Thursday, September 18, 2014

Three Exceptional Artisan Korean Tea Producers (Plus)

Whenever I think of Korean teas, which obviously is quite often, a number of excellent tea producers come to mind.  You have heard about some of them such as Jeong Jae Yeun, Yi Ho Yeong  and Daeheungsa the temple where Cho Ui lived or example. I enjoy Jeong Jae Yeun’s artisan hwangcha so much I offer it on a regular basis.  They all produce truly remarkable teas.  
However, for this post I want to introduce you to three exceptional tea producers who also produce really excellent teas and at quite reasonable prices. 
These are not listed in any order in terms of quality or taste as they all produce exceptional teas using organic methods. 

I can’t predict your particular tea taste so I encourage you to compare some of them - or perhaps all in a particular category. Dare I suggest you try more?  If I had the funds or a large number of customers, I would buy kilos of these teas so I could put together sample packs of 20g each including various Woojeon, Sejak, Jungjak and Balhyochas for you to taste.  Or I would develop a Tea Every 2 Months Club that compared two teas of various types.  But alas I haven’t made enough yet on my tea offerings and all of these blogs and Facebook posts are just me (one person) trying to make these teas available.  Here are the tea producers I have selected for this post.  I'll try to develop more in depth posts on each of them later.
Dosimdawon

Oh Jae Hong son of Oh Si-Young
One of the first tea producers to come to mind is Oh Si-Young owner of Dosimdawon (Green Tea Farmhouse).  I often think of him and his son Oh Jae Hong both for their truly exceptional teas but also because Oh Si-Young is the owner of Korea’s Millennium Tea Tree. The tree is 4.2 meters high (slightly less than 14 ft.) and 570 centimeters in circumference (slightly more than 18.5 ft.).  That’s a pretty large size for camellia sinensis-sinensis and it is presumed to be at least 1,000 years old.

Korea’s Millennium Tea Tree
Of course the tea you would be getting is not from that tree/bush. Tea made from leaves of Korea’s Millennium Tea Tree sold for $13,000 USD for 100g, not for a kilo.  It did come with a separately made lacquered container and a tea caddy inlaid with mother of pearl as well as a teaspoon decorated with 75 grams of pure gold. Actually in the world of tea, there is a handcrafted teabag that is priced higher but it is studded with diamonds. You didn't need to know that. However, you should know that all of Dosimdawon teas are from larger old mountain bushes and they are truly exceptional.  The prices are also very reasonable for artisan Korean teas.
The 50g prices for these remarkable teas are:
Woojeon     50g = $50.00 USD
Sejak          50g = $24.00 USD
Jungjak       50g = $15.00 USD
Balhyocha   50g = $18.00 USD (Hwangcha)
These are Hwagae Valley, Jerisan semi wild organically grown teas from larger old mountain bushes.
(Note: These prices are subject to meeting projected shipping costs from Korea and are plus shipping from me to you either from Korea or the USA depending on your location.) Contact me.
Soa Tea

Kim Se Jin owner of Soa Tea
This exceptional tea producer is from Boseong.  We have been pushing Jerisan Tea so much that I don’t want to neglect this truly extraordinary producer from Boesong.  Boseong is Korea’s best known tea area and I consider Soa Tea the best in the area.  You may know the chef Judy Joo (who is one of the four Iron Chefs on the cooking show Iron Chef UK.)  Whenever Ms Joo mentions Korean tea on her international TV program Korean Food Made Simple she is often seen in the tea fields with Kim Se Jin owner of Soa Tea.  Soa Tea produces excellent teas of great variety. His teas are superb and organically grow.  In fact he may be the only tea producer in Korea whose teas are certified organic in Korea, Japan, Europe and America.  I hope to be offering his teas to organic food stores so watch for them or ask your store to contact me.


His Gukwoo is a particularly rare tea. It was picked May 20, 2014 Gukwoo Day.  Koreans say Gukwoo is their best tea.
Note: Soa Tea sells their teas in 40g packages.
Woojeon      40g = $35.00 USD 
Gukwoo       40g = $25.00 USD A very rare tea.
Sejak           40g = $18.00 USD
Jungjak        40g = $12.00 USD
Balhyocha    40g = $18.00 USD
(Note: These prices are subject to meeting projected shipping costs as stated above.) 
Contact me.

