This American importer of organic, single-estate Korean teas has offerings that would pair well with your summer picnic.
Back in 2015 when Rob and I visited South Korea, a highlight of our trip there was taking the ferry to Jeju Island, the ‘Hawaii of South Korea.’ As beautiful as you might think, this island paradise and popular Korean vacation destination is just a few hours by ferry south of the mainland. We took the ferry from Mokpo and spent a week frolicking around sex museums, climbing South Korea’s highest mountain (with no water), eating delicious black pork belly, and visiting the O’Sulloc Tea Museum (which I was VERY excited for).
Suffice to say, I have a lot of fond memories of good ol’ Jeju Island and beautiful South Korea, so when Teas Unique reached out to see if I’d like to try some of their 2016 harvest samples, I was stoked.
Teas Unique is an American importer of organic Korean teas. They specialize in orthodox (whole leaf) teas from Boseong, Mt. Jiri, Jeonnam, and Jeju Island. Teas Unique sources their Jeju Island tea from Moru Farm and Daheeyeon Garden. Jeju Island is a moderately warm climate. January’s average temperature is 6˚C, and the summer months average 27˚C.
In South Korea, the terroir of Jeju is mythologized. Much like how in North America we believe that water from Switzerland, Iceland, or Fiji is better for you, in South Korea, Jeju is nationally renowned as a source of purity, minerals, and general health and goodness. Want proof? Check out Korean beauty products. Most major Korean beauty brands have at least once product with ingredients from Jeju Island. Innisfree in particular has tied their identity to the glowing paradise that is Jeju.
I’m no geologist, but compared to Seoul, the island paradise of Jeju Island does seem incredibly pure by comparison. I remember getting in our taxi with Rob and driving by field after field of blooming yellow rapeseed swaying in the wind. It was gorgeous.
Roasted Green Tea White Chocolate
First I want to talk about the chocolate bar, made from powdered hojicha (green tea roasted over charcoal) and German organic white chocolate. I’m a bit of a chocolate snob (womp womp, sorry guys), and while this bar was okay, I would consider it more of a novelty gift item than an artisan chocolate product.
This chocolate felt a bit greasy and grainy. It also didn’t have that satisfying ‘snap’ that really good chocolate does. The tea taste gets lost here in the sugar.
As a consumer, reading ‘white chocolate,’ on a label sets you up to expect chocolate that looks white when you open the wrapper. While the mix has white chocolate (cocoa butter, cane sugar, powdered milk) in it, labeling the product, or reworking it so it’s actually white might work better in terms of setting expectations.
I hope I don’t sound too hard on it – It’s about the same quality as you could expect from a grocery store chocolate bar. It’s a sweet treat, and a cool novelty (hey, there’s tea!).
Mt. Jiri Sejak (Second Pluck)
Jiri-san! Rob and I had a temple stay adventure at Hwaeomsa Temple on Mt. Jiri, including a mischievous monk and wild tea, read about it here.
Beautiful tea right out of the bag. These twisted little emerald leaves are a second pluck of sejak. Sejak (세작) is a Korean green tea meaning, ‘thin sparrow.’ Picked before summer starts, when the leaves are plucked they’re about the size of a sparrow’s tongue. Charming way to measure things, no?
Sejak enjoys lower steeping temperatures. I used 80˚ water, but anywhere in the 70˚-80˚ range would be a happy spot.
This light green tea had notes like pea soup – a pleasant, warming fullness, and mild astringency. Would pair nicely with potato salad or a ham and gouda cheese sandwich. I could also see it working with a light, plain cheesecake or melon. Tastes like a summer picnic to me.
Steep Method: 80˚, 2 minutes.
Jeju Island Second Flush Matcha
As I mentioned, Jeju Island is the seat of romance in South Korea, where couples take honeymoon vacations, beauty products live, and bottled water comes from.
It’s always a curious thing when I try matcha that’s not from Japan, since matcha itself is an inherently Japanese thing. Nonetheless, I’m always willing to experiment.
What I was most surprised by was how it did have a totally different flavour profile than the Japanese matcha I usually get. First off, the powder did have a more yellow-green appearance than the bright blue-green matcha from Japan.
For taste although there was the shared vegetal experience with Japanese matcha, I found this one had more sweet hay and twiggy flavours, and a full mouth feel kind of like oatmeal or porridge, but with definite green vegetal and bitterness. It almost reminded me of kukicha, Japanese twig tea. The matcha frothed easily (always a good sign).
Steep Method: 80˚, frothed with chasen (bamboo whisk) in a chawan (traditional Japanese matcha bowl)
Mt. Jiri Joongjak (Third Pluck) Huang Cha
Joongjak is Korean tea picked at the end of Spring. Huang Cha is a lightly oxidized ‘red tea’ (or black tea, as we’d call it in North America).
This sweet black tea reminded me of the bran we used to feed the horses. I would stick my nose in the feed bins as a kid while Dad was feeding the horses because the smell was so good. A kind of malty molasses.
Preparation Method: 90˚C, 2 minutes.
Jeju Island 2nd Flush Black with Mandarin Orange
This little tea came from a tea estate situated on the volcanic soil of Jeju Island, on the slope of my good friend, Mt. Halla (South Korea’s highest mountain). And it’s not just any orange peels in the mix, it’s Jeju Island orange skins. When I was on Jeju, you couldn’t turn a corner without someone trying to offer you a Hallabong orange, Jeju’s famous, sweet orange varietal. It’s nice to see the island’s specialty featured in this pleasant black tea.
This light black tea has a pleasant mandarin taste without being too overbearing or ‘perfumey.’ Very drinkable, very smooth. Would pair nicely with orange gelato or ginger bread.
Preparation Method: 90˚C, 2 minutes.