Korean teas are not well known to Western tea drinkers, in part because only 24% of Korea’s tea production is exported. Although a good portion of Korean teas are machine harvested, a lot of the Boeseong farms still hand pluck on terraced growing areas. This is part of what contributes to the higher prices for most Korean teas. Korean green teas have marine, vegetal and light herbal notes with sweet finishes. Korean Black teas are unique and have a light malt note with hints of maple syrup.
Korea is best known for green teas (nokcha) using the Japanese Yabukita cultivar and then generally roasted as are Chinese green teas. Green teas in Korea are usually pan fried before rolling and drying, sometimes followed by additional roasting.
Fully oxidized teas are also produced in Korea but they are very delicate in flavor compared to other regions. Australian Tea Masters’ Korean Breakfast Blend is a delicate and light blend of fully oxidized teas from 12 different farms in Boeseong. Tasting notes of this black tea are malt, honey and almonds and the liquor is a warm golden honey color. Milk is not required to experience this beautiful black tea blend.
High grade and commercial matcha is also produced in Korea and is known as Garucha. Fermented teas known as dokcha or coin teas are found as well. Most teas produced in Korea are organic.
The names of Korean teas are tied to the season of plucking and can be roughly compared to flushes.
Woojeon: Plucked before April 20, this is the most famous and first flush of Korean green teas. Usually top bud or one bud/one leaf. This tea is very light and freshly green in flavor and can be compared to Japanese tamaryokucha. This tea has less prominent marine notes because it is plucked before the leaves have time to absorb the ocean notes that come with the spring rains.
Saejak: Plucked between April 20 and May 6, this is the first pluck of Korean green teas after the spring rain. Usually one bud, two leaves. Tasting notes are vegetal and naturally sweet with umami that lingers.
Joonjak: Three leaves plucked in May, this is the second pluck after the spring rain. This tea is smooth, light and slightly sweet with mint, seaweed and marine notes.
Daejak: Plucked all summer long and usually machine plucked, this final flush of Korean green tea is highly flavorful with a savory character and buttery mouthfeel.
Korean matcha has a stronger marine note that distinguishes it from other matchas. The common grade is organic and has more astringency and a more assertive flavor than does the ceremonial grade (also organic), which is smoother with strong umami notes.
After summer, the teas are generally cut below the flush and left to recover. They are not harvested through autumn, as is done in many other tea growing regions. The rest of the year is more devoted to the herbal and fruit tisanes and infusions that are served throughout tea cafés in Korea.
The largest area of tea growing in Korea is Boeseong, which produces 40% of the country’s green tea, with most farms being along Green Tea Road. Teas from Boesong are considered to be heritage teas as it has been a tea producing region since the Japanese occupation. Hadong in the Jiri Mountains and Jeju Island are the other two tea growing regions of Korea. Jeju is a volcanic rock island and some teas here are steamed, not roasted. Australian Tea Masters’ ceremonial grade matcha, Saejak and Daejak green teas are from Jeju Island, while the other green teas in the line and the common matcha are from Boeseong farms.
Who is Taste All The Tea?
My name is Nicole and I became a Korean tea devotee on a tea tour hosted by Australian Tea Masters. Prior to this trip, I entered into the tea world by founding and directing the Midwest Tea Festival for 4 years, directing and being a founding member of the Chicago International Tea Festival for it's inagural year and co-directing the International Virtual Tea Festival in the Year That Covid Ate The World. During the time I was directing festivals, I also tried my hand at tea retail for a year, selling at local markets under the name Tea Historic - a very niche customer base of those who love both tea and dinosaurs.
On the tour of Korean tea, it sounds cliche to say, but I fell in love with the unique flavor profile of these teas and also with the kind and wonderful people who produce them.
From the experience of being a guest in the home of a tea farmer for an amazingly beautiful tea served by his gracious wife to pounding tea to make dokcha to taking a turn at pan frying and rolling tea, to attending a mini tea festival and meeting the producers of Korean teas, everything about this experience made me want to bring this tea back to fellow tea lovers in the US.
At the time I started on this path, very few online retail tea companies offered Korean teas for reasonable shipping to the US. The hurdles of international customs and the high price point for these small batch teas made it too expensive to purchase teas for my friends and acquaintances. But through my friendship with Sharyn Johnston, founder of Australian Tea Masters, we thought of a way I could help facilitate easier stocking of Korean teas in US tea shops.
So it is now my pleasure and privilege to be able to bring these teas to US retail tea shops from Australian Tea Masters. By combining orders from multiple shops, the international shipping costs go down. And I can also offer a lower cost entry into Korean teas by not having to require a minimum order size. Retailers can test out the reception these beautiful teas have with their customers in small amounts before committing to larger purchases.