...Yang-hsien tea was recognized as a rare tea since the first century A.D. in the Han dynasty. In the Book of Tea, Lu Yü distinguished the tea from Huchou as “superior” and that from Ch’angchou as “next” in order of quality, but in every case he considered Yang-hsien a fine tea “with a lovely fragrance.” in Huchou and Ch’angchou prefectures in Kiangsu, the tea was known by several names, including Ku-chu from the name of the mountain in Huchou where the tea was grown. The tea was also called “purple sprout” after the dark russet color of its new leaves. Tea came in the form of small wafers and cakes. The freshly picked leaves were steamed, ground into paste, and dried in moulds of different shapes: rounds, squares, and rectangles. It was recorded that in the T’ang a monk offered “a beautiful tea” to the Prefect of Ch’angchou, Li Hsi-yün, who sent it as tribute from Yang-hsien district to the throne. The tea was much admired by the emperor who ordered that Huchou be established as an imperial estate. Crown properties were administered by the Household Commissioner for Estates, a palace office staffed by high ranking eunuchs who ensured the annual shipment of Yang-hsien and other tribute teas to the throne. There were numerous imperial estates in the south that produced tea for the throne; at his discretion, the emperor distributed the cakes as gifts to the imperial family, the aristocracy, and meritorious officials.
Yang-hsien was among the most symbolic tributes of the year, and its arrival at the palace was anxiously awaited. Fresh and tender, the “pearly tea” appeared early, coaxed to sprout by gentle winds off the lake, the season nurturing “buds of golden yellow." The tea was, therefore, the harbinger of spring, for “the one hundred plants dare not bloom” until the emperor had the first taste of Yang-hsien tea....
The above entry on Chadao.blogspot.com was my main motivation for this Korea tea adventure.
Earlier, I came across a wonderful inspiration from Mattcha's blog in late February regarding Ddok-Cha. Thanks to my wife's help — she translated it as DDOK=Mochi=Rice Cake / tea. This "Korean puerh" or to me "Korean Lui An," somehow touches me deeply. Perhaps this might be a glimpse of Traditional Chinese tea which was lost many Centuries ago....
The trend of modern days tea drinking had altered the tradition, (The Chinese tea tradition) if I may. Tea vendors try to reinvent new styles of tea every season to keep their customers on their toes, then tea farmers follow this trends to gain quick profit.
Like puerh, for example: 30 years ago, puerh really did not taste like what it does today. Mixing with lower grade, tasting greener, faster production methods, all in all the tradition will be lost 2 generations from now. On the positive ends, this might become another phenomenon like Taiwanese oolong in the 50's. The massive worldwide demands drove Taiwanese oolong production to exhaustion after WWII. Luckily, the big profit margin and the more educated producers had the right mind to improve plants and production methods. Using new technology and green awareness, new Oolong varietal had then blossomed in the 70's. More resistance to climate, environment and frequent harvesting seasons, Taiwanese oolong had became a style all by itself. And now, everyone's flocking to search for the Taiwanese oolong produced in traditional way.... The Aged high refine roasting style.
It took Taiwanese market 40 years to regain the essence of its tradition. Will it take puerh/phoenix/anix/wuyi another 40 years to "Recover"?
I am always a fan of the mysterious Lui An. Unfortunately, the tradition and technique of making such tea and its habitat had been lost for 30 years. That's why Ddok Cha really excited me. Based on Chadao blog regarding Yang-hsien cha, will this be the long-lost tea of the ancient world? A Korean parallel to Chinese Han dynasty tribute tea or even the grand-daddy of Lui An! This pure naive speculation had been brewing in me since February....
As a conclusion on the Korea trip, I am very surprised to understand the lost of Korean tradition in tea because of modernization, which mirrored the Chinese, if not more radical....
At the end, I was lucky enough to find what I had targeted for, although searching for a Ddok cha older than 15-20 yrs. is nearly impossible. I discovered many dedicated farmers testing and experimenting the "Re" making of the origin of Korean tea.
Above picture shows Ddok cha mould from 500 years ago. And the river that nurtures the 1200 years old Korean tea tree which was planted by Lord Daeryeom in 828 at Hwagae Valley, near Ssanggye Temple.