Yejeon Tea 

Kim Yu Ja and her son Jeon Ju Hyun
The terrible tragic ferry accident that made world news came just before the Hadong Tea Festival so it was cancelled for us on Tea Tour Korea 2014. Of course our tea group was disappointed. But we understood. Two members of our group, a tea master and his wife from Australia, had visited the Hadong Tea Festival a few years earlier. When we arrived at Yejeon Tea, they exclaimed. “This is the woman!”  On their visit to the earlier Hadong Tea Festival, they had been walking down the long line of Hadong tea producers tasting tea after tea until they came to Yejong Tea where they found this truly exceptional tea.  On tea Tour Korea they had been hoping to find her again and here she was.  Kim Yu Ja and her son Jeon Ju Hyun of Yejeon Tea truly produce, “Stand out from the crowd tea.”  These are truly exceptional mountain bush organically grown family produced teas - excellent.

Tea Tour Korea 2014 Join us for Tea Tour Korea 2015
Woojeon       40g = $40.00 USD
Sejak            40g = $20.00 USD
Balhyocha    40g = $20.00 USD (Hongcha)
These teas are from Hwagae Valley, Jerisan and are semi wild organically grown teas from high mountain bushes.
(Note: All prices are subject to meeting projected shipping costs as stated above.)
Contact me.
In my comments above you might think Yejeon is best because of the story.  I could have told stories about Soa and Dosimdawon as well.  When I gave a bag of Soa Gukwoo to a Korean friend, he was overwhelmed and said, "This is the best tea by the best producer."  Dosimdawan was the favorite tea producer by several on Tea Tour Korea 2013.  The point is all of these teas are truly excellent.  
It may not be too late to get teas produced by:
Daeheungsa (Cho Ui’s Temple)

 
Green Tea     80g = $95.00 USD in four (4) 20g bags
This is my most rare tea offer and is below the price for this tea in Korea. It is a completely hand picked and hand made single pick tea essentially combining Woojeon with Sejak leaves to produce a truly superb tea that is in my opinion better than either one.  This is a very rare tea opportunity.  These are very old semi wild organically grown bushes from behind this ancient tea temple near Haenam. 

(Later note: Sorry this tea is sold out for 2014. Get on the waiting list for their 2015 tea, available in of May 2015.)
Gwanhyang Dawon - Yi Ho Yeong 

 
Woojeon           100g    $100.00
Sejak                100g      $60.00
Jungjak      85g-100g      $45.00*
Balhyocha  85g-100g      $40.00*
These truly extraordinary teas are bulk packed in weights approximately 100g, an artisan tradition. That’s the way I buy Jeong Jae Yeun’s artisan hwangcha before repacking for you.  Smaller leafed teas are closer to that weight than larger leafed teas.  Note the prices for Yi Ho Yeong’s tea are at my cost but it is slightly higher than originally offered.  Because of unexpected money transferring costs, I underestimated the cost on our earlier sale of her teas.

Jeong Jae Yeun

I first posted this blog without offering directly the hwangcha produced by Jeong Jae Yeun.  We offer this tea on a regular basis but some of you have asked if you could get her teas on this offer.  The answer is yes, of course.  
Jeong Jae Yeun 
Hwangcha   40g      $16.00  
This is Jerisan organic grown tea from semi wild bushes  a superb tea from a truly humble but outstanding producer.
Jeong Jae Yeun is the epitome of the Korean grandmother artisan tea producer.  Her greatest local customers are the many monks who seek her out.  Because of her humble natural tea background she says, "I don't know how to brew tea the right way.  The monks tell me, 'You make it, we'll brew it'."  But when she brewed it, it was still a great tea. There are several reviews of this tea on line, the latest is here by 'Cwyn' at Steepster.   
A final point, these are not 'cheap' teas.  These are some of the finest teas made in Korea that I am able to offer at very reasonable prices. I hope you will help me make this tea offer a success.  This is a very special tea buying opportunity.  
I do not stock these teas.  My orders for these teas will be paced to the tea producers Sept 26, 2014. There is not much time. I recommend that you contact me now to place your order.
However, should you miss this date there may be others who are willing to also wait until I can get enough participants to support another tea buy. So contact me to see what else I have brewing.
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Monday, December 16, 2013

A Post on The Ancient Korean Potter


In February 2010, I wrote a post titled, The Choson Potter’s Studio and KilnIt was posted on my teabowl blog where I simply try to make sense of and gain a better understanding of teabowls.  I’m about to introduce Korean teabowl artists and want you to have that background before I begin introducing these special artists to you.  
The ancient potter's post can be found here.  Thanks for continuing to check this blog.  Thanks also for your support of my efforts to bring you what I consider the best Korean teas and tea ware available.  Contact me if you are interested in any of our teas, tea ware or tours.  I've extended those sales until 2014.  Have a great holiday and a wonderful New Year.
We are now on Facebook. Check us out Morning Crane Tea.  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Podcasts Reviews of Morning Crane Teas

This is just an image not an active pod cast.  Links are below.

