Posted in Kafevend Blog

Tea in Korea

We've spent quite a bit of time on the Kafevend blog considering the intricacies of Chadō, the Japanese tea ceremony, but Japan is not the only nation in the East to dignify tea with its own ceremony. One of our first themes for the New Year is going to be the Korean tea ceremony. Before we get involved in the ceremony itself though, we're going to begin by looking at how tea is grown in Korea.

Monks introduce tea

Situated on a peninsula with Japan out to the east and China to the west, it's no surprise that South Korea has a very long history with tea, although the relationship has been marred on more than one occasion. It's highly likely that Buddhist monks brought back tea with them on return from travel in China, as was the case in Japan. Unfortunately, this strong tie to Buddhism meant that when Confucianism replaced it as the official religion during the fourteenth century, tea drinking was widely quashed. It took another blow towards the end of the sixteenth century when the country was invaded by Japan. Nevertheless, tea drinking carried on in a quiet way and enjoyed a great resurgence by the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Sparrow tea

Much of the tea grown in Korea is processed as green tea, though there is a growing trend for paryocha, which is fully oxidised black tea. Tea is harvested at various points during the year and is graded according to when it was picked. While Indian tea is picked in flushes, Korean tea is named rather more poetically- Ujeon tea is 'before the rain' tea and is picked on the run up to 20th April; like other monsoon nations, Korea typically has a dry winter followed by a very wet summer. The other harvests all have that common garden visitor, the sparrow, in common. Sejak, or 'small sparrow' tea is picked up until around 5th May. Jungjak, 'medium sparrow' tea is picked later on in May. Finally, Daejak, or 'large sparrow' tea is tea picked in the summer. This harvest generally consists of larger, lower quality leaves. The seemingly odd pairing of sparrows and tea appears to be due to the comparison of tea leaves to the tongues of sparrows! In fact one of Korea's teas is named Jaksul cha, meaning 'Sparrow's Tongue' tea.

As is usually the case in any part of the world, the very best Korean teas are entirely hand processed. In fact, a fair amount of tea production is carried out on a small scale, meaning that Korea doesn't export that much tea, though an online search could turn up the goods if you're committed to trying out some for yourself. Take a look at Maangchi.com for some interesting Korean tea variations. You'll soon notice that Korea also has a rich heritage of teas made from fruits, spices and grains such as buckwheat; more on those another time!

Korean tea harvest
Tea farming in Korea

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