Traditional Korean tea farmers usually have a very strong view on drawing a line between Nok Cha = Green Tea, and Jak Sul Cha = Korean Bird's tongue tea. Specially to this tea making monk I have my faith and luck to become friend with. He has been making tea since he was 9 years old in one of the Jiri San temples. Growing up in the temple since 5, he was surrounded by a newly built Korea Nation and the broken tradition of ancient tea culture. Every time I mentioned Green Tea, he shakes his head in protest.... "Green tea is from Japan, and the process is much different... Korean tea is a different varietal, and we should not associate the two together. The history between this both Nation is very grey...."
It took us 45 mins to travel to his home from Hadong, along a very beautiful river, famous for small hairy crab and river trout (which both serve raw).
10 years ago, he did managed to purchase a small plot of land in the out skirt of Hadong with 30-40 years old tea trees growing in the wild. Last year, he also found a traditional farm house on the slope of his plantation.
We spent the whole day learning and seeing his property, trying to understand his way of making wild korean tea. "I only make 2 kinds of tea, The fresh tea and the 40% fermented tea" he said. "Besides that, I also collect Herbal medicine from this area."
My friend which accompanied me had 6 bottles of Soju the other night, since he never had "Korean Vodka" before, and he is a first timer in Korea. With much arrogant he thought it is as easy as beer.... until he was literally throwing up blood that morning. The monk saw his face and wiped up a tonic using some herbs sitting in a kimchi jar, then pulled out a sharp object and bleed my friend from his right thumb.... blood spilled and tonic consumed, he then finally got some color back on his face. Miracle!
His way of growing tea is very zen, you can see there is not much tending to the farm and surrounding. Wild plants growing all around and quails making nests between tea trees. "Tea is a natural gift, so we should provide them with the most natural environment...." he continues, " People get greedy, and the tea will lose its taste."
Although he only harvests once a year, his tea is quite a commodity in Seoul. Many people try to secure his product by the lot, but few succeeded.
Will have a detail tasting note of the monk wild tea, with friends at the tea galley next week.