Thursday, December 5, 2019

A Tea Blogger In Korea- The People Of Korean Tea

Tea field in Boseong

As many of you know, I went on an incredible trip to South Korea led by Yoon Hee Kim, where I had the opportunity to meet tea farmers, spend time in tea fields, and even make my own tea! As an American tea blogger that has never traveled to Asia before, it was a life-changing trip.

After this 8-day tea and culinary tour, I have so much to share but it's been tough to get my feelings into words. I've decided to break it down into a few posts. I recently read an article about Mr. Rogers, and in it he was quoted saying 'Point out the beauty when you can'. So I decided this first article will be about the beauty in everyone we met. The people that create Korean tea. I hope you can get a glimpse of what it felt like to meet such caring, dedicated tea people.

The Korean Tea Farmers and Producers
The people we met have a humble sense of pride. They all have a deep respect for tea, and take great pleasure in sharing what they do with others. Tea tastings that should have lasted for 30 minutes ended up going for multiple hours, as there was so much to tell us, and everyone wanted to share their beautiful teas. Here are just a few of the people we met:

I loved meeting the many people at the Borim Tea farm and research center in Boesong. A beautiful facility where we felt right at home, I had my first experience here walking through tea fields, and plucking leaves and flowers. We were given a lesson in the history of Korean tea, and I learned so much! I laughed when we learned about the 'bromance' between two ancient Korean tea scholars (more on that soon!).

steamed leaves ready to be pounded for ddoek cha

One of my favorite activities at Borim was learning how to make our own ddoek cha (cake style tea), where we pounded steamed leaves in a huge vessel that looked like an over-sized mortar and pestle, then shaped the leaves into cakes (mine weren't the most uniform, but I had so much fun!), and left them to dehydrate (I'll be writing a more in-depth post about Korean teas, including the ones we made).

MongJoongSan Dawon

We also had the opportunity to make our own tea flower liquor. We took the tea flowers we plucked in the fields and added them to a bottle with soju. In a few short weeks I'll have special liquor to make cocktails with! Throughout our time at Borim, everyone made sure we were comfortable, and well fed. One evening they even held an outdoor BBQ where everything was grilled: various seafood and meats, veggies, even rice cakes and chestnuts.

I'll never forget the cheerful folks at MongJoongSan Dawon, a large tea plantation in Boseong where the majestic fields are bathed not only in mist, but in sound. The farmers play music to their tea plants to keep them happy. It was surreal to be walking through the misty fields, listening to hauntingly beautiful music and feeling the energy of the plants. We were given a ride through the tea fields with a very jovial tea farmer, and we later had a lively tea tasting with him and a few of the other tea garden employees. Check out my pinned Instagram story about Korean Tea, you'll be able to hear the music played in this tea field.

korean dasik and a dasik mold

Another cherished memory is spending time with the tea grower who showed us how to make Korean tea sweets (dasik). She was patient as we took the time to roll out different types of dough and press them through traditional molds. We later had a lovely walk through her tea fields where she serenaded us with a beautiful opera performance while we sat by a creek. All the tea people we met have a connection to the arts, whether it's singing, playing an instrument, dance, or other visual arts. I love how they not only grow tea, but have a connection to it through the arts as well.

Hongcha at the top of a mountain

Then there is the tea farmer in Hadong that let us ride his monorail, a little vehicle (and I mean little!!) meant for hauling tea leaves from mountain (not humans!). Riding on a tiny platform scraping the sides of tea bushes up a mountain was definite a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We were laughing and cheering the entire time, while desperately holding on! Once we were at the top, he brewed cup after cup of hong cha for us, while we gazed at the sloping tea fields below us. Drinking tea in nature is a key part of the Korean tea experience. Korean culture is deeply connected to nature, and it is expressed in every way possible.

In Hadong, we met the owner of BuTea who introduced us to his family. After showing us his tea production area, his young son drew us pictures as we sipped tea. We also enjoyed treats and his wife and daughter had prepared for us to eat. Snacks kept appearing as we had more and more tea, and the little boy shyly sat near us while we all chatted. It was such a sweet afternoon.

here I am attempting to roll tea leaves

While in Hadong we also went to a tea farm and research and education center where we processed our own green tea! It was such fun to get our hands on the leaves, and learn how to pan fire and roll it. I knew making tea was a laborious process, but doing just a small bit of it really showed me how much time and effort it takes.

Before my trip, most people asked me if I was going on a 'green tea' tour, as Korea is mostly known for green tea. But my favorite teas of the trip turned out to be hwang cha (semi oxidized teas also referred to as balhyocha) and hong cha (black tea). We also tasted the ddoek cha I mentioned earlier, and fermented teas along with various green teas. I can't wait to talk about them further.

Tea Chefs and Artisans
While in a Southern province, we met a master baker of Korean sweets who owns a tea house with her husband. She creates all of the food, and he built the entire place and maintains the gardens. She welcomed us with a tour, explaining every little detail of the tea house, and kept bringing us added extra treats. We learned about the art of Korean tea snacks. This tea house was such a special place, tucked in a remote rural area that I never would have found on my own. Every little brick and stone was brought in by her husband, and meaningfully placed. The tea house is a true marvel.

beautiful Korean tea house

We met a well known potter that invited us to his studio and insisted on making us endless cups of tea while talking about the history of Korean pottery. He taught us the importance of nature in Korean art and culture, and throughout the trip I was able to see how nature reflected in every person we met.

Later in the trip we met a potter and his wife in Gwangju that not only spent hours chatting and pouring us tea, but when we had to rush off to the train station, they took the long drive with us, helped carry our bags, and made sure we were all safely on the train. They didn't leave until the train departed, waving to us as we pulled out.

I can't forget to mention the kindness of our guide Yoon Hee, who went above and beyond to make sure we had a stellar experience. She drove us all throughout the country, translated every word, made sure we were happy and comfortable. She gave us tea experiences we will never forget!

Korean teas can be difficult to find in the US, and I feel fortunate to have tasted teas on the farms where they are grown and processed. Whether it was a large plantation or a small scale garden, every tea farmer we met welcomed us with open arms, eager to tell us about their teas and give us many tastes. When I sip tea I often think about how many people were involved in bringing these leaves to me. It's even more special now that I have met the people behind my Korean teas. In the coming weeks I will dive deeper into the Korean tea experience.


  1. Replies
    1. thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. It was an incredible trip.

  2. Thank you for showing this side of Korean tea! It made me want to visit Korea (:

    1. Thank you! I highly recommend a visit to Korea if you can. It's such a wonderful place! Thank you for reading!