Soocha Tea’s Woojeon, Sejak, Balhyo Cha & Mistletoe| Tea Review & Event Recap

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Tea provided for review

Soochatea Balhyo Cha_spoon

I have only tried Korean teas one other time in the past, so, when Soo reached out to me and offered to send me some teas to try, I was ready to share it with my readers as well.

I met Soo briefly at the Toronto Tea Festival this year. We exchanged social media, and when I told her I had tried Korean tea before, she was very excited. We later realized that the Korean tea I had tried in the past was actually from the same farmer she sources her tea from! What a small world!

Soochatea Korean Tea_Presentation

It just so happened that a few weeks ago, Soo ran a talk about Korean teas with the Tea Guild of Canada. I RSVP’d and learned a lot more about Korean teas! It was my first time going to a Tea Guild of Canada event and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who is interested in tea (the first event is even free!).

Soo’s talk, Korean Teas: A Journey to the Land of the Calm, was broken down into two main sections: a presentation about Korean teas, detailing the various types of teas, growing regions in Korea, picking seasons, and then a tasting and a Korean tea ceremony, a Darye! I really enjoyed the event, and the tea ceremony is worth seeing if you haven’t witnessed one before!

Soochatea Korean Tea Ceremony

I have been talking to Soo for a little while now, and one thing she has mentioned to me is that not many people have tried Korean tea before. Therefore, I thought it would be nice to do a quick dive into Korea teas. Soo sweetly gave me some notes that I could add to my blog post to better inform readers who have never come across Korean teas before.

Korea has three main growing regions (The map is from Linda Gaylard’s book, “The Tea Book”):

The Tea Book Linda Gaylard Korea Map

  • Boseong (located in South Jeolla Province):
    • Consists of the largest tea gardens (with some smaller scale farms too)
    • Produces mostly industrialized/mechanized green teas
    • Makes 40% of tea made in Korea – most green teas are from Boseong
  • Hadong (located in South Gyeongsang Province – Where Soocha Tea sources tea!):
    • Contains mostly small scale tea gardens and makes limited production
    • Hadong is where the first trees were planted in Korea
    • Hwagae-myeon (Hwagae village) is the core of Handong tea farming. It is also designated as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System which means it “combine[s] agricultural biodiversity, resilient ecosystems and a valuable cultural heritage
  • Jeju Island
    • Mostly industrialized/mechanized teas
    • Amore Pacific (a Korean cosmetic brand) planted tea trees in 1979
    • Produces 24% of national green teas

Types of teas are Korea is based around picking seasons and oxidation. Some important dates in the solar calendar (24 points according to the solar movement) are Gokwoo (穀雨, Rainfall for seedling) which falls on April 20th/21st, Ipha (立夏, the beginning of summer), which falls on May 5th/6th, and Soman (小滿, Lesser fullness of grain) which falls on May 21st/22nd

  • Woojeon (雨前): meaning “before rain”
    • 1st flush tea which contains young buds and leaves
    • Picked before April 20th /21st (Gokwoo)
  • Sejak (細雀): meaning “thin/fine sparrow’s tongue” (also known as Jaksul (雀舌, sparrow’s tongue))
    • 2nd flush tea which contains mostly leaves
    • Picked between late April (Gokwoo) to early May (Ipha)
    • Lower price point than Woojeon
  • Joongjak (中雀): meaning “medium-sized sparrow’s tongue”
    • 3rd flush
    • Picked between early (Ipha) to mid-May (Soman)
  • Daejak (大雀): meaning “large-sized sparrow’s tongue”

    • 4th flush
    • Picked after late May (after Soman)
  • Balhyo Cha (醱酵茶): literally meaning “fermented tea”
    • Oxidation levels vary and are mostly used to refer to black teas
    • Sub categories are Ban Balhyo Cha (半醱酵茶)/Bubun Balhyo Cha (部分醱酵茶) which is 10-65% semi-fermented tea/partially fermented tea (white, oolong, yellow); Balhyo Cha or Wanjeon Balhyo Cha (完全醱酵茶) which is 85% fermented tea or fully-fermented tea (black) and Hu Balhyo Cha (後醱酵茶)  such as post-fermented tea like pu’er

Now that we have a basic Korean tea introduction via Soo, let’s get into the actual teas!

 

Woojeon

Soochatea_Woojeon spoon

Description: “Woojeon is well-known for its clean finish and natural sweetness with undertones of steamed milk and roasted nuts.”

Instructions: 3g leaves | 240ml water | 60° | 2min 

Review: The slightly twisted leaves had a nice dark olive colour with hints of yellow. The leaves had a pleasing smell that was a mixture of grassy and nutty. Soo mentioned that Woojeon and Sejak from Boseong and Jeju Island are normally steamed and pan-fried. However, this tea was only pan-fried and therefore has a roasted flavour.

After steeping 2 minutes, the roasted notes are more subtle in the wet leaf and smell more like freshly cut grass and the leaves are a medium olive colour. The tea is made of small buds and leaves. The liquor is a very pale yellow, almost clear, with a similar smell as the wet leaf.

