Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Margaret, what is the tea master?!

Korean tea, Korean tea, Korean tea!

Everywhere I go now, tea people are yammering about Korean tea. I've had Korean greens a few times before, but nothing's really knocked me out. Someone in Seoul, however, must have coughed up the dough for an image consultant and a marketing campaign, because the buzz about Korean teas is boiling over. In conjunction, Korea just sent an enormous delegation to the World Tea Expo last weekend in Las Vegas, so expect to have more news m*a*s*hed in your face.

Even the label of the sample packet I just tried touts "the up-and-coming tea growing district of Seogwang." When I stopped at Tea Gschwendner recently to stock up (my cupboard must always contain some of their south India white and a lot of their Keemun), I got the Korean sales pitch. So I took a sample of their new South Korea Seogwang Sencha (not in their catalog yet). It's a fine sencha, nothing to blog in capital letters about. It improves noticeably with a hotter brew (go for 190 degrees instead of the usual cooler temperatures for greens), showing off a firm balance between astringency and fruitiness. I'd drink it again. OK?!

Bonus: Searching for information about it did lead me to one of my favorite discoveries of the year, however: die Tea Queen! Apparently, my beloved Gschwendner has this (unofficial? official?) spokes...person, a Dame Edna-ish sort who makes some pretty hilarious promotional videos using their teas. It's all in German, mind you, but the hilarity of this one making Earl Grey muffins is barely topped by the following "man"-on-the-street video featuring some clearly uncomfortable Germans taste-testing the Seogwang Sencha ...

Of course, we're talking South Korea here. One can only imagine the bilge-water likely served up as tea in poor North Korea.

Background: Korea has a tea culture more than 2,000 years old (there's a decent primer here), so it's not as if the teas there are brand-new. I've seen a few things about their particular ceremony, darye, and I remember once wanting to fly to Seoul immediately because they have a tea museum called the Beautiful Tea Museum. In most of my tea histories, Korea is mentioned merely in passing ("China and Korea," "Japan and Korea"), except this bit from Mair & Hoh's The True History of Tea:

In Korea, where tea more or less disappeared with the great purge of Buddhism toward the end of the Koryo dynasty in the 14th century, the beverage experienced a remarkable 20th-century renaissance with the great Korean nationalist, Buddhist monk and tea master Hyodang Choi Beom-Sul (1904-79), who, building on the work of the 19th-century monk Cho-Ui, reawakened the Korean people's interest in tea. "Like Cho-Ui ... he left behind him a growing community of people, reaching beyond Buddhism, devoted to practicing the Way of Tea as a means of spiritual refreshment, a source of community, a sign of peace," writes his biographer Brother Anthony.
Refreshment, community, peace. That's pretty much why I'm here. You?

(Sorry about the obscure title reference. Margaret Cho joke. Couldn't resist.)

1 comment:

  1. The big Korean presence at the Expo is one reason I'm a bit sad to have missed it this year. I haven't tried many Korean teas but the two I tried recently, from Upton Tea Imports, TR85 and TR55, were top-notch.

    It seems a little silly to stock a South Korean sencha, rather than one of the styles of green tea particular to Korea, unless there's something really exceptional or unique about it. Maybe someone, somewhere, finds it more exciting than you did.

    Refreshment, community, peace...hmm...I think tea is good for that...but "here"? As in online, on the computer? I sometimes find that being online too much makes me experience anxiety, alienation from people, and unnecessary perception of conflict. Taking a tea break is really nice for moderating my time spent staring at a screen during my work day.