September 23, 2012 by bethanjthomas
One of the fantastic things about being based at an Agricultural University with a special focus on tea science, is the enormous range of seminars that I can go to drink tea, listen and soak in extra knowledge.
On Thursday, I learnt a little about Korean tea from a visiting Professor. Korea has a long history of tea drinking, as historical date tea drinking back to the seventh century. There are many records that describe Emperor Suro (he founded the Gaya Kingdom, during Korea’s Three Kingdom Period) and Queen Seondeok (the first female ruler of the neighboring Silla Kingdom) enjoying green tea. The seeds most likely traveled to the peninsula in the luggage of monks from China, who imported Buddhism along with the precious plants.
This background had meant that I always believed that tea production in Korea had been relatively large scale for thousands of years, but actually mass production of tea leaves is a very recent phenomenon. Tea had only ever been made in small quantities and the growth of the tea market in Korea really began in the late 20th century.
For example, only 540 hectares of land were used for tea production in 1980, but in 2010 this was 3,264 hectares. In a similar fashion, the total production of metric tonnes of tea was incredibly low in 1980 but over the last 30 years it has grown year on year, but the type of tea produced remains almost exclusively green. The most southerly provinces in Korea produce the majority of tea, Jeollanam-do at the very bottom tip of the country produces around 60% of Korea’s total crop and Boseong is the most famous tea garden area making outstanding organic teas.
The Korean tea market actually declined 2006 – 8 after pesticide scandals, and now organic teas are incredibly popular – 80% of the Korean tea consumed in Korea is organically produced. And now, tea production and sales are slowly growing again.
Korean green teas have been tested at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou to compare their biological and mineral content to that of Chinese teas, and interestingly, they have lower the levels of catechins, fructose and sucrose, but higher levels of iron, glucose and total amino acid content. These differences must come from the terroirs – soil, weather conditions and production techniques, as the tea bush cultivars tested were identical.
I’m looking forward to seeing what the next seminar I attend will hold, and will also be presenting seminars myself on the history and culture of tea in England, and also the production of tea leaves in Britain at the Tregothnan tea estate…the world of tea is ever expanding…