Friday, November 21, 2014

Notes on Jeong Jae Yeun Hwang-Cha and Yejeon Blahyocha by "el muCHAcholo"

I was in the process of writing another post on the Korean tea term 'balhyocha' when I received the following descriptions of two of the balhyochas we offer.  We at Morning Crane Tea try to source Korea's best teas, as these notes suggest we are not an on-line tea shop.  However, we do have a few teas in stock includig almost always Jeong Jae Yeun's hwangcha and can source other teas by group buys that we believe are worth waiting for.  Essentially, Morning Crane Tea is an Educational Korean Tea Adventure. We hope you will join us.  AKJP

Jeong Jae Yeun (L)   Kim Yu Ja and her son Jeon Ju Hyun of Yejeon Tea (R)

Notes on Jeong Jae Yeun Hwang-Cha and Yejeon Blahyocha
by "el muCHAcholo"  November 21, 2014
I make no claims of the notes below being definitive. I just drink a lot of tea within a relatively narrow repertoire (Formosa kaoshan, baked TGY, Phoenix, and Wuyi oolongs; longjing, houkui, and Japanese greens; and mostly shou Puerhs.) I was introduced to commercial Korean green tea about a year ago with a small undated bag acquired from a friend in a tea trade. Since then, I’ve made contact with Morning Crane and have begun to learn of the delights of Korean artisan teas. The notes below are a journalistic description, not a connoisseur’s evaluation. My comments about Korean tea styles and production are based on conversations with Arthur Park, reading his blog posts, and Internet research over the last two months. I would be happy to have any errors or omissions addressed by persons who are better informed.
The question "What are balyocha and hwangcha? Green, white, yellow, oolong, red, or black?" is fraught with the impossibility of classifying Korean teas on the basis of the six traditional Chinese tea categories. It’s like asking “What kind of fish is a sparrow?” Also, any "folk" product that is indigenous to a national region will tend to have many (at times seemingly conflicting) names, because languages were not standardized across entire national territories until relatively recently.
As I understand it, "balhyocha" is the Korean term for oxidized tea made in a unique process that corresponds to Korea's culture, terrain, climate, and architecture (traditional heated floors are integral to the teas’ traditional method of production). Korean "hwangcha" is similar in name to Chinese yellow tea, but this is a linguistic coincidence. “Hwangcha” in Korea seems to be generally used for balhyocha with a lessor degree of oxidation.
Having no experience with balhyocha (or with Chinese hongcha, commonly called “black tea” outside of Asia, whose aroma is somewhat similar to balhyocha), I took a leap and treated both the Jeong Jae Yeun Hwang-Cha and the Yejeon Balhyocha like the teas I am familiar with that they most appear to resemble: Fenghuang dancong and Wuyi yancha oolongs. Unlike those oolongs, the Korean teas did not require rinsing.

Jeong Jae Yeun  "Halmonie Hwangcha" 

