Like Japan and China, tea in South Korea has been very much influenced by Buddhism. The introduction of tea to Korea initially occurred somewhere around the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392 AD) at a time when the king would give tea as gifts to religious leaders and the military. It was also incorporated into funeral rituals in the form of tea boxes placed with the deceased. Unlike Japan and China, however, tea was not reserved for the upper classes and in fact was enjoyed by all classes in the country.
Tea, however, was not to last in South Korea. At the start of the Choson dynasty, which ushered in Confucianism as the replacement for Buddhism, tea was pushed to the background. Tea was heavily taxed, the tea fields destroyed, and many Buddhist temples destroyed. What little was left of the tea industry in South Korea was crushed in the Seven Year War with Japan. Most of the remaining tea fields were destroyed and many South Koreans skilled in pottery and other crafts were taken and forced to work in Japan.
Though it had never died out completely, tea began its re-introduction in the 1800’s by Confucian scholar Chong Yag-yong who in turn passed along knowledge for drinking and producing tea to the Buddhist monk Cho ui who wrote a poem praising tea. Then from 1945-1970 tea culture grew substantially with schools and universities devoted to tea and ultimately the writing of The Way of Tea by Hyo Dang. (Jane Pettigrew, 2008)
Today most tea is grown in the southern part of South Korea, with the Boseong area producing nearly 40% of all tea grown in the country. Virtually all tea produced in South Korea is green tea grown on plantations that were formed from the 1930’s onward (Boseong County, 2014). Though tea production for the Republic of Korea is on the rise it still doesn’t rank anywhere among the top growers. In 2012 the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates it produced 3,000 tons of tea while Japan produced 85,900 tons and China produced 1.7 Million tons (United Nations, 2014).
Tea production in South Korea is generally from new growth coming in April and May. Tea produced before April 20th or Kok-u are referred to as Ujon and are the most sought after and highest priced. Sejak is produced between April 20th and May 5-6, or Ipha. After May 5-6 the tea produced is referred to as Chungjak with tea produced beyond May not considered to have the right qualities for good tea.
In Korea, like Japan, tea may be finished using industrial methods for drying and rolling or by hand. There are two primary methods for crafting the finished products, resulting in Puch’o-ch’a and Chung-ch’a. For Puch’o-ch’a the tea leaves are heated in an iron pan then removed and rolled, repeatedly alternating between heat and rolling until the finished product is produced. For Chung-ch’a the tea leaves are immersed in near boiling water then removed and drained for several hours before being rolled and dried over a fire with no rest until fully dried (Anthony, 2014).
According to United Nations FAO statistics, the Republic of Korea production has generally been on the rise over the past ten years. This is promising since Korean tea can only add to the breadth of experience in your tea experience. South Korean tea can be had though one hopes for greater availability and diversity in the options over the coming years.
Have you tried South Korean tea? What do you think of it?
Anthony, B. (2014, 04 3). Making Tea in Korea. Retrieved from Brother Anthony/An Sonjae: http://hompi.sogang.ac.kr/anthony/kortea07.htm
Boseong County. (2014, 04 3). Green Tea Plantation. Retrieved from Boseong County, Jeollanamdo, South Korea: http://english.boseong.go.kr/index.boseong?menuCd=DOM_000001404000000000
Jane Pettigrew & Bruce Richardson, B. R. (2008). The New Tea Companion. Perryville, KY: Benjamin Press.
United Nations. (2014, 04 3). FAOSTAT Gateway. Retrieved from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: http://faostat3.fao.org/faostat-gateway/go/to/download/Q/QC/E
A wonderful article on South Korea. My boss, our Tea Master, visited South Korea for the World Tea Forum on behalf of Australian Tea Masters last year. She says some of the teas she tried there were quite unique.