Soochatea Woojeon wet dish

The first infusion is very subtle – light grassy notes with a lingering sweetness during the tail end. The packaging recommended a second infusion as well, at 2.5 minutes. The liquor was still very pale. Tastewise, it was still grassy but took on more vegetal notes like spinach.  I was able to get some nuttiness and a hint of astringency during the tail end of the sip.

The tea had a nice subtle taste, and I found that both the grassy and roasted notes balanced each other out. Since this tea is pan-fried, it reminded me of some Chinese teas which use a similar method like Dragonwell (3.5/5 rating).

  • Type: Green tea
  • Origin: South Korea (Hadong)
  • Caffeine: Unknown
  • Ingredients: Green tea
  • Other: Organic
  • Company: Soocha Tea

Sejak

Soochatea Sejak_spoon

Description: “It’s full of the pleasant flavours of roasted nuts and steamed milk with tender fresh vegetal notes.” 

Instructions: 3g leaves | 240ml water | 70° | 2min

Review: The leaves looked very similar but a slight bit more emerald green compared to the Woojeon. In comparison, the smell of the dry leaves are much nuttier and the grassy notes take a backseat. After infusion, the wet leaves are larger and carry a much lighter smell. As expected, the liquor is also a bit darker and nuttier.

Soochatea Sejak wet dish

The first infusion was much more grassy and nuttier than the Woojeon. I found it had a stronger taste and that the nuttiness lingered. During the second infusion, there was some sweetness in the middle but it was sandwiched by roasted grassy notes.

Like the Woojeon, Soo mentioned this tea was only pan-fried when these teas are normally steamed and pan-fried. I enjoyed both the Woojeon and the Sejak. I found the Woojeon more subtle and grassy whereas the Sejak was more nutty and roasted (3.5/5 rating).

  • Type: Green tea
  • Origin: South Korea (Hadong)
  • Caffeine: Unknown
  • Ingredients: Green tea
  • Other: Organic
  • Company: Soocha Tea

 

Balhyo Cha

Soochatea Balhyo Cha_spoon

Description: “This Balhyo Cha, made entirely by hand, has delightful notes of cocoa, roasted grains and steamed milk with a honey sweet aroma.”

Instructions: 3g leaves | 240ml water | 90° | 1min

Review: This is actually the tea that sparked my interest in tea. I had tried it at a tea festival a few years ago. So, when I met Soo, I asked her about the black tea, and lo and behold, the farmer she sourced her teas from was the same one I had met! So, when she sent it to me, I was very excited to try it again.

The leaves are thin and twisted and a dark brown almost black colour with red-orange tips. It has a warm roasted smell that is slightly earthy. After infusing, the wet leaves took on more of a rich cocoa smell and was a dark mahogany colour. The liquor had a nice warm rich cocoa smell that reminded me of Japanese black teas. However, it was a much lighter reddish brown than some of the black teas I’ve had in the past.

Soochatea_Balhyo_Cha_wet_dish

The first infusion consisted of bread-like notes, sweet cocoa, along with some earthy mushroom notes. The bread lingered in the back of the mouth. During the second infusion with an additional 5° and 30 seconds, the liquor was much more sweet, caramel and bread-like. The last infusion, with an additional 5° and 30 seconds, was much fainter, but there was still some grain notes with some sweet cocoa finish.

This would be a good tea for people who like black tea, but want something a bit lighter and not astringent. I admit, I very much enjoy black teas that are cocoa in taste and aroma, so this was my favourite (4/5 rating)!

  • Type: Black tea
  • Origin: South Korea (Hadong)
  • Caffeine: Unknown
  • Ingredients: Black tea
  • Other: Organic
  • Company: Soocha Tea

 

Mistletoe

Soochatea Mistletoe spoon

Description: “Masterful steaming and pan-firing techniques gives this tea the outstanding flavours of steamed sweet potato and roasted pumpkin as well as a malty woody undertone.”

Instructions: 1-2 tbsp | 240ml water | 100° | 5min 

Review: This tea was originally not part of the review because the three other teas are part of Soocha Tea’s Starter Kit set. However, Soo gave me some when I went to her talk. Since it is so unique, I couldn’t pass up the chance to write about it as well!

Mistletoe is evergreen mistletoe that grows on oak trees in the Jiri Mountain at an altitude of 1,000 metres in Hadong. It is a mixture of twigs and bark. When I first saw it, I thought it would have more of a wood smell, but it reminded me more of mushrooms. After steeping, it has more of a savoury smell and the liquor is a tan brown colour.

Soochatea Mistletoe wet_dish

While it is very clear it is made from a tree, the liquor is actually sweet, earthy and like molasses. It reminded me of a baked cookie. The second infusion just suggested an increased steeping time, so I added an additional 5 minutes. The taste was very similar but potentially even sweeter. Letting the liquor cool actually gave it a more mushroom-esque taste and there was some slight drying at the back of the mouth.

This is a taste I have never tried before, so it is rather unique to me. I would suggest it to anyone who wants to try something new (3/5 rating)!

