Friday, June 20, 2014

Sealing the fragrance

Even though we were up until 1:30 am, finishing off the ninth roast and I'd only slept for two hours the night before, I eagerly got up at 5:30 when I heard Prof Ahn preparing the tea kettle. After our morning tea, I went into the workshop to see the tea master already at work "sealing the fragrance." This is a very important step in the process. It's important not to have anything scented on your body and hot even to wash with soap, just rinse your hands well with hot water. For this, it's important not to be dirty in the first place.

The gamasot is heated to only 80°C, and the leaves are gently turned for three tedious hours without pause. Most of the group had lost interest in the process by now, but I thought it was fulfilling to be a part of the final process.

As I mentioned in the first post of this series, Prof Ahn was very impressed with our final product, exclaiming loudly that he could sell it at 500,000 woo per 100 grams (about twice the price of the best Korean green tea!). I think he was exaggerating a bit, but, still, we ended up with some very good tea!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sorting, Roasting & Drying

Once the leaves have been gathered, it's time to remove the larger leaves and trim the stems. This is important because the large leaves and stems would make the tea too bitter. Once that's done, the exciting part begins.

The "gamasot" (somewhere between a cauldron and a wok) is heated to 350°C and the leaves are thrown in and tossed quickly. This stops the leaves from oxidizing and is known as "kill green". They quickly wither and shrivel, tangling together in clumps. When the first roast is finished, the leaves are quickly brought to a large, round table to be fan-cooled and hand rolled. We each grab a handful of leaves and press them into a ball and roll them a bit vigorously.

It's important for the leaves to remain loose throughout the process, so after rolling, we untangle and sort them thinly on screens to dry for 20 minutes. After drinking tea and chatting, we came back to repeat the process. This time, the gamasot is lowered to 180°C, still hot but after watching the tea master stir the leaves with his bare hands I decided to try the same. It was a totally different experience feeling the leaves in your fingers then with the thick cotton gloves. The side of my pinky did brush against the hot iron once, and it was very hot but it didn't burn.

The third roast was done at 150°C and 140°C for the remainder. After the few few roasts, the leaves no longer had to be rolled and the process went much more quickly. It was interesting watching the leaves transform after each roast and dry, from the fresh, tender leaves we'd just picked to the tiny coiled, wiry leaves at the end of the night. What began as four large bamboo baskets full of leaves eventually withered down to a single small basket.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


Piling on the tea train

[In case you've read last year's account, this may be slightly redundant. Hope you can enjoy the photos, anyway! ^_^ ]

It's difficult to say that one one part of the tea making process is any more or less important than any other but it certainly all starts with the harvest. Obviously, you can't make good tea without good leaves.

This late in the short tea-picking season is "Jung Jak" (Korean name of the third flush, but not literally "third flush"), so we pick just the bud with one leaf. The bud holds the sweetness and the leaf adds the bitter taste, the two basic characteristics of nearly every tea. The second leaf would over power the delicate balance and the taste would not taste good.

The harvest is the more grueling part of the process, hunched over the hot sun, scouring the bushes for tender buds. I keep wanting to take a break, but I know the more I pick the more tea I'll have to bring home. I do take a moment to enjoy a few deep breaths of the fresh mountain air now and then and take in the view of Jiri Mountain from this 700 meter foothill. I especially enjoy rustling the leaves in the bag and sticking my nose in for a deep whiff. Like sugar-snap pea pods mixed with a touch of citronella.

The bag fills slowly with the small buds and leaves. My arms have begun to burn in the hot sun and are quite uncomfortable, so I move to a patch of bushes beneath the shade of a large persimmon tree, a few rows down the slope. The others stayed above, near the top, so there are many decent buds here to pluck. Not long after, Prof Ahn calls out that we've done enough and we take turns piling onto the little carts to bring us back to the workshop to start the roasting process.

A perfect bud and leaf for "Jung Jak"

Riding up the slope

Through the bushes

At the top