This Christmas I received a surprising present: a package of the Korean First Pick Wild Green tea that I mentioned in my earlier post about Franchia, the tea house in New York City. Definitely a great opportunity to expand my knowledge of Korean greens. Today I had my first try.
According to their website:
Our Korean Wild Green Tea comes from the rocky slopes of Mt. Jilee and is 100% natural. Because it’s not cultivated, the root of our Wild Green Tea draws richer nutrients and minerals from almost 60 feet deep. The region’s colder climate (even in summer) and drastic temperature difference between day and night produces tea leaves stronger in “chi” or “energy.” Moreover, what differentiates Franchia Wild Green Tea from other green teas is our completely natural production process from growing in the wild to being harvested by hand to our unique processing method.
The site shows that the unique processing method is an immediate wok-firing, followed by hand-shaping (to bring out the oils and enzymes in the leaf), resting and drying, another wok-firing in an iron wok, more resting and drying, and finally a gentle roasting step in a steel pot. That last step is definitely unique, as when making tea in China a final roast (which tends to bring out the leaf’s aromas) is generally only applied to oolong tea. I’m not certain if these steps are common for Korean tea or just this factory, but there is definitely a notable effect.
Going with my instinct and advice from my friends, I used 90 degree Celsius water in a gaiwan for about a minute. This is hotter than I’ve used for similar tea in the past, but I wanted to see what would happen. If the result from such a brew was bitter and pungent, I would know my mistake, but the dry leaves seemed a bit dull; they must be nearly a year old, so I thought I might be able to fire some life into them with hot water. (It turns out that the Franchia site includes instructions that recommend 50 degree water for one minute, but I didn’t see that at the time.)
The liquor was light blond with the aroma of green bark after a spring rain. So much for my impression of the dull leaves! When they got wet, they took on a bright green glow. I think that the matte leaf appearance must just be a characteristic of Korean tea, perhaps due to the final roasting process.
As I mentioned in previous posts, I’m only familiar with one Korean green: the Nok Cha from Dobra Tea. That tea is milky smooth and rich with a bit of saltiness. The taste of this Wild Green reminded me more of Japanese Gyokuro than Nok Cha, and yet not as smooth or creamy as either. I want to say it was oceanic, but for me that usually means hints of seaweed and salt water and I detected neither in this brew. It had the tasty quality of bean sprouts, snap peas, or kale: a sort of woody sweetness that pervades the mouth and coats the tongue. Like a bowl of Matcha or the best Li Shan, it slowly seeps into the body and mind for a good minute after drinking. A soothing experience to be sure.
I look forward to trying and experimenting more with this tea. From my first leaves I managed to get about 4 great infusions with about the same time and temperature. That’s a good record to start with, for a green tea. Well done, Franchia.