Podcast Reviews: 
We at Morning Crane Tea are happy to get any review or mention we can get for our teas.  That’s simply because ‘we‘ is really ‘me‘ with no advertising budget and no real financial support.  Thank goodness, so far all reviews have been positive.  But I would expect them to be because I decided to represent the best quality tea company I could find.  That is why I chose Dong Cheon Tea as my primary Korean tea source.  You can find less expensive Korean teas but most likely not as good.  I am offering only personally selected other teas including Korean artisan teas.  In a real sense my tea reputation is on the line and it is personal.  So don't compare Morning Crane Tea with the really big Korean tea companies you can find - except in the quality of the tea where we believe and others have told us we excel.    
This past September (2013) I received an email from James, an American visiting Korea in search of quality Korean teas. He was looking for the teashop that sells Dong Cheon teas in Insadong.  It is not surprising that he couldn’t find it even though it is probably the easiest tea shop to find.  There are many teashops in Insadong and no sign that says Dong Cheon Tea - in English anyway.  My first thought was, “Why is he trying to find Korean teas alone?”  I have been researching Korean teas for years and could have taken him to the best places even in Insadong.  Since the Dong Cheon tea shop is very easy to find, if you know which one it is, I was able to quickly give him directions.  Since then we have communicated several times. 
At the end of one of his emails he wrote:
“A friend and I run a podcast (http://teadb.org) where we taste and review certain teas, so we'll actually be tasting/reviewing both teas very soon!
Best Regards,
James”
Now James and his friend Denny have reviewed four of the teas we offer.  We are honored to be included in these important podcasts and I thought you would like to see what they think.
I’m listing these in the order they were reviewed since reviews of similar teas might influence the other review.
It is also very important to emphasize the point that Korea producers talk about first pick, second pick etc.  But we really should not be thinking about Korean teas that way.  Each tea is excellent in its own right and should be simply enjoyed as a tea.  When we say 'first pick' we think “better tea” but true tea connoisseurs know that isn’t necessarily the case.  Each tea brings its own taste profile just like all other teas and should be treated as such based on your personal taste preference not on when it was picked.
Another note: When I write, “. . . from Dong Cheon Tea Hwagae Valley, Jerisan.”  I’m writing about an organically grown tea that has had no pesticides and no fertilizer that would spread the roots.  The same is true for our artisan teas.  The tea leaves are from semi-wild or sometimes wild deep rooted tea bushes.  Jerisan or Jeri mountain is the ‘holy mountain for Korea teas.  In my opinion, Korea’s best teas come from this area.  But just like wineries you might begin with a quality grape or in our case leaf but it is how that leaf is processed that makes a profound difference.  Dong Cheon and the selected artisan producers make the difference.  So if you have tried a Sejak from another company and didn't think much of it don't blame all Sejaks any more than you would blame all Merlots or Syrahs if it were wine you are tasting.       
Again the reviews are in the order of when they were reviewed.  Please return to this site after each review. 
Jungjak from Dong Cheon Tea Hwaegae Valley Jerisan:  Jungjak is a slightly larger leafed tea.  Often overlooked in Korea because of the more popular Sejak, this tea is an excellent tea at a slightly lower price and is sometimes preferred because of its savory flavor.  Tea connoisseurs believe the Jungjak leaf has the most cha-qi.
Dan-Cha from Dong Cheon Tea Hwaegae Valley Jerisan: Dan-Cha is a wonderful dark red tea.  The term “Dan” is a Taoist term meaning both ‘cinnabar red’ and referring also to its health giving properties.  Contrary to the discussion on the podcast, red or black teas have a very long history in Korea dating back at least to their common use of ttokcha in the Goryeo Dynasty.  The tea ages well and we were offering two vintage versions along with this years version.  Sadly we are nearly sold out of all Dan-Cha's.
Sejak from Dong Cheon Tea Hwaegae Valley Jerisan:
Sejak is the most popular tea drunk in Korea and after watching the podcast you may understand why.  Each tea producer has their own version of it but after considerable research I selected the Dong Cheon Tea company to bring Korean teas to America.  Their Sejak was one of the deciding factors.  The second pick, this tea is small leafed and delicious. Note they are using a similar Yeohanggi to the one we have on sale.
Hwangcha from Jerisan: An Artisan Tea
Korean hwangcha teas are rare to find on the common market but possibly easier to find when you get closer to the artisan tea producers in Jerisan and out of the way tea producing areas.  This hwangcha is organic, hand picked and hand processed by an individual artisan producer that makes no other tea but hwangcha.  Her hwangcha is picked and produced before Buddha’s birthday using the leaves  normally reserved for woojeon or sejak green teas. 
I want to thank James and Denny for permitting this post and for both reviewing our Korean teas and providing this special kind of insight into teas in general.  Please follow them at TeaDB.org.   
Note: I'm a ceramic artist currently taking a haitus from that work to try to understand teas better so that I might improve my tea ware and at the same time bring you some unique offerings in both Korean tea and Korean tea ware.  
I'd also like to sell the teas we offer to a teashop near you.   Thanks for letting them know 'we' exist and thanks for appreciating my efforts. 
Please contact me if you would like any of our Korean teas  or tea ware or have questions about either. 
When you visit the TeaDB site you might notice a reference to our sale where James confirms that our sale prices are below the retail prices in Korea. 
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Monday, December 2, 2013

