Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Short Visit to the Tea Plantations in the Foothills of Jiri-san. By Petr Novák

I have been so busy this year that I haven't had time to continue the story of our tea adventure last spring.  However as our trip began, we were able to help Petr Novák and Daniel Klásek, from the Czech Republic begin their private tea adventure.  Petr and his partner Miro had visited the Gangjin tea and celadon area with us in past years.  Peter's friend Daniel is a tea merchant so they wanted to experience Jirisan.  Following is the account of their tea adventure.  Cho Hak

A Short Visit to the Tea Plantations in the Foothills of Jiri-san
by Petr Novak

It was a short spring visit and a dream that became true. Maybe I should say it was too short.  But with so many experiences, when Cho Hak asked me to share our “adventures” with readers of his Morning Crane Blog I was aware that it would be hard to find where to start, what to say. …How can I share the impressions from the mountains?  How can I express the wind in a bamboo forest in which you can smell the hint of the sea, fragrances of tea or smiling people?

   Hwagye-dong Valley- tea valley on the border of Jiri-san National Park

I fell in love with Korean tea a few years ago and from the beginning I felt that as the Korean peninsula stretches between China and Japan so also Korean tea lies between Chinese and Japanese teas.  That it is related to both but unusual and distinctive.  When I enjoyed those ‘first’ experiences of NokCha I was really curious about what was behind it. I felt that there were not only different tastes and fragrances but also an energy in this tea; and that it grows from the difference in culture.
When we, my partner Miroslava Randová and I, were invited in 2008 to participate on Mungyeong Chassabal Festival I was happy. Happy, not only because of all the great things that Cho Hak had described in few of his posts but I also saw it as a natural opportunity to learn about the tea for which my love was growing all those years.  In 2008 after the festival we visited Boseong area and with help from Cho Hak we had the opportunity to not only see tea plantations but also to make tea by ourselves in small a family “tea workshop”.  In my mind I can still smell the freshness of that tea!

Fresh tea leaves in Boseong area

The visits of Korea in 2008 as well in 2009 were extraordinary but like all things, “The more you know and the more you see the more you don’t know and you would like to see”. ..
Many Korean teas I have drunk during years come from the Jiri-san area.  Very often those teas come with “nice stories” about wild trees, high mountains and the use of a traditional process.  Although I am always careful about accepting this kind of story as facts, I felt that the teas from this area are strong, full of energy.  So when I realized that I had three days after the festival until I had to leave Korea the decision where to spend those days was easy. 
This spring Miroslava was not able to go with me, so my friend Daniel Klásek joined me. He is a tea enthusiast and tea merchant in the Czech Republic so he was more than happy to be at the Teabowl Festival in Mungyeong as well as join me after the festival to see the tea gardens of Jiri-san.

 Daniel (on the left) and me on our way to the south of Korea

Before we left our country I asked Matthew from Mattchablog ( if he had some recommendations as to where to go, what to see- because our time was very limited. Here are his words and although at first it looks too simple but it was really enough and helpful. Thank you very much, Matt!
Matt’s words:
Use Hadong as your main base of exploration. Go to the Hadong Grean Tea Research Center and the Kind people there will likely set up some plantation visits.
Even just talking to the people in town will likely get you to a tea field.
You got to visit the 1000-year old tree.
And go to Ssangyaesa Temple.
This post about the tea area might help:  (chick here.)
Hadong, a small city in the foothill of Jiri-san mountain, is around two hours by bus from Pusan .  While traveling there, we began to see tea fields around thirty kilometers from Hadong and we felt that we are going to the right place. Mountains, wonderful river, rice fields, bamboo…we were happy. 

  Hadong and its wonderful natural surroundings

After our arrival we tried to find the Green Tea Research Center. After some initial difficulties we got lucky and the Korean people again showed their hospitality.  With unforeseen help of people from this institution we saw and enjoyed more than we expected.
In Hadong County there are many places where you can see tea plantation.  We visited Hwagye-dong valley.  In this valley, around 25km from Hadong, you can find Ssangyaesa temple.  Near this temple the first tea seeds were planted in the eighth century and were cared for by monks for centuries.

Entrance to Ssangyaesa temple

This tea season in Korea was late, because of a long winter, so we had the opportunity to see tea harvesting.  We could have been too late.

Hand-picking of tea. The hillside is steeper than it looks from the picture…

Some parts of these tea fields are under bamboo. Picking tea leaves in this “forest” is much harder but the tea has a different quality due to the shadows and micro-climate.

Tea field under bamboo…

Gee Dae Nah- our new friend from the Green Tea Research Institute who helped us translate.  Language is one the biggest complications while traveling in Korea alone. So thank you Dae Nah.  
Probably only in this small, nice restaurant near Ssangyaesa temple can you try “tea kimchi”- pickled fresh tealeaves.

Tasty and stylish: pickled tea leaves in a restaurant surrounded by tea fields

We were surprised at how steep the incline is where the oldest tea tree in Korea grows.  It is a 1000-year-old tree.  Because of the tea variety and climate in Korea this tree is still quite small compared to, for example, the tea trees in Yunnan.  

Tea bushes near the oldest tea tree…

Korean people, Working, smiling, singing…

So another shard to the mosaic of understanding the background of Korean tea’s exceptional energy, taste and fragrance grows from these mountains and is given to it by the people who live here.  Inspirational.
. . . . .
Peter and Daniels trip must have been an inspirational journey through Korean tea.  The folks at the research center have always been helpful to us as well.  Thank you Petr for writing and providing this post.  We were glad to be able to help you get started on this journey.
There are many amazing tea journeys possible in Korea.  We are looking forward to a slightly more extensive one with a very small group of guest next May when we will meet with Brother Anthony and Hong Kyeong-Hee, co-authors of The Korean Way of Tea and translators of Korean Tea Classics as we experience both some amazing tea as well as some wonderful tea ware.  Join us and follow our blog at Tea Tour Korea.