My last adventure for Chuseok was visiting the Boseong Tea Fields. A little out of the way, I had to take 3 buses from Gurye to get there. First, the bus to Gwangju, a larger city nearby took about 1.5 hours. Then I hopped on another bus to Boseong, which was relatively empty. When I arrived at the tiny local bus station, I got a few looks for sure. It was immediately evident that not a lot of foreigners pass through this station. When they do, they clearly go to the tea fields because a man on the bus asked me “nok-cha?” which is Korean for green tea. He kindly helped me purchase the ticket for my final bus ride to the tea fields, and made sure I knew where and when to wait for it. Travelling in Korea (expecially alone) is daunting at first, but I have quickly realized there is always someone around to help you find your way, even if its through multiple forms of communication and misunderstandings are you try to find your way through the language barrier.
It was pouring rain the whole time, but totally worth it. As is very common when travelling around Korea (and in general) I ended up meeting another foreign teacher along the way. He’s been teaching in Korea and traveling the world for 8 years now–he’s been to over a hundred countries! So we headed to the fields together and enjoying the rainy day in good company.
Green tea bingsoo….mmmmm.
New friend Jason!
I was particularly interested in visiting the tea fields after taking a botany course this past year where we learned about how tea is grown (or Camellia sinensis if you want to get scientific), how its harvested, processed, and the health benefits of drinking tea. So I thought I would share a couple of the things I learned here.
For starters, I was surprised to find out that black, green, white, and oolong teas all come from the same plant that you see in all these pictures. So this tea plantation really could be producing any of those four teas, but it seems to be just dedicated to green tea. The difference between all of these teas is the way it is processed. Even green tea itself has a number of methods that produce variations on green tea, but I will share just a few points about the most common method, called pucho-cha processing.
Growing Green Tea
Growing tea is a very particular process that must follow specific practices and dates to ensure the highest quality product.Tea is typically only grown far away from roads and other areas that threaten pollution and contamination. Harvesting dates follow the lunar calendar to ensure optimum growth and health properties. The bushes are pruned regularly to keep the buds at an accessible height for harvesting.
Processing Green Tea
While you might imagine yourself picking off a few leaves from a bush and brewing it into some fresh tea, it is unfortunately not that simple. Processing leaves into green tea is a rigorous process and only hand-processed green teas are considered the best in Korea. First, the leaves are heated in a large cauldron, typically over a wood fire. They must be constantly turned over, often manually,to relieve moisture. Next, tea-makers must find a delicate balance between rolling the leaves to release flavour, but not damaging the leaves with too much force. The leaves are then carefully separated and air dried. This process is then repeated twice in a slightly cooler cauldron, and the tea is packaged after a final drying.
If you’re interested in learning more about this process, check out this awesome document!