Cyber ‘Monday’ Sale: Dec. 2-8, 2013 Only

A Yeohanggi Teacup

I know it is crazy for an independent tea dealer like me to even think about offering anything on Cyber Monday.  My markups are so slim already but the sale is just for the day plus a little more and I went into the Korean tea and teaware business to give you the opportunity to get some amazing Korean teas and tea ware  - so here goes. 
This post is so late I’ll extend this Cyber 'Monday' Sale until Dec. 8  i.e. Monday through Sunday.  But can't guarantee we can obtain different teaware than what I have already ordered. Both tea and the following tea ware are available all week at this price but ends Dec. 8, 2013 as long as supplies last. 
The price list has been removed.  Contact us for current prices.

Now, for reading this far, with any tea order, we will make the Korean travel set or Yeohanggi available to you for the same price you would pay in Korea.  I just ordered these great teaware items because some of you have been asking about them.  I don't know how much they will cost me in either price or shipping yet so I could be losing money.  The Yeohanggi for this special "Cyber Monday" sale is just $25.00.  They are made by individual artists formed by hand and fired in reduction.  If you order before, Mon. Dec 8 and as long as supplies last.  I ordered a few Yeohanggi sets but can't guarantee your choice.  I do have a couple of spotted Yeohanggi sets ordered in addition to the white.
The Korean Travel Set or Yeohanggi Set 여행기 consists of three pieces: the pouring bowl, cup and lid.  For travel and storage, the cup fits inside the pouring bowl with lid on top.  It is Korea's answer to the gaiwan.  The capacity is 100ml so it is perfect for individual tea.
This is the set you are ordering: (wooden coaster not included)

 Ha Il Nam's Favorite Yeohanggi Set 

This is the same set Ha Il Nam, president of Dong Cheon Tea uses daily.  Two alternate sets can be seen on this post and can be ordered if you don't mind waiting.  We will have a few spotted sets. (see post)

    Ha Il Nam at his tea shop in Insadong with the Yeohanggi

I'm sorry this post is so late.  I just decided to do it. Contact me if you would like to order or have questions.  Happy Holidays in any case.

PS:  The tea I can ship now with the exception of Dan Cha Classic, Dan Cha Gaya 08 and Yip-Cha.  I should receive everything in the next 10 days.  Just in time to get it to you before Christmas or the end of the year. 

PPS: Those of you who have bought this delicious artisan Hwangcha from me earlier at a lower price will note the higher price offered here.  I recalculated my price on this tea and discovered I was selling it below cost.  It is a long story but one I'll only tell to you individually.  In any case, my apologies.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