  • Type: Herbal tea
  • Origin: South Korea (Hadong)
  • Caffeine: Caffeine-free
  • Ingredients: Korean Mistletoe tea
  • Company: Soocha Tea

Final Thoughts

I have to say, I am pretty happy I was able to try Korean teas again! I really enjoyed revisiting Korean tea by learning about and tasting it. I think it’s definitely something people should try to see if they like it! Overall, from what I tried, I found that Korean teas are much sweeter and subtler. My favourite is Balhyo Cha because of the cocoa notes!

The question of the post: Have you ever had Korean tea before?

6 comments on “Soocha Tea’s Woojeon, Sejak, Balhyo Cha & Mistletoe| Tea Review & Event Recap”

  1. Thank you Connie for the introduction to the Korean tea, it is really interesting! Definitely a tea that is rarely mentioned but something I will try in the future. Unfortunately, I visited the website of Soocha Tea and the prices seem a lot above average when talking about tea, but I don’t know if this is the standard for Korean tea or it is just for this shop. (I am not saying it is not worth it, just a mere economical consideration 🙂 )

    1. As always, thanks for reading! Glad you enjoyed the introduction. From my understanding, all the teas are handmade which may add to the price value, as well as the green teas being first and second flush. I have to admit, I have only had Korean teas a few times so, I am not sure about the price point either! I have a fourth flush green tea (review coming out in a bit), which I imagine has a lower price point, however, I got it as part of sample kit.

      Hope you are able to find some Korean tea to try! Tell me when you do. 🙂

    2. Thank you Damiano for showing your interest in Korean tea, and sorry for the late reply. I was away to Korea. Thank you Connie for your answer, too. Here is more information regarding the higher cost for Korea teas.

      1) There is a very small quantity of harvest. Compared to most other tea countries, South Korea is a small country and only a very small part of the southern area is able to grow and make tea.

      2) Unlike other tea countries, South Korea can only make spring tea when it comes to camellia sinensis, which is from April to May only, but it’s their full time job and especially in Hadong, most teas are made by hand, not in a factory, which takes much more time and effort.

      3) Most of the tea vendors are small family-run units and our tea master works with a few people in a team during the tea making season who have been working with his family for 25-30 years, and they all have been compensated fairly for their work, and good compensation for workers is one of our key criteria.

      4) Korean Woojeon(first flush green tea) is harvested for only 5-7 days a year and hence, its higher price reflects its rarity. Our Sejak(second flush green tea) contains a lot of young buds and it’s a premium grade. You can tell the difference between our Sejak and that of a lower grade when you see and taste side by side.

      5) We source our teas directly from our tea master in Korea, keeping our teas always fresh and keeping the price as close to that of Korean retail for the same product. However, due to the exchange rate, prices can fluctuate but we always try to offer the best price on the highest quality premium tea.

      Hope it helps to answer your question.
      We are proud and happy to share information about Korean tea.
      If you have further questions, please email me at soo@soochatea.ca

      1. Hi Soo, thank you for your kind and interesting answer. It is always a pleasure seeing that a vendor is actively interested in what the tea community is discussing!

        I understand all the point you have discussed, and I am glad that you are supporting the small family-run tea producers since I believe that this is really important for the tea industry (this is, of course, true for every production country). To be fair, now I visited again your website and I noticed that prices are in Canadian dollars, so after the conversion, I have to admit that is a little bit lower than what I thought!

        Unfortunately, I have not yet found a Korean tea seller in Europe, so I have not yet had the possibility to taste those teas, but I definitely would like to try them in the future.

        Still, I find myself always looking at prices when searching for tea to buy, and I find difficult to justify the purchase of tea which cost over a certain amount of €/Kg (or $/Kg). This is, of course, a personal bias, and something that I am trying to overcome. Maybe it is given by the fact that I consider all teas as “tea” and I am not yet in the mindset of distinguishing between ‘daily drinkers’ and ‘speciality tea’, for which, maybe the consumption is lower during the year because drunk only for special occasions.

        Nonetheless, I think that price should be considered in reviews in general: even though the hand-made tradition is important (and a higher price is completely justified for this), there are lots of teas which are very enjoyable even if they are not hand-made. So, if I can get the same enjoyment with a lower price, shouldn’t be this taken into consideration? (I hope I explained it well. When the concepts to explain become intricate my English usually fall off the cliff)
        I would love to know what you and the tea community think about that (maybe with dedicated posts? From Connie but also other bloggers) since it is a subject that is usually ignored (and also a little bit controversial I think)

        Thank you again for your answer. I have also subscribed to the Soocha newsletter. Even if I live outside Canada and I cannot order anything if you send also information on Korean tea it will be very interesting for sure!

        1. Hello Damiano, I agree, price does play a large part. However, my budget for tea tends to be on the lower side. I generally not to get very “exclusive” teas because I personally do not think I have developed enough knowledge (or pallet) to be able to understand if an “expensive” tea is worth its price tag. But that is a really good point! I will consider that as a topic to explore in the future! Thank you for the suggestion!

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