Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Quest for Han Dynasty tea....

...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....

Published on Chadao: Lu T’ung and the “Song of Tea”: The Taoist Origins of the Seven Bowls [Part 2 of 2] by STEVEN D. OWYOUNG WEDNESDAY, APRIL 23, 2008

The above entry on 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.... FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 2008

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.


~ Phyll said...

This is fascinating stuff, Toki. Thank you for the information (and thanks to Mattcha, too).

Speaking of Liu An, do you think I should give the 1976 Liu An from The Tea Gallery a go?

Matt said...

You could be right, Korean ddok cha might be the closest thing nowadays to old school Han era tea. So how old is the ddok cha that you picked up?


toki said...

Thanks Phyll and Matt. I am so glad that I have taken this trip, all because of good tea bloggers like you fine gentlemen!

Phyll - For the '76 Liu An, it's not your usual "found on the web stuff." Quite interesting and its not cooked, so it will keep aging. I think I did blog about it before.

Matt - This ddok cha was made this year using wild bush harvested on 1st week of May.

Sheau said...

Thank you for the information. It is very interesting. I love tea. The ceramic in the background reminded me of kimchi pot.

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