無爲 Mu-wi Sejak: A Rare Korean Green Tea


This post has been long in coming.  I should have posted it in the Spring.  For those across the changing climate in the northern hemisphere around the world we are in ‘balhyocha’ time for teas.   But most of my retail customers are from the West Coast and Southwestern USA, Australia and other warmer climates so for them nokcha is always in season.  Besides a good green tea is good anytime of year anywhere you live.   
This year I am able to offer some great new teas, but I've had very little time to tell you about them.
Because the delicious Dong Cheon semi-wild organic teas from Jerisan are our standard, I want to tell you about one of their new teas that is in concept and flavor for me one of the most interesting teas we have ever offered.  It is called 無爲 Mu-Wi Sejak (Mu-Wee).
I am far from a Taoist scholar, Seon Priest or even ruminant scholar but I am slightly familiar with two concepts of ‘mu’  that are important to these philosophies/religions.  They are mu-shim and mu-wi.  Like most rather deep Asian religious and meditative concepts, they are difficult to explain in English.  If I were a true Taoist or Seon scholar my guess is I would not be so foolish to try to explain them at all, especially not on a blog post.  But since I am not any of those and hopefully this post won’t (certainly shouldn't) end up in anyone's dissertation . . ..
Lets begin with the term ‘mu-shim’.  It is actually a rather well known term even in the West, but perhaps not in this form.  The term ‘mu’ means something like ‘empty’, ‘nothing’, ‘nothingness’ or ‘without‘ etc.  The term ‘shim‘, as in ‘mu-shim', is loosely translated as ‘mind’ as in the ‘conscious mind’ or the ‘unconscious mind’.  The term ‘mu-shim‘ is therefore translated as ‘empty mind’.  It is not the unconscious mind.  In practice it means being in a state where the mind transcends ‘thought’ to simply be able to act without “thinking” or the interference of ‘thought’.  It implies being without all those thoughts that can interfere with ones ability to act or do.  To essentially be ‘one’ with the moment without thinking about it.  It should be a very natural, unagitated and a peaceful state of being.  It is the state I attempt to approach when I meditate before forming a chawan or even a simple teacup.  Essentially I try to rid my mind of all the mental ‘debris’ of ‘knowledge’ or what may be bothering me that day and simply ‘do’.  When the process is successful that chawan or teacup is often ‘better than I can ‘do’ especially if the glaze and kiln do their part.
But what about ‘mu-wi’?  Basically, the term means ‘doing nothing’.  It is not the lazy and slothful ‘doing nothing’, but like mu-shim the peaceful ‘doing nothing’ and the relaxing ‘doing nothing’, the vacation ‘doing nothing’ or in our case the Tea meditation ‘doing nothing’.  
Enough savoring of the word,  It is time to savor the tea - and it is indeed a tea worthy of savoring.
I first tried this tea served by Ha Ilnam owner of Dong Cheon tea company in his famous tea shop in Insadong Korea.  Mary, my wife, and I were with a friend who owns a teashop in Berlin, Germany.  My friend’s response after tasting this tea was to order 7.5 kilo.
True, Ha Ilnam is a master brewer.  I was once with a tea connoisseur, who after witnessing Mr. Ha brew several teas, said to me, “He is so good at brewing he could make Daejak taste like Woojeon.” 
But I’m not a master brewer and this tea tastes great when I brew it too. 
Now to the description of my first at home impression of the tea Mu-Wi Sejak.  As with all the teas I encounter, my first impression is with the nose when in this case the 250g bag was first opened*.  That is one of the benefits of having a tea business.  I’m able to open larger bags of tea and experience their full aroma.  With this Mu-wi Sejak, I catch the essence of this tea - a roasty fragrance that simply grasps me gently and pulls me in.

 
I resist, to avoid contamination, and reach for a cup then scoop in some tea leaves.  Now I can fully explore its depth as I bring the leaf filled cup to my nose and breath it in - in an out - taking a long moment just to enjoy this delightful, sweet, mildly roasted bouquet, “Whoa!” I quietly exclaim, “This is going to be good.”


The leaves are tiny.  I select one, place it on my tongue and chew.  The dry crispy flakey leaf crumbles, then gives way to a sweet very slightly bitter and slightly nutty taste.  I take a few more leaves and discover I could sit here and simply eat this tea like a snack.


But this tea is for brewing and I must see how it responds to the water I’m using here in the USA.
I have become quite sensitive to the affects of water on tea.  Our family home in PA has terrible town supplied well water that is supposed to be acceptable to consume but in reality is not drunk from the tap by anyone.  It certainly can’t be used for tea.  Water has a profound effect on the taste of tea.  Fortunately where we live the water is excellent.  We brew our teas with filtered tap water that has been quickly boiled to remove any faint traces of chlorine - but not boiled to death.  I have tried various bottled spring waters but have come to prefer this tap water.  How fortunate.
I usually use a Park Jong Il teapot and cups but I want you to see how the leaves and color develop so I’ll use a small glass teapot with a Park Jong Il cup.  


I weigh out 3g of tea leaves for this 150 ml (5oz) teapot.  After warming the pot and cups I pour in the dry leaves and a ‘splash’ of the hot water to waken the leaves.  I must enjoy the essence of this now hot and wet tea once more with my nose.  The ambrosial juices are released.  


The teapot is filled with water that was heated to about 145F or about 63C.  This tea will stand more heat but I prefer these lower temperatures for delicate green teas.  Brewing time is 35-50 seconds for first brew.   It pours into my cup a sweet, fresh slightly savory, roasty and lightly slippery tea that coats my mouth - delicious.  I am not one to describe taste well but I like what I am tasting and believe you will too. 
As a side note, I never rinse or wash any of my Korean tea leaves to get rid of dust or fannings not even our balhyochas.  They don’t need it.

