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I was very excited to see Hankook Tea Company offer Korean matcha on their site. I love Japanese matcha, so naturally I wanted to see what its Korean sibling was like. The price seemed good— it is pretty much right in the middle when compared to Japanese ceremonial grade matcha— especially considering the high prices usually commanded by Korean teas due to rarity and the domestic market.
Sadly, this example didn't live up to my expectations. The problem is not that Korean teas are inherently bad; they certainly aren't, as evidenced by the lovely sample of Ddok Cha I received from Matt. I imagine the problem is that very little of the good stuff makes it outside Korea, even more so than in China and Japan, probably in no small part due to the small size of the Korean tea industry. This is all unfounded speculation though, so take it with a grain of salt.
Anyway, about the tea. The flavor is fairly typical for matcha, though a bit on the tart side and more astringent than I usually like. However, it does seem to have some strong "cha qi"; I broke into a sweat soon after drinking it. Compared to the other matcha I have on hand, the Wakamatsu-no-Mukashi from Ippodo, the Gamnong matcha didn't do well. To be fair though, these are definitely in different weight classes; the Japanese matcha is quite a bit more expensive, and that's without considering what a product of similar quality would cost in Korea. Here you can see the two matcha side-by-side.
The Wakamatsu-no-Mukashi (right) is slightly greener (also older, for what it's worth), and has a more fluffy/ less grainy texture than the Gamnong (left). Both samples here were sifted through a basket strainer.
This isn't a bad matcha. It's just not that great, and not different enough from better-valued Japanese matcha (Wow, did I really just say Japanese matcha is a good value?) to justify buying a whole tin. Let me know if you would like to try some for free though; I'd be happy to send some samples.
Class: Hwang Cha [Partially oxidized... Oolong equivalent?] Origin: South Korea Year: 2008 (I'm pretty sure, anyway) Vendor: Hankook Tea Company (Product page) Price: $25.99 (50g w/ tin)
More Korean tea, woooo! This time, it's a Korean "Hwang Cha;" literally "yellow tea," though I'm pretty sure it has nothing in common with Chinese yellow teas. It is much more like an oolong, in that it is partially oxidized. According to Hankook Tea's site:
"This hwang (or yellow) tea is fermented half-way from the Chigarok green tea, which a combination of steamed and pan-fired green tea leaves. Cultivated with abundant experience and care, you can experience the exquisite taste and scent from this tea.
As usual, I am totally confused about the production of Korean teas. I do have a book on Korean green tea though, which I really should reference at some point; I'm posting about another Korean green (with a twist) soon, so maybe then.
Back to the task at hand. Contrary to the vendor's description, I don't smell much of anything in this tea. The dry leaf smells just a bit like milk chocolate, but only if you dive nose-first into the tin. Speaking of the included tin, it's pretty cool. I'm having a hard time figuring out what it is made of, but regardless it seems like a good tin. It has an inner plastic lid beneath the outer lid, which helps keep it airtight. It's probably not as well-built as some other tins, notably Rishi's and O-Cha's, though.
Though I usually prefer to brew wrong-fu style, this tea is much better when less leaf, more water, and more time are used. When brewed in an infuser cup, such as the one I ordered from Hankook (which is the subject of yet another upcoming post), this tea is tasty. The flavor is best described, by my limited palette and vocabulary anyway, as chocolatey with a healthy dose of nuttiness.
It isn't very complex, which is a bit disappointing considering its price, but it is a solid and drinkable tea that doesn't require much thought to brew or enjoy. It endures a quite respectable number of infusions too, even when brewed western-style in an infuser cup. All that said, I can't recommend it, unless you have some money burning a hole in your pocket. While good, it sure isn't worth this staggering price.
On a photographic note, I seem to be incapable of capturing fall colors. When I finished processing my latest batch, I realized that I had converted them all (well, almost all) to black & white. The colors are gorgeous, yes, but they just make it all the more enjoyable to work with color filters. :)