Tea in Korea; Korean Tea Is Green, Chinese Tea Is Not

Korea Times (Seoul, Korea), April 7, 1999 | Go to article overview

Tea in Korea; Korean Tea Is Green, Chinese Tea Is Not


In most traditional Korean tea houses, the menu offers a choice between a variety of Korean green teas and Chinese Oolong tea. The green teas are often listed under various poetic names, the most commonly used being Chaksolcha which, you may be told, means `sparrow tongues' to indicate that it is made with the smallest leaves. More complications arise from various subdivisions but the first question must be why Korean tea is always described as `green' and what is the difference between green tea and Oolong?

We already saw that while they ruled China, the Mongols did nothing to encourage elegant tea-drinking. When the Chinese once again began to cultivate the drinking of tea as a refined activity among the higher classes, with the advent of the Ming dynasty (1368-1643), they did not go back to the Sung taste for powdered brick-tea. Instead they promoted the more natural form of loose-leaf tea that simple people in the southern regions had probably been enjoying for centuries.

The freshly sprouting leaves were gathered in the early springtime and dried rapidly by being heated in an iron pot over a fire. Without being allowed to burn, the leaves were stirred and turned until they were completely dried, either retaining their original form or rubbed and rolled until they were tightly curled on themselves. This is the form known most commonly as Green Tea. The younger the leaves, the finer the taste.

Soon a variety of methods were discovered by which the delicacy of the taste could be accentuated. The most important of these depended on the amazing change that occurs if the leaves are allowed to wilt during a slower drying process. The complex oils contained in the fresh leaves are highly sensitive to exposure to the air. If the leaves are first lightly bruised and softened, the oils begin to oxidize. The sophisticated Chinese tea-makers soon learned that the taste of the tea varied enormously, depending on the degree of oxidizing allowed before the final drying process. The result was the great range of teas known collectively as Oolong (black dragon) in Chinese, Oryong in Korean..

The color of the tea made from the dried leaves varies, as well as the taste. …

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