Monday, November 19, 2012

A Quick Primer on Balhyocha

We just introduced a delicious new tea to our tea inventory, Korean hwangcha by the exceptional artisan master Jeong Jae Yeun.   She dedicates her entire tea production to hwangcha.  Her hwangcha is a delicious Korean yellow tea that is the favorite tea of the teaware artist and artisan tea producer Park Jong Il. 
Recently, I received a request from a well-known tea blogger asking to purchase some of my “balhyocha”.  As a very knowledgeable tea connoisseur, he knew that ‘hwangcha’ is often referred to as ‘balhyocha’.  But we at Morning Crane Tea are offering two distinct oxidized Korean artisan teas that might be called "balhyocha", one we call “hwangcha” the other we call “balhyocha” because the artisan producers that make both teas use those terms.  When I replied we were out of our “balhyocha” but had “hwangcha” he was surprised since he thought they were the same.  The point is, he wasn’t wrong.  Nor are we.   
Information on Korean tea is coming to us in the Western world in various separated pieces.  The current tea revival in Korea is actually relatively new.  While Korean tea itself has a rich and long history, information on the Korean teas we drink here in the West is spotty at best.  After all, we haven’t been drinking Korean teas here for very long.  That is why we at Morning Cane Tea are trying to make quality Korean teas available to the Western market.    
Through the work of Brother Anthony and others, some Western tea connoisseurs probably know more about the history of Korean teas then we know about the Korean teas we drink.  Some who have read Brother Anthony and Hong Kyeong-Hee's book The Korean Way of Tea: An Introductory Guide may not have even tasted quality Korean teas.  If you are one of them contact me to be on the list for a special offer that will be available after the spring pick.
So what about “balhyocha”?    
The current Korean use of the term “balhyocha” is confusing for two main reasons.  First, there is also a second Anglicization of the word “balhyocha” as “paryo-cha”.  “Balhyocha” and “paryo-cha” are the same word just Anglicized differently.  (It would take too long and it is not necessary to explain why.)   The word simply means “oxidized”.  So any Korean tea that is oxidized is “balhyocha”.  In Korea if it is not green tea it is “balhyocha”.  That means of the teas we at Morning Crane Tea sell: our hwangcha, balhyocha, dan-cha (hongcha) and pu’erh are all “balhyocha”.  Wait a minute!  Why am I saying that balhyocha is “balhyocha”?  That doesn’t seem to make sense.  Isn’t it true that Koreans call hwangcha “balhyocha”?  Yes, and that brings up the second and most interesting reason.  Some artisan producers call hwangcha “balhyocha” but when they  do so it is the waste of the perfectly useful term - “hwangcha”.  Korea has a history of using the term “hwangcha” for their yellow tea so why also call that yellow tea “balhyocha”?        
I’ll try to explain.  Many Korean artisan producers make hwangcha as their oxidized tea and refer to it as “balhyocha”.  It is like saying, “My oxidized tea.” After all, all hwangcha is “balhyocha” but not all “balhyocha” is hwangcha.  When a Korean artisan tea producer makes just one oxidized tea they tend to refer to it as balhyocha.  Again that is like saying ,"My oxidized tea."  What then is a Korean artisan tea producer to do when they make two or more oxidized teas, one tea that is hwangcha (yellow tea), another tea that is oxidized beyond hwangcha and a third with even more oxidation a hongcha or red tea?   That second oxidized tea is not oxidized to the point where it could be described as a hongcha (we call our Hong-cha 'Dan-cha' for reasons explained elaswhere)?  But what is that in-between oxidized tea?  What should Koreans call that tea?  In China and Taiwan that tea is called “oolong”.  However for many Korean artisan tea producers the term “oolong” is so strongly identified with China and Taiwan that the Korean producers don’t like to call their similarly oxidized tea “oolong” so they call it “balhyocha”.  Why not simply call it “oolong”?  After all Koreans, like the Chinese, call their yellow tea “hwangcha” (even though it isn’t the same tea) and they call their red tea “hongcha” (even though it isn’t the same tea).  Why not call their oolong type tea simply “oolong” (even though it isn’t the same tea)?   I think it has to do with both Korean pride and Korean tradition.  Korea has a long and established history of producing both hwangcha (yellow tea) and hongcha (red tea).  But Korea doesn’t have a well-established history for producing “oolong” or at least one that I am familiar with.  What is “oolong” anyway?  Can we call oolong  “amber” tea?  We seem to call other teas by their color such as white, green, yellow, red and black - although red and black seem to be the same.  Why not call oolong an “amber” tea?  (The word 'orange' is used but can become confusing.)  Do you see where this thinking can lead?  What is the point?   
Korean artisan producers who produce both hwangcha and another more oxidized tea use the term “balhyocha” for their more oxidized tea that is not oxidized as much as a hongcha.  Those producers who make both hwangcha and an oolong type tea are calling their oolong type oxidized tea “balhyocha”.  Is it really “balhyocha”?  Yes, of course it is.  Is it ‘right’ that they choose to call their oolong type tea “balhyocha”.  Of course it is.  It is their tea, even if it is a little confusing.  After all the substance of a tea is not in what you call it but in how it is oxidized (or not) and how it tastes.  Now that we know that Korean artisan producers sometimes call their oolong like oxidized teas “balhyocha” after a while we may even know what we are talking about.   It is simply one of the many anomalies when it comes to tea – and if you have been into tea for almost anytime at all you know there are plenty of anomalies to go around. 
Please check my newer and better post on balhyochas.   
Then you might want to go back to the hwangcha post.  Where you can sign up to be on the list to get some of Oh Young Soon's delicious artisan balhyocha and buy some hwangcha if we don’t run out of it.

P.S. You may also like to refer to this post by MattCha posted before he tried our Dan-Cha. Since this post Dan-Cha by Dong Cheon Tea is no longer being produced.  We now offer a selection of balhyochas produced by various artisan producers.  Contact us for more information. 

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