Hey y’all! I am back again with a very interesting tea and I’m very excited about it.
Today I am trying…
KOREAN DARK TEA!
Yes! You read it correctly. Now, if you have been following this blog and/or my instagram you will know that I am a very avid hei cha (dark tea) lover so when I found this I kind of freaked out.
Korean teas are kind of overlooked in the tea world, yet Korean tea is something I have been very interested in exploring for a long time. A vast majority of the tea that comes out of Korea (in this case, South Korea) is green tea, so this is a nice changeup.
Most of the non-puerh dark tea you can find is hei cha, or Chinese dark tea – these are the varieties like tian jian, liu an, liu bao, fu zhuan, kang zhuan, qian/shi liang, and many more. Although these constitute a lot of the dark tea market there are some dark teas available from other regions.
Pu-erh style teas from Chinese border regions like Myanmar and Laos must be classified as dark tea, since they’re not from Yunnan but they are nearly identical to pu-erh.
After those teas you get to some real interesting stuff – the dark teas of Japan and as of today, Korea. I’ve had a dark tea from Japan before and it was unlike anything I’ve ever tasted, so naturally I was very excited to see what Korea has to offer.
Dark tea has a surprisingly long history in Korea – commonly pressed into cakes, a fermented tea known as tteokcha or byeongcha was very popular in a premodern, united Korea. A very common form of tteokcha was called doncha or cheong tae jeon – small cakes with holes in the middle to look like coins.
That’s what tea I am enjoying today – cheong tae jeon. This particular tea was picked in 2015. It’s joongjak grade, which means it’s the third flush. This tea is from Jangheung County in South Jeolla Province, in the southwest of the country.
I found this interesting tea on TeasUnique, a website specializing in Korean tea. They are quite pricey ($25 for roughly 18g of tea) but you are paying for not only the tea but for the novelty of having a dark tea from Korea and the experience of brewing it, which I will get into later.
So, without further ado, on to the tasting!
The coins arrived in a little pink bag and inside of the bag was a silver zip pouch with three little wrapped coins inside. Each coin is wrapped in white paper with Korean writing on it (both hangul and hanja) and a gold seal on top.
Upon opening the package the coins came in, I took a whiff before unwrapping one. The first thing that came to my mind was fu cha (fu brick tea), a hei cha from Hunan Province in China. It had the yeasty, slightly mushroomy scent coupled with a lightly smoky, tobacco scent very common to fu cha. The only difference is that these coins had a light, sweet, honeyed smell that reminded me of beeswax candles.
Next I unwrapped the coin. It has a little hole in the middle and it didn’t feel super dense so I don’t believe it was super compressed (Thank goodness because I’ve injured myself several times trying to break apart overly compressed qian liang). The unwrapped coin smells a little grassier than it did with the wrapper on – it’s a little more hay-like and it reminds me of the hay I used to feed my guinea pigs as a child.
TeasUnique recommended that I roast the coin lightly for a few minutes before brewing. I was very excited at that suggestion because that meant I could use my hojiki (Japanese tea roaster) in another blog post!
Seriously though, aside from how hot the handle gets when roasting this hojiki is doing me very well. I don’t think I have had such copious amounts of hojicha in so little time before.
I was a little sad though because the coin is too big to pour through the handle of the roaster.
When I first started roasting the coin it didn’t smell like much but soon enough things got going and my entire kitchen smelled very interesting – intense notes of roasted spice (like cinnamon) with the earthiness of ginseng, toasted nuts, and a grassy/earthy tobacco smell. It was a lot like if you were to cross hojicha and fu brick tea.
Next, TeasUnique said bring 1 liter of water to a boil, add the coin, and boil it for 7-10 minutes (I ended up boiling it for 10).
When I was boiling the tea, a dominant scent coming off the pot was a toasted grain smell, very reminiscent of roasted barley tea (called mugicha in Japan and boricha in Korea).
What’s weird though is that when I poured the tea out after 10 minutes the bottom of the pan smelled like cooked sugar – kind of like cotton candy.
The steeped leaves however definitely smell a lot like the hojicha/fu cha cross smell of the roasted leaves. Lots of intense, roasted nutty notes dominate with the earthy-grassy scent of tobacco.
I was confused yet again upon smelling the tea because it smelled almost nothing like the steeped leaves – it smelled like barley tea.
And it tastes like it too! It’s rather light but it has quite a pronounced flavor of roasted barley. There are some slight differences though – there is some subtle fruitiness lingering in the back of the throat, along with a malty, chocolatey flavor. Just like the dark tea I tried from Japan, this is unlike any tea (I’m talking true tea here, not herbal teas like barley) I’ve ever had before.
I do enjoy it a lot – it’s a nice change up from other teas and it’s actually quite mild and smooth considering what you have to go through to brew it. I definitely think that the roasting/boiling process though is the most fun part of this and if you’re looking to try a tea that’s more novel and unusual I would definitely recommend this.
Rating: 9/10 (an extra point because I got to use my hojiki)
Jangheung County, South Jeolla Province, South Korea