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 very 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 most 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.  We offer Daeheunsa Tea. On a TeaTour Korea our group stayed at Daeheungsa and made tea.  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.  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. All of our teas are Korean teas.  A tea must be very special to join the Morning Crane Tea family.  
Nearly all of the teas we offer are hand picked and hand processed.  Only the later picked teas might be machine picked and machine processed. All of the teas we offer are grown under organic growing conditions and all are excellent teas.  Machine picking and processing is common in Japan and most 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, are 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

 Go to Next Post
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.
We now are on Facebook. I hope you 'Like' us there so you can follow our adventures into Korean tea and tea ware.

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.
After further research into this question, I discovered that only a few tea producers in the Boseong area use chemical fertilizers and insecticides and that a number of producers there are now growing their teas organically as they are in Hwagae Valley and Jerisan.  

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 tea with leaves picked from wild bushes growing under bamboo and processed by hand over a wood flame and his teas demand a  higher price than most other artisan producers. I may offer his teas in a special TeaBuy.

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. 

Special Note:
To learn about a possible TeaTour Korea that would take place in May of next year and host between 4 and 8 guests, contact us.  Contact us now.  There is no obligation.   We also may organize a ceramic tour just before the tea tour beginning in April.  If interested in either tour or both, please contact us for more information. We will see what the coming year brings.

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.  More importantly we now have a website Morning Earth Korea that is slowly pulling all of my many various blog posts together in one place.
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. 
That is what I originally wrote but at the insistence of some tea friends I must add this. I have more than 60 years of work as a ceramic artist during which time I studied with two Japanese Intangible Culture Treasures a American "Saint of ceramics" and worked about a year in the studio of an internationally respected Korean potter in Korea.  I have only 40 so years of experience with Korean tea and no formal training just many years of research and discussions with tea masters, monks and others who know Korean tea far more than I ever will. It is in their blood. What little I have been able to retain I share with you. At the same time with my little knowledge, I often fine errors in the articles written by "tea experts" who try to write about Korean tea.    
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 the teas at Morning Crane Tea.  Then tell us about it for a special discount. After considerable research we have selected a "stable" of Tea Producers including cooperatives, artisan and temple teas. We even offer the rare Ddokcha. We have offered teas by Internationally known producers as well.  
Each year and sometimes twice a year we have a special opportunity to special order tea through what we call TeaBuy Korea. These are typically offered from the end of March until the Middle of June. If it is past he middle of June when you read this, you missed it. Contact us anyway to be informed of the next opportunity or to be placed on the TeaWare Buy Korea. Please contact us and like us on Facebook
Please continue to Part 2