▲ Tea lover Cat Lever, left, places green tea leaves in the drying bowl, assisted by Julian Screawn, center, and Colleen Hyde, right. Photo by Marcie Miller
Harmony with nature, balance and simplicity can be seen smelled and tasted at Green Jeju Farm, an organic tea-growing cooperative in Jeju.
The tea farm is located in the small village of Pyseon-myeon on the east side of Jeju Island, close to the bottom of Mount Younju.
Run by eight partners, who have been producing organic tea for seven years, it takes growing tea back to its roots. The Korean Way of Tea has been in decline for much of the 20th century but in the last 30 years the country has seen the renaissance of its tea culture and a return to the traditional ways of preparing and drinking tea.
‘Sparrow’s Tongue’ tea fetches a high price Kim Mang-chan is one of the farmers of the cooperative and a tea-making expert. His specialty is a high-grade green tea known as “Jakseolcha” or “Sparrow’s Tongue,” which uses only the first bud and two leaves of the tea plant, which look like the beak and tongue of a small bird. These young leaves must be hand-picked, and are the best for producing a fragrant and delicate tea. They can command a high price once dried and packaged.
However, the picking of these small leaves is only the beginning of the long and arduous tea making process. Once the leaves are picked Kim takes them to his barn where the drying process is begun using a heating bowl -- a large metal bowl with a diameter of about 75 centimeters. It is heated to 350 degrees fahrenheit before approximately 300 grams of freshly-picked leaves are tipped in. At first they crackle and give a pungent smell, not unlike that of mown grass.
They must be turned and stirred rapidly so that all the leaves heat to the same temperature at the same time and none are burned. This first encounter with the heating bowl is vital and decides the quality of the tea; if some leaves burn or they are not dried evenly, they will make an inferior brew.
After ten minutes of being heated they start to become sticky and are taken out and separated gently before being rolled and pressed on a bamboo mat. The rolling process helps to disperse the moisture in the leaf, most of which is to be found in its center, and so encourages drying. The leaves are then left to dry in the open air for several minutes before being returned to the bowl. This process of heating, rolling and drying is repeated three times, with the bowl’s temperature reduced to 180 degrees fahrenheit on the third pass.
Hand drying produces best tea By this point the leaves are 50 percent dry. The process then enters the next phase in which the leaves are heated and dried a further nine times or until they are completely dry and they have been reduced to one third of their original volume. This can take several hours and is significantly more labor intensive for the traditional tea farmer than for those who choose to use a drying machine. However, the quality of the tea is far superior when produced by hand as each leaf benefits from the attention and experience of the tea farmer.
Fresh green tea costly A 30 gram bag of Green Jeju Farm’s premium organic green tea, hand picked at the start of the season and hand dried, can cost around 18,000 won. The tea season is short, usually just April through May with the tea that is picked later in the season often being less expensive as it is considered to be slightly lower in quality.
Korean green teas are almost unheard of in the west. It is an emerging secret, unique and remarkable and there is no finer example of this than the tea made here on Jeju by Green Jeju Farm. Green Jeju Farm green tea can be purchased online at www.jejunt.co.kr.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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