Jeong Je Yeun -- Jiri Mountain Hwang-Cha
Dry Tea: The dry tea is delicate, hairlike, crinkly. Looks like Phoenix or Wuyi in miniature. Smells of sweet grains and ripe fruit. Crumbles cleanly when pinched between fingertips.
Brewing Vessel: A 110cc thin white porcelain gaiwan corresponds to the very nice teacup Arthur included in the order.
Quantity: Weighed out 6 grams of the hwangcha, a ratio of about 2 grams of tea for each ounce of water per infusion.
Warming: Heated the gaiwan and cup with 195 F (95 C) water. Discarded water after a minute.
Warmed Aroma: Put tea in warmed gaiwan, covered it, shook it gently, waited, smelled. Aroma of heated tea is Darjeeling-like with a tart/sweet/green-ness.
First Infusion: I avoided pouring hot water directly on the delicate leaves; instead poured hot water around the edge of the gaiwan and a golden red-amber liquid appeared almost immediately. Quickly poured through strainer into warmed cup.
The first infusion was about 10-15 seconds (more or less standard for oolong in this gungfu style of brewing) but used color as guide (pouring out the liquor before the red-gold amber becomes red-brown).
Aroma: "Darjeeling-like" but not cloying or heavy. The aroma evolves with no sudden changes. Lightly sweet ripe fruit in the silky smooth mouth. No "corners" or "bumps." Constantly-evolving taste with a gentle dryness as an "anchor" amid whirling impressions.
Second Infusion: (again, using color as a guide) about 20 seconds.
"Darjeeling" notes 'blossom" as an undercurrent of strong orchid green tea emerges, contrasting and complementing the sweetness of the initial impression.
Third Infusion: About 30 seconds; color is my actual guide throughout. The Darjeeling aspect continues "widening" (not weakening as much as it is softening) while the "green" underneath becomes dominant.
Subsequent Infusions: "Green" becomes the main feature, growing more rounded with each new cup. Lost track of the number of infusions. Got at least ten --- probably more since my discarded water vessel had only 6-8 ounces of water in it out of the 50 ounces of water in my 1.5 liter insulated carafe. Only about an ounce of water in the bottom of the tea tray.
Spent Tea: Red-green/brown-yellow. There is a small amount of small fragments of the delicate leaves at the bottom of the gaiwan (a reason for the quick, but full, initial infusions). The many stems might seem odd to some, but persons familiar with high-grade Formosa oolong will appreciate the evidence of leaf-and-bud sets. There are many buds ("sprouts") with a few larger leaves amid the mostly small leaves and buds, country people don’t waste what’s good for cosmetic reasons. The intact edges of the leaves shows careful non-industrial production methods.
Comment: My strongest impression was "This gets better, deeper, more complex with each infusion." It never weakened to wateriness, but persisted delivering good tea until I hit five-minute infusions and could no longer keep the water in the gaiwan warm.
“Orchid” green vitality rises from underneath the showy initial aromas. I liked this tea more and more with each subsequent infusion.
Price: At $16 for 40 grams ($.40/gram, $11.20/oz), the seemingly extravagant 6 gram gaiwan-load cost $2.40, cheaper than a 12 oz. latte at Starbucks and it lasted for over an hour and a half of one-infusion-after-the-other drinking, a total of maybe 15 infusions. I lost count.
Over all impression: On the basis of freshness, complexity, persistence, aroma, lack of astringency, texture, flawlessness, and character, the Jiri Mountain Hwangcha by Jeong Jae Yeun is at least the equal of high-grade Dayulin (oolong, which this Korean tea is not): sweet, mild, complex, flawless, long-lasting, with multiple well-balanced infusions. In fact, I got twice the infusions from this hwangcha than I'd expect from that most prized of Formosa oolongs.