Great Memories from this mountain, tea heaven. Drinking Cliff Tea maocha freshly picked the day before, using high mountain spring water for brewing, and eating mountain veggies and river fish.... What more can I ask for?
As long as I can recall, this is the forth year of our annual tea gathering at The Tea Galley, NYC. So nice to see old tea friends and share tea adventures from the past years, chatting and catching up from each other.
As their usual generous nature, Michael and Winnie once again provided an amazing brew to us. The original Red Labels from the 50's, first time opening for 'The' occasion : ) Yummm..... tasting story-board will follow.
Based on Mr. Tang Puerh Cha book, there are 2 types of early Red Label from the 50's, and they were 5 to 10 yrs. apart.
The main difference between these 2 are the Cha Chi. Earlier one is more gentle and the later (which we tasted) is more aggressive...
We all got hit Hard by the very first sip. Mike P and Lew closed their eyes to enjoyed the roller coaster ride. Meanwhile, my nose and forehead area was feeling the Chi pressure elevating immediately from the first cup. Stoned to the point where I can not really focus. Seeing blurry and couldn't calculate distance. It was very powerful. Aged Mandarin's peel, dried plum, orchid aroma, amber, camphor, talc and granny face powder.... Everything I like was in it : )
The living of Tea Master "Cloud Rock" is very basic. Clean water running from the mountain stream, persimmon tree, mulberry tree growing as shade to cool and shelter the main compound. Situated near the foot of the mountain, the house rested next to rock and stone caves. Smaller caves are for storage and Kimchi jars piled around them. There is electricity, but the stoves are still the traditional wood-burning cast iron style. I really can feel the connection between nature and human, or maybe this is the way it always should be? A balance, or harmony to coexist, maybe a respect or humble as we are just a small part of this equation...
Anyhow, I just want to share with you the Point A to B, from his house to his plantation. The two is divided by a river running from the top of Jiri Mountain range. Learning from previous trips in Yunnan, Anxi, Phoenix and Wuyi mountains, getting a truck is essential. 5 minutes from his house, we suddenly made a sharp turn down to the river. I pulsed a bit and he just gave me a signal to a shallow water passing by. Stepping on the gas panel, I just rolled with the flow. "This is cool!" I exclaimed... " This is what I am talking about!" no one made a sound. "This is child play compared to Yiwu mountain" I mumbled to myself. Climbing back to a narrow path, we started going up the hill....
There were wild Strawberries everywhere, the monk calls it something with "dragon berry (?)" The plantation has a South-view, although the view is not as breath taking as the Handong plantation we did stay the other night, or the San Chi is not as noticeable. The peacefulness is quite obvious. There are a lot of cypress trees growing around, he mentioned these trees only grow on well drain cliff based soil. That is music to my ears, Yan Cha in Korea? Who will expect!
Returning back to his house in the late afternoon, he started brewing his 40% fermented tea. "Tastes like Oriental beauty!" I then asked if he has experience on this Taiwanese treasure before, and he is kind of not certain. Luckily, I did my homework and swiftly presented him with a top grade OB as a faith offering. He was more than surprised for this gift, I do humbly hope that he can learn much from this small sample of mine and eventually his tea can take on a all new dimension.
Later, I also brew some of our wedding puerh for him. I did learn so much from his wisdom of making tea, he did suggested if the moacha from the puerh could have absorbed an hour of the sun energy, this will be a more livelier brew. That will be a important note for me from now on: All tea plants need sun energy to survive, so will the process of making it.
I think there is a huge potential to this traditional fermented Korean tea. Taste like a cross between oolong (OB) and first flush Darjeeling, very beautiful and inviting. I will be aging this tea in a Korean pot at my archive to see its improvement.
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.
I am not a big fan of DY factory, but this one do smell ok.... What is a 8592? Very confusing label: 80's good product award / traditional method / traditional formula. Cooked, Raw or half and half? Anyone, please.... tasting notes will follow.
Cups from Edo 1603-1868 (Blue&White) and Meiji 1868-1912(colored) period. These are original sake cups, but will it be great for Tea? As long as they don't crack from drinking hot tea, I will invite them to my tea table.