Tea Region Spotlight: Korea


Korean tea drinking traditions evolved along with Buddhism, starting in the sixth century. When Buddhist monks returned to Korea from their studies in China, they planted tea at their temples and used the beverage to help them concentrate while meditating. Because of this, many old Buddhist monasteries have mature tea plantations growing semi-wild around them.

When Confucianism replaced Buddhism as the official religion in the 14th century, many monasteries were torn down and most monks returned to civilian life. More Koreans drank wine during this period, but luckily tea drinking never fully disappeared.

Tea made a slight comeback in the early 18oo’s, helped in part by a Buddhist monk named Ch’o Ui, who learned the art of tea from an exiled monk. Ch’o Ui wrote many beautiful poems about tea. One of his most famous works, “Hymn in Praise of Korean Tea” (Dong Cha Song – 동다송, 東茶頌), ends with the following passage:

“The bright moon becomes my candle, my friend, a white cloud becomes my cushion, my screen. The sound of bamboo oars and wind in pine trees, solitary and refreshing, penetrates my weary bones, awakens my mind, so clear and cool. With no other guests but a white cloud and the bright moon, I am raised to a place far higher than any immortal.”

Korean tea, celadon tea set
photo by Feumalio

In modern times, appreciation of Korean tea has developed as people around the world discover loose-leaf teas. I had my first taste of Korean tea at the World Tea Expo in 2009. During the Expo, I attended a Korean tea tasting presented by Yoon Hee Kim, a passionate promoter of international tea traditions. I learned the following three brewing styles that I continue to use for Korean teas. I like to experiment with each of these methods depending on the tea and the weather.

  • Hah Tu – First add the leaves and then pour the water over them. This is how we commonly brew our tea in the West. For Korean tea, this method is recommended during cold weather.
  • Joong Tu – First fill the vessel half full of water, then add the leaves, then add the remaining water.  This method is more common during mild weather.
  • Sahng Tu – First fill the vessel with water, then add the leaves to the water. This is a wonderful way to make green tea on a hot day and, if you are using a glass pot, you can watch the leaves as they spin and dance while sinking to the bottom.

Whatever method you pick, you should always take care that your water is not too hot when it comes into contact with green tea. I find that between 160° and 170° F is just perfect for my taste, but experiments with slightly cooler water can also yield very smooth, silky and brothy infusions.

Phoenix Tea has an excellent source for Korean teas grown around Jirisan, a beautiful mountain in the southern part of South Korea. We currently sell five wonderful green teas: Muwi Sejak, Sejak, Jungjak, Daejak, and Yip Cha.  We also have a rare Hwang Cha handmade by Jeong Jae Yeun, who lives on Jiri Mountain, and dedicates her entire small amount of tea production to Hwang Cha. This semi-oxidized tea has a rich, warming flavor with delicate notes of chocolate, apricot and fig, and is a favorite of the talented Korean ceramicist, Park Jong Il.

Happy Sipping!