 Kim Yu Ja and her son Jeon Ju Hyun of Yejeon Tea
Yejeon Balhyocha 
Vessel: 110cc thin-walled white porcelain gaiwan.
Dry Tea: 6 grams. the tea is black, delicate, finely-rolled though wavy, hairlike. Strong Darjeeling-type scent in the bag.
Water Temp: 195f. (about 90C).
Warmed Aroma: Warmed gaiwan, put in tea, covered, gentle shake, wait. Fermenting sweet red grapes, thick and sharp. Bracing. Shiso-like, but with sugared camphor.
First Infusion: 10-15 seconds. Just enough time to pour in the water, poke at the wet tea once or twice with the gaiwan lid, cover it, open the top a bit, and pour it out. Huge vibrant “Darjeeling” nose in the gaiwan that "sharpens" into a shiso-like focus. It's like all of ripe stone fruit rolled into one, but with the mouth-watering tartness of green plums in the finish. And that's just the nose. The mouth was entirely unknown territory: huge stone fruit becoming essence of spice. There is a marked contrast between the nose and the mouth: a tea friend drinking this with me commented, “If the mouth were the same as the nose, the tea would be too overwhelming.”
Comment: This may be considered an abuse of Korean tea, but I'm just trying to get the most out of this tea under the same conditions I use with a new oolong: 110cc gaiwan, 6 grams of tea, water temperature as is best for the particular tea. Very short infusions: gungfu tea. Basically, I treated this tea as I would a good Wuyi Yancha (or a Fenghuang dancong), except that I gave the balyocha no preliminary rinse. Interestingly, there was virtually none of the bubbly foam (saponins) that one must skim from Wuyi and Phoenix to avoid excess bitterness.
Second Infusion: About 20 seconds, a hugely pleasing spicy mouth, but it seemed that many individual notes were "blurred" (15 seconds would’ve been better). A pleasant "metallic" but herbaceous quality rose from under the spicy ripe fruit. It was reminiscent of the "stone/mineral" quality of yancha.
Third and Subsequent Infusions: 20-30 seconds seemed right, going by color. After 6-8 infusions, times got longer, but increasing in perhaps 5-10 second increments. This is a very generous tea!
Comment: Rather than attempt to describe this tea in detail (a task better left to those more familiar with fully-oxidized teas than me, the semi-oxidized oolong nut), I didn't time the brewing beyond the 3rd or 4th infusion, preferring to use the liquor's color as a guide. The color is a brilliant deep reddish-copper hue, similar to the jewel-like liquor ruby/amber of a good shou Puerh. The “persistent generosity” of the tea is also similar to a good Puerh, though the tea is of a very different character entirely.
Comment: Around the 6th or 7th infusion, the aroma in the gaiwan matured into a essence of seacoast wild flowers and fresh kelp that had me thinking of florid tidal pools. This (with an undercurrent of shiso) was accompanied by a growing umami that persisted as the liquor offered "the taste of no taste" until I used up the entire 1.5 liter carafe.
The tea gave up perhaps 15 infusions, but the brew-time had lengthened in tiny increments: later infusions were well under five minutes. Like the Jeon Jae Yeun Hwang-Cha, this tea didn’t weaken after many infusions, it softened. Unlike oolong, these teas didn’t reach an “unbrewable” stage after which they were insipid and watery. Instead, they continued producing a well-balanced — if more subtle — liquor.
Price: The dry tea appeared to be even more “tippy” than the Jeong Jae Yeun Hwang-Cha, with few stems or larger leaves. At $20 for 40 grams ($.50/g, $14/oz troy), this tea is slightly more expensive than the hwangcha, a fact that is reflected in more “select” tips and small leaves. It’s important to note that grade and quality are not synonymous; “grade” is about conformation to a physical standard while “quality” is about the experience in the cup. Both of these teas are superb; their virtues (and lack of flaws) are at least equal to better-known (though of course very different) teas that cost twice the price.
Overall: I wish that Arthur had a teashop so that these teas would be readily available. But, since he doesn’t, we get the trade-off of re-experiencing what life was like before the infantile impulse for immediate gratification took the world by storm with the arrival of Internet shopping. After the fireworks-in-the-cup described above, I have to deal with the fact that there are only about a half-dozen similarly portioned servings in each of the 40 gram packages; future brewings will be more temperate with only one gram of tea per ounce and longer infusion times. 

 A Very Quick Note on These Tea Producers 
from Morning Crane Tea:
When we spoke with Jeon Ju Hyun of Yejeon Tea we asked him how he became interested in tea.  His answer was, "From my grandmother."  His mother also learned from her mother and generation after generation continues to produce excellent teas.  Yejeon tea is truly a "stand out of the crowd" tea company.  With the deserved reputation of being one of the best in Hwaegae Valley.  The 'holy valley' for Korean teas.  These are large bush organically grown leaves found almost wild in the mountains near their home and production facility.
Jeong Jae Yeun is the essence of that grandmother.  That is why we have given her the name  'Halmonie Hwangcha' or 'Grandmother Hwangcha'.  She dedicates her entire production to hwangcha.  Jeong Jae Yeun does not live in Hwagae Valley but does live in Jeri Mountain the 'holy mountain' for Korean teas. These leaves are from older semi wild organically grown bushes picked and processed by hand.  Her tea is a favorite tea of the monks that live nearby.  We learned of her tea from someone who was told of this tea by one of the monks.  We think this tea is superb and that is why we keep it in stock for quicker delivery to you.  
Thanks to "el MuCHAcholo" for writing his though anonymous  very insightful impressions of these teas.
Contact us if you would like to try them or learn more about Korean teas.  Also like us on Facebook.

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