Sunday, April 17, 2011

