We have been getting a “moderate to heavy” snowfall, which began yesterday and is due to continue today. Despite promises that it would be neither fluffy nor super wet, the first inches were decidedly heavy-wet. Not fun to shovel, yet so beautiful.
Between shoveling stints, I reached again for the 2021 Korean Green Tea Luxury Gift Set from Teas Unique (see post Korean Green Tea), a great way to practice a little mindfulness on the occasion of a gorgeous snowfall.
Having already tried the two Boseong teas, today I sampled Hadong Sejak (sparrow’s small beak) first-flush, second hand-pluck, orthodox green tea from the Mt. Jiri region.
Mt. Jiri Tea
According to the Teas Unique website, this tea came from a farmers’ co-op; it was grown and produced in gardens in the Mt. Jiri area in Hadong County, in South Korea’s South Gyeongsang Province, which itself is in the southern part of the country.
Mountains in Korea have long been associated with tea, both actual tea and other herbal infusions.
During the Gojoseon Period (2333–108 BCE), ancient Koreans offered sacred “tea” made from azalea leaves to mountains and rivers. (Barnes 2014).
In the year 48, when she wed King Suro in what is now Changwon City (east of Mt. Jiri, but also in Gyeongsang), Indian princess Heo Hwang-Ok brought along tea seeds (Barnes 2014), although that account is perhaps more traditional than factual.
Historical accounts note that an envoy of the Silla Dynasty, Daryum, brought tea seeds from China in the year 828.
The king of Hungduk ordered the cultivation of the seeds on Mt. Jiri. However, historical records indicate the use of tea in Silla long before 828 A.D. (Jeong and Park 2012)
Either way, tea has been grown in the Mt. Jiri region for centuries. And despite all odds.
Tea gardens in Korea have faced many obstacles over time. In the past, tea growers had to contend with how tea was viewed through the lens of Buddhism vs Confucianism. Tea has been overly taxed, wasn’t valued by the elite, and then was taken over by the Japanese in 1910–1945. Today, tea competes with coffee and alcohol for priority, and the gardens themselves suffer from the climate, which is not ideal for tea; in addition, low production is coupled with high production costs (Jeong and Park 2012).
Therefore, a tea research laboratory was established in 2004. Since over 80% of Korea’s tea comes from seedlings in mountainous areas, a setting that leads to uneven growth rates, focus has been on developing cultivars that compensate for such differences and that are of high quality as well as reliable yield (Jeong and Park 2012).
At the same time, gardens in the Mt. Jiri region still boost plants that are hundreds of years old. Genetically more diverse than the tea plants in the Boseong region, which genetically match Japanese tea, these plants likely are descendants of those first seeds brought from China (Satoru Matsumoto et al. 2004).
Companies such as Teas Unique are making these teas available globally, which hopefully will maintain interest in Korean teas and materially support the industry there.
2021 Hadong Mt. Jiri Sejak Green Tea
Organically grown, this orthodox tea was hand plucked on April 22—bud and a leaf—and then, using traditional methods, pan fired to stop oxidation. This retains the bright green color and flavor of these young leaves. The leaves were then rolled and dried.
These wiry leaves are very dark in color, almost charcoal. The sweet, fruity, breadlike aroma is delightful!
Per their directions, I brewed a teaspoon in 6 oz of 180°F water for 2 minutes, getting a light yellow cup with a subtle aroma. You can see why it’s recommended to do tastings in a white cup, although you can also see why 8th-century tea expert Lu Yü preferred a celadon teacup, which accentuates the green color of green tea.
This is a lovely tea, so smooth and pleasant. A slight toasty note rather than the vegetal or grassy notes often associated with green teas makes this a great option for someone who is looking for that middle ground. The flavor lingers nicely on the palate.
With the leaves barely open after the first steeping, the second round has a more pronounced flavor as the leaves begin to unfurl. The color is ever so slightly deeper.
The third steep is just as delicious as the second. Unlike some teas that have quite noticeable differences between steeps, this Hadong Sejak maintains its dominant notes throughout these three steepings.
Although the dry leaves don’t look like green leaves, after brewing their bright color pops! And even after the third steeping, many of the leaves are still partially or even mostly rolled, meaning they are going to release flavor for more steepings. There are many intact bud and first leaf sets.
I look out my window, where all is blanketed with quiet whiteness, and reflect that the timeless poetry of Buddhist monk Cho-ui is beautifully appropriate:
I drank a cup of tea and watched the flowing and stillness.
Quietly and naturally I seemed to forget the return of time.
–Barnes, L. E., High Tea, Norton Museum of Art, W. Palm Beach, FL, 2014.
–Cho-ui, translated by the Ven. Jinwol, “Korean tea poems,” Anthony Sogang, accessed 2/2/22.
–Jeong, B. C., and Y. G. Park, “Tea plant (Camellia sinensis) breeding in Korea,” Global Tea Breeding. Advanced Topics in Science and Technology in China, Springer, Berlin. 2012..
–Satoru Matsumoto et al., “The Korean tea plant (Camellia sinensis),” Breeding Science 54(3):231–7. 2004