A First Korean Tea!

June 25, 2019
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In 2018, Hugo explored a new tea region: South Korea. Although not unknown to our market, South Korean tea is a rare sight in the West. Its small scale artisanal production is easier sold locally than internationally to bigger demanding clients. But regardless, rarity and novelty were enough to get Hugo on the move. Once on location he was hoping to find special lots to bring home and satisfy our customers’ curiosity.

As he does every year in Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam, Hugo contacted producers in different regions, visiting gardens and tasting their teas. Throughout his visit, M. Oh really stood out. Talking about his Seoladawon tea gardens, Hugo commented: “his gardens are outstanding. When arriving with Manuel, Raphaël (colleagues) and Hyeonsu our translator, we all looked at each others thinking Wow, what is happening here? The harmonious atmosphere of his land shook us. Birds singing, full-grown trees of various species everywhere, magnolia flowers, tea trees carefully tended without pesticides or chemical fertilizers… all this surrounded by massive rock walls”.

Twenty years ago, M. Oh bought this remote land in Hadong region where he established himself with his wife and daughter. After many years living the city life, he decided making tea was a better down-to-earth way of life. He planted Camellia sinensis var.sinensis from seeds everywhere on his land, as is often done in Korea. This way of doing, although more risky and often less profitable, brings a certain diversity and wilderness to the tea garden that isn’t found in clonal  plantations.

The tea Hugo tasted in Seoladawon was excellent. “Like many great Chinese teas, M. Oh’s tea is minutely harvested and transformed using only manual methods. Think Bi Luo Chun, for example. In fact, the physical aspect and taste of his tea resemble quite closely this great Chinese classic. The leaves are curled by hand in large gas heated woks. Desiccation and rolling processes are carried at the same time. This requires great dexterity, patience and skill”.

Unfortunately for us, meteorological conditions were pretty bad that year. Late frost greatly damaged the trees and production everywhere was reduced by around 30%. In lesser quantity, tea was sold at higher prices to cover part of the losses. Too expensive for North American markets. 2018 harvests were sold locally. But 2019 was more merciful. Conditions aligned for superb and sufficiently abundant harvests. After tasting, Hugo opted for a sejak, a term referring to the second annual plucking of leaves, between the 20th of April and the beginning of May. “Even if this is second harvest, we are still talking about grand crus”. The sejak tea he chose is of a rare complexity: sweet scents of green peas, kombu seaweed and raisins; body dominated by herbal aromas with hints of chestnuts and peat; lightly tart and marine-like finish with fruity and floral undertones. A true delight for both mind and body.

Our suggestion to enjoy this tea at home: steep it in a gaiwan, with 5g of leaves, 80 °C water and enough time to appreciate its generosity. Light in bitterness, it can easily support 30 seconds on the first three brews. Stretch it out as long as you can after that.

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