  
The tea is delicious smooth gentle and savory more roasty than I expected but not a robust flavor.  That will come with the larger tea leaves.  Still delicious and it seems to live up to its name.  For I'm able to relax and simply enjoy the moment. 


Check out these Mu-wi leaves after brewing.  Maybe I should pickle them or use them in a pajeon Korean pancake.
I obviously didn’t write this post to make a lot of money selling this tea (I might have two bags left) but rather I wanted to introduce you to a tea you might not be familiar with.  Mu-wi like Gok-woo green teas are seldom made.  This is a special tea with a special price  list $28.00 price $23.00 50g if we have any left
The cup is a Park Jong Il white teacup.  We will be having a sale on his tea ware soon on what we have in stock.  Those sale prices are available to you now.  Contact me for the tea ware and green tea sale.

The Park Jong Il tea set I would have used.

Note: Green Tea Sale 50g silver bags
Woojeon:        List $48.00       Sale $46.00 

Mu-wi Sejak:   List $28.00      Sale $25.00 
Sejak:              List $25.00       Sale $20.50
Jungjak:           List $18.00       Sale $15.50

Daejak:            List $15.00       Sale $12.50
Yip-Cha           List $  8.00       Sale $  6.00 
Contact us to see if we have anything left. 

The Woojeon is the good stuff and sells at $50.00 in Korea.
The Mu-wi you now know.  The Sejak is wonderful and has been blogged about by others.  Some say this is the best year for Jungjak and the Daejak is a wonderful tea at an excellent price.  Yip-cha as a wonderful everyday green tea from the same semi-wild organic plants as all of our Dong Cheon teas.  It is a favorite everyday tea in Insadong. 
But we are getting low on our greens so if you are interested act.  The price goes up Nov.1 and we could run out of tea before then.  
If orders are placed by Oct 25, 2013 I will order any of these teas for you at these prices.
Will I reorder more of these greens before spring after Nov. 1? I'm not sure.  That depends on this sale.   
These prices are good for what I have in stock, which isn’t much, and for orders placed before Oct. 25. 
Don't get spooked but the sale ends on Halloween October 31, 2013.  Place your green tea order now.

Did you miss the posts on Picking Tea in Korea?  Click here.
Balhyochas coming soon. 
Did you see the Park Jong Il teapot sale? Chick here.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Picking Tea in Korea: Part 2

Have you read Part 1?
To continue our post, lets begin by visiting at a special tea producer in Boseong.


Kim Se Jin, the owner of Soa Tea is known for his exquisite teas.  His is the first tea plantation, perhaps in all of Korea, to be officially registered as organic in Korea, Japan, Europe and America.  However, our primary decision to offer his teas was based simply on their quality.


Soa teas are hand picked to maintain that quality.  But even here with cultivated bushes and wide paths between them, the footing is still uneven for the pickers.


The line of bushes often takes the path of least resistance in the stony rough soil bending here and there to avoid very rocky terrain on steep paths.  Not all Boseong producers have absolutely gorgeous rows of tea bushes.  In addition, these bushes have had a hard winter.  Never the less even with less than beautiful organized bushes and tealeaves that have had a difficult winter, exceptional tea can be made by exceptional producers like Kim Se Jin at Soa Tea.

Not far away, near the village of Gangjin, the O’Sulloc Tea Company is growing their tea near a beautiful mountain.  O’Sulloc is owned by the Amore Pacific cosmetic company and much of their green tea is used for that purpose.  However their drinking teas, of many varieties, are well known and often admired.  Notice that the tops of the bushes are flat as compared to the rounded bushes found in Boseong and the wild and semi-wild bushes on Jirisan. 
The flat top has two purposes and is sometimes used for hand picking as well.  First, it creates a ‘table’ for picking each new flush.   
 

Second, the picking machine can easily slice the top layer of new growth leaves without getting into the thicker hard bush stems below.  Increasingly more sophisticated tea processing machines can separate the twigs, stems and even broken leaves and produce excellent teas.  Remember that the vast majority of teas from Japan and many other parts of the tea world are machine picked and processed.
The area of Gangjin is historically  famous for tea.  The Venerable Cho-Ui, Korea's most famous tea monk, lived in this area.  Daeheunsa a temple near Haenam a city close to Gangjin was Cho Ui's main home.  On Tea Tour 2014 our group will be staying at and making tea at this temple.  The area is also famous for its historic and current celadon including some really wonderful tea ware.


So which is it?  Do the wild and semi-wild bushes of Jerisan (top) produce better tea than the cultivated tea bushes of Boseong? (bottom)  That is for you to decide, because when it comes down to it taste is taste - personal.  But Korean tea connoisseurs believe so.
That is why we at Morning Crane Tea have selected mostly tea from Hadong cultivar semi-wild and wild bushes as our source for Korean teas.  More importantly we selected Dong Cheon Tea as our main source because this tea company simply makes excellent teas - teas that are competitive with even the finest artisan teas. The vast majority of our teas are Korean teas.  A tea must be very special to join the Morning Crane Tea family.  
Some of the teas we offer are hand picked and hand processed.  Some are hand picked and partially machine processes.  Others are machine picked and machine processed, all are grown under organic growing conditions and all are excellent teas.  Machine picking and processing is common in Japan and many other tea-producing countries but less common especially for early picks in Korea.  
Hand picking is a long, hard and sometimes dangerous job.  It takes dedicated and knowledgeable people to do it.  But the rewards, when the tea is processed well, can be exceptional.

The Ven Cho-Ui



From Dong Cha Song: Hymns to Korean Tea by Ven. Cho-Ui. Translated by the Ven. Jinwŏl (revised by Br Anthony) 

Thank you pickers of the tea leaf who in spite of often difficult conditions continue your work beginning the journey of those leaves to my cup. 
 Go to Part 1

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Alert Note: 
From time to time we develop very special sales on some very rare teas produced by a few select artisan tea producers including Soa Tea mentioned in this post.  We recently had a sale of the teas produced by Yi Ho Yeong whom many consider one of the very pest artisan producers in Korea.  Did you miss it or are you enjoying those wonderful teas?  
Our special tea offerings will be available at prices as close to the prices in Korea as possible.  In some cases we will be selling teas at our cost with no profit - like we did Yi Ho Yeong's teas. To learn more about these extremely rare opportunities to obtain teas from producers we consider to be some of the best artisan tea producers in Korea, contact us to learn more and to be placed on the waiting list.
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Picking Tea in Korea: Part 1

As those of you who have viewed this blog before can see, I changed the heading image on this blog to an image taken from the image below.  I made that change to give you a better idea of where the teas we sell from Hwagae Valley really come from.


On the left of this image semi-wild tea is growing.  The bushes were grown from seeds that came from wild tea bushes.  These semi-wild bushes were planted in rows for easier picking.  Look closely and you will see what appears to be white posts scattered across the field.  Those ‘posts’ are actually ‘insect collectors’ used to avoid the need for insecticides.  No insecticides are used and essentially no fertilizer that would cause the roots to spread.  While these plants are growing in an organized manner, they are left to grow ‘wild’ or naturally in the same way as their ‘parents’ the wild bushes seen on the right. Thus they are referred to as ‘semi-wild’.  On the right of the semi-wild bushes are tea plants growing around the trees and up the hillside.  They are wild tea bushes descendants of the first tea seeds planted not far from this spot in 828 CE.

 Pickers picking from very old bushes where tea was first planted.
 The tea bushes on Jirisan and beyond are known as ‘Hadong’ cultivar tea bushes.  Connoisseurs of Korean tea will tell you that the very best tea comes from this type of wild bush followed by their children the semi-wild bushes.

  
In both cases the roots grow deep into the earth and therefore absorb the ‘energy’ or Qi Cha from the earth.  Actually, Korean tea connoisseurs will tell you that the very best tea from this type of bush is from wild tea leaves growing in a bamboo forest where the morning dew from the bamboo provides special nourishment and moisture to the wild tea plants.


By contrast we now go to Boseong where during the Japanese occupation the Japanese tea cultivar Yabukita was planted.  I have read that the Japanese were looking for a place to grow tealeaves for hongcha or red (black) tea when they planted these bushes in Korea.  Today they produce primarily green tea.  After the Japanese occupation, Koreans eventually took over those tea fields and developed beautiful cultivated fields.  Here, I have been told, fertilizers are used and in with some growers very small amounts insecticides.

There is no doubt which bushes are more beautiful.  The sweeping Boseong tea fields can’t be matched for pure beauty.  Many movies have been made highlighting these bushes. 
However, as in many things, the outside beauty should not influence your judgment of true character. Beautiful bushes do not necessarily produce the most delicious teas.  While there are excellent tea producers in the Boseong area (and I’ll be bogging about one soon) if you are looking for authentic completely Korea tea, you would not choose Boseong as your only destination.  The key to great tea like great people doesn’t lie in their outward appearance.

Hwagae's tea growing on rugged terrain.
Likewise, Hwagae Valley should not be your only stop for wild and semi wild tea bushes.  Dotted across the southern tier of Korea, from the east coast to the west coast, wild and semi-wild tea bushes can be found.  Many independent tea growers have replanted those wild Hadong cultivar seeds in rows, often like small gardens behind their homes or even in large green houses to create personal semi-wild bushes for easier picking and to make their personal tea.
What might picking tealeaves be like?  Before I look further at this topic, I have to note that I will not be referencing the books The Korean Way of Tea or Korean Tea Classics for historical notes on picking.  Rather I simply want to give you a sense of what the pickers are experiencing.


Here is our group on Tea Tour Korea 2011 picking tea behind Hwaom-sa and the Hall of Gucheung-am in a very rugged wild tea field where the bamboo had been recently cut to ‘prevent fire’.  But the bushes, some several centuries old, now often suffer from drought and to quote Brother Anthony, “Snakes seem happy to frequent their roots.”  The hill is steep and footing rugged and very uneven.  We nearly had a disaster when one of our members fell landing between pointed bamboo stakes.  After 2+ hours of hard picking our group of 10 pickers had just this amount of tea to show for our work.  I spoke to one of the members of that group .  When I told him that I was writing a post on picking, he said, “Don’t forget to tell them the picking was excruciating.” 

It was a remarkable experience but we won’t be picking there again.  Hwaomsa a beautiful place to visit, lying among thick woodlands on the western slopes of Jiri-san near Gurye-gu.  It is one of the first places where tea was planted in Korea.  Had they not cut the bamboo, that tea would have been called juk-no-cha 竹露茶 (bamboo-dew tea). To find authentic juk-no-cha 竹露茶 (bamboo-dew tea) we visited the artisan tea producer Ha Gu. 

Ha Gu makes delicious tealeaves picked from wild bushes growing under bamboo and processed by hand but the teas demand a much higher price that other artisan producers. 

 
Fourteen professional pickers, working for Ha Gu, took four hours of hard picking, in rough steep terrain, to gather just this amount of tea.  It is about 6 or 7 times more leaves than we amateur pickers gathered but when you realize how much tea shrinks in the drying process. This is still not much tea.  Simply put picking wild tea is difficult and sometimes dangerous work.
What are tea pickers looking for?  This is what they see:

This is what they are after. . .
 

 . . . just the three lead leaves.  The leaves on the left are what is know as ja soon cha or ‘purple tea leaves’ even though these particular leaves are more orange, the top of the larger leaf does have a purple tint.  This is caused by cold nights and warmer days resulting in the need for phosphorous.  But these are wild or semi-wild organic bushes so they will not be adding phosphorous and the pickers like these ja soon cha leaves in any case.  The leaves on the right illustrate more common leaves and were picked right after the image was taken.   I should say the leaves were “plucked”.  “Don’t use your fingernails to cut the stem.  That will interrupt the flow of juices and qi.”  We were asked to simply grasp the stem and pull i.e. ‘pluck’ the leaves.
There is little wonder why tea farmers from those with small gardens to commercial producers have planted tea bushes in rows for easier plucking.


While these organized bushes behind Dong Cheon Tea may look similar in form to Boseong bushes, these are semi-wild bushes.

The bushes are cared for and monitored – yes - but these bushes are organically grown with no insecticides or chemical fertilizer – simply allowed to grow in the same manner as wild bushes. 
Dong Cheon is a cooperative of about 80 tea farmers each growing tea using strict organic procedures.  Because the farms are scattered throughout the Hwagae Valley area, an area that can experience wide weather conditions, even after the harshest winter Dong Cheon Tea can continue to produce excellent teas. 
Please continue to Part 2.

Special Note:
To learn about Tea Tour Korea 2014 that will take place in May 2014 and host between 4 and 8 guests, contact us.  We already have some folks on that list.  Contact us now.  It could be the last tea tour we personally host.  There is no obligation.   You have obviously missed that tour's deadline.  We are planning a ceramic tour for October 2015.  If interested please contact us for more information.

Note:  We seldom post the exact same post on two different blogs.  Our Morning Crane Tea blog is reserved more for informational topics while this Tea at Morning Crane Tea blog focuses specifically on our teas.  For this post I have made an exception so if you are interested in information about our teas, and there will be a lot more coming, please follow this blog.  We also have a morning Crane Tea Ware blog.  One day I hope to have a website where everything can be easily found.  
Remember that although I have what some consider a nice logo and try to provide excellent Korean teas and tea ware I am not a big tea company.  I am just a potter and retired professor, trying to also promote Korean arts and culture.  
If you have never tried any of our teas or bought any of our tea ware I hope that you will do so soon.  Search what independent tea blogs are saying about Dong Cheon teas and Morning Crane Tea.  Then tell us about it for a special discount. 
Please continue to Part 2