Monday, January 14, 2008

Korean Green Tea | 2007 Joongjak Ssanggye

Korean green tea isn't something you see every day, so naturally my interest was piqued when I first read about it. For those of you who don't know (which I'm guessing will be most to all of you), here is a quick introduction to Korean green tea, from someone who knows very little about what he is talking about.

There are three grades of Korean greens: Woojeon/Ujeon, Saejak/Sejak, and Joongjak/Jungjak. Ujeon is the highest grade and the first flush, Sejak is the second highest grade and the second flush, etc. You may notice that even Jungjak tea is very expensive, which is in no small part due to the fact that little is produced. Because of this, Korean green tea is rare even in Korea, at least relative to the popularity of Japanese and Chinese teas in their respective countries.

The best teas are produced on the southern slopes of Jiri mountain, though there are several other tea-producing regions in Korea, notably Boseong, which is a major tourist attraction.

I know very little about tea production methods, but from what I gather, most Korean green tea is produced more like Chinese greens than Japanese greens, except for the rare Jeung-cha which involves steaming, as is done in Japanese green tea production.

There is plenty more to be said about the rich Korean tea tradition, and if you are interested in learning more I recommend reading "The Korean Way of Tea: An Introduction," by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Hong Kyeong-Hee. In addition to plenty of gorgeous photos, this book contains information on many aspects of the Korean tea tradition, including the lovely Korean tea ceremony.

2007 Joongjak SsanggyeClass: Green
Origin: Korea
Year: 2007
Vendor: Shan Shui Teas (Product page)
Price: $20.00 (40g) / $5.75 (10g)

And the tea itself? Well, from my very limited experience, I can say it's pretty good. I definitely need to play around with the parameters a bit, as there is very little information out there on how to brew Korean greens. I have a couple others to review as well, so the progress of my own learnings will be reflected in those future posts.

The dry leaf is a unique and lovely grey-green color, and has a rather muted aroma of sweetness and pastries.

This tea tastes a bit like both Chinese greens and Japanese greens. It has the feel and rich sweetness of a Japanese green, and the mildly lemony and slightly toasty characteristics of a Chinese green. (Note that my Chinese green tea experience is also very limited, but I think I'm right here.) It's a great combo, and is a refreshing change if you're in the habit of drinking other greens.

The wet leaf unfurls to a bright green color, and the leaves are small and whole. Purty!

I think, like the last tea, this one needs to be drunk closer to harvest time. It's quite good, but the flavor isn't as robust as I would like for its price. I'd like to try it again after the next harvest.

9 comments:

Wes said...

It seems that Korea can actually grow tea, unlike most other wannabes. But what a shame that they're charging $18/10g for the woojeon! This makes us sad!

Morning Earth said...

If you want to know why some Korean teas cost a little more, try picking and processing it by hand as they do. Sure you can buy less expensive Korean green teas but like all the teas from Japan, they are machine picked and processed. To really learn about quality Korean green tea,(and pick and process your own) join Brother Anthony of Taize and Hong Kyeong-hee as they host the tea part of a Korean tea and tea ware tour in he spring. Go to TeaTourKorea.com to learn more and sign up. "To read is to know, to travel is to understand."

Anonymous said...

My husband and I traveled to South Korea and attended the Boseong Tea Festival in 2005. We observed the first pick "Ujon" in person, and were personally led through the curing process (it took over three hours) of these delicate and rare leaves. It involved bending over a giant heated wok, gently drying our leaves, alternated with rolling them on a white cloth. After this lesson, I spent hundreds of dollars to obtain Ujon prepared by experts. My only regret is that I am nearly out. I could go on forever about my Korean experience, but will close to say that the Koreans provided us hospitality never extended to us anywhere else on the planet!

Arthur K. J. Park said...

I can't agree with you and your husband more. If Wes were to prepare tea by hand as they do in Korea, that incidentally has an economy similar to those of us in the West and salaries to match, he might appreciate the price of thousands of tiny tea buds picked by hand while climbing the steep mountains of Korea. That is before processing them by hand for hours over a hot wok just to make a few grams of woojeon. As for woojeon at $18.00, you can get excellent woojeon from Mt. Jirisan for about half that. But you will have to wait until spring to meet the right people. Besides woojeon may not be the best buy even if it is the best tea. A little is lost as it ages. For me it is a buy it and drink it tea – delicious none the less.
If you want to really understand Korean tea and get some better prices for it, join us for tea in Korea. Go to www.TeaTourKorea.com. Mention this post and get a great discount and a free copy of a rare book in English on Korean Ceramics that talks about tea ware.

Rebekah said...

Brent, enjoyed your review! I think your comparison of tastes for this tea is spot on. The link for the May 2011 tea tour Arthur mentioned is www.TeaTourKorea.blogspot.com.

Anonymous said...

The grades of tea mentioned here are incorrect.

Sejak --> Joongjak --> Daejak

"Sejak" refers to the first flush (The "se" in "sejak" means "thin", referring to the size of the leaf; "jak" is short for "jaksul", which means "sparrow's tongue" - because the green tea leaves resemble it). "Joongjak" (joong = middle/medium) is the second flush and "daejak" (dae = big) is the third flush. These refer mainly to the size of the leaves, rather than the time or season picked.

Depending on the company, there will be many different grades within each of these categories.

Ujeon, as mentioned, is the absolute first pick. It's the first buds that shoot up in the spring after the snow melts. Literally translated, it means "before the rainfall". These green tea leaves are picked before the first rainfall of the season for farming.

Generally, the price of Korean tea can be felt as being very high because of both the limited quantity and the process that goes into making this tea (as mentioned in another comment above). However, if you think about the process that it takes to get that cup of tea in front of someone, it isn't very expensive at all.

Also, most all of the tea farms in Korea operate with fair trade. This also adds to the "high costs" of the teas.

티파니 said...
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티파니 said...
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티파니 said...

No, we actully do consider Ujeon(우전) as first flush too. Flushes and sizes are not really seperate things, though. While the names do refer to the size of the leaves, they correspond to the time of the year anyways. For example, Sejak(세작) are leaves that have not fully opened, thus their appearance like sparrow's tongue. They are harvested between the "rainfall" and "enter summer".

To understand the flushes of Korean green tea, it is crucial to understand time period they are harvested too. Tea is harvested several times between April and July. Two more important dates to consider is the "rainfall" and "enter summer". Rainfall (곡우) is April 20th. This would be the time when spring rain fall, and make the land rich for the crops. "Enter summer" (입하) is May 5th, and it is the day that we consider that summer has started. Ujeon (우전) is harvested before the "rainfall" (곡우). Sejak is between the "rainfall" (곡우) and "enter summer" (입하). Joongjak (중작) is during the middle of May, after "enter summer" (입하). Daejak (대작) is harvested just after Joongjak (중작), but before June starts. Between June and July, "Yeop-cha" (엽차) is harvested. Now, this is a new piece of infomation. "Yeop-cha" (엽차) is considered to be the lowest in quality and can be often seen commonly. Some consider this one as fourth (last) flush, while some consider Daejak (대작) as the last flush. Cheaper Joongjak (중작) and Yeop-cha (엽차) seems to be the most common in public.
(Just cultural stuff: "Rainfall" (곡우) and "enter summer" (입하) are dates traditionally used by our ancestors. They are part of "24 solar terms". Most people, especially the younger ones, probably do not know this cultural aspect well or at all.)

Also, the earlier the tea is harvested, it is considered (generally) to have better quality. Probably, that's why the names could be also considered as grades. The reason why the dates matter, is because after Joongjak (중작), the leaves "harden" (no longer soft as young leaves). The taste just becomes more astringent and full, though. The concept of high quality different from Darjeeling. Ujeon (우전) is considered the "best" because it is rare, and the taste is very soft. However, Joongjak (중작) is known to be the one where you can enjoy the distinct taste of green tea, and have similar "quality" as Ujeon (우전) and Sejak (세작).

The production of tea is divided between Duk-eum (덖음) and Jeung-jae (증제). Duk-eum (덖음) is the type where tea is "roasted", and Jeung-jae (증제) requires steam.

There are several ways to name green tea. By colour, season harvested, the way of production, where it was grown etc. Still, Ujeon (우전), Sejak (세작), Joongjak (중작), Daejak (대작), and maybe Yeop-cha (엽차) are the most commonly used. If we say they are the noun, way of production or other details would be more like an adjective to these nouns.

Tell me if I am missing anything :)

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