is the majority of the country's production, there are some artisan farmers who produce a type of black-oolong tea called "Balhyocha". Balhyocha is a challenging category to define, as it is not a fully oxidised tea, with its oxidation level varying between 70-80%. Hence, it falls into the category of oolong tea tea in terms of oxidation level. Nonetheless, it doesn't go through the bruising process, a critical step to create desirable flavour profiles in oolong tea production. Some farmers even age Balhyocha for decades. A well-aged Balhyocha offers a harmonious, rounded liquor with woody and sweet raisin notes evocative of aged rum.
Where are teas grown in Sourh Korea?
In South Korea, there are three main tea producing regions - Boseong, Hadong and Jeju Island. Hadong and Jiri Mountain area are where oldest wild tea bushes are grown, dating back to 1200 AD. Tea plantations in Bossing have been developed during the Japanese colonisation in 1930, while the tea plantations in Jeju Island started developing in 1970s. While big scale tea gardens located in Boseong and Jeju Island produce industrialised, mechanised green teas, small family-run tea gardens around Hadong area continue to produce top quality, traditional, hand-made green teas and Balhyocha from wild tea bushes naturally grown in the region. While you may often encounter Korean green teas from Jeju Island abroad, top quality, authentic, wild bush green tea from Hadong is not easily available in the markets outside South Korea due to limited production. Our Sejak Tendresse offers a rare opportunity to green tea connoisseurs to try real, authentic, entirely hand-made Sejak green tea from South Korea.
How is Korean green tea graded?
Korean green tea is graded according to the date of harvest and the maturity of buds and leaves: Ujeon/Woojeon (First Pluck, henceforth Ujeon), Sejak (Second Pluck), Joongjak (Third Pluck, henceforth Joongjak) and Daejak (Fourth Pluck) and each grade offer their unique flavours.
Ujeon, also called Woojeon, is made from the first harvest around mid-April and offers a tea liquor with a light body and delicate sweetness. Sejak which is made from the second harvest plucked in late April, offers delicate, but still more pronounced flavours than Ujeon and yields a liquor which has a sweet, nutty and vegetal undertone. Traditionally made from one tender bud and two newly opened leaves, Sejak is highly sought-after by many tea connoisseurs in South Korea who feel Ujeon is too light-bodied and the aftertaste is too short. Joongjak is made from the harvest plucked in mid-to end of May and it has more pronounced vegetal note than Sejak. Daejak which is made from the leaves plucked in early June, tends to be more grassy and herbaceous than the other top three grades.
A photo taken during the visit to our tea garden on the slope of Jiri Mountain, Hadong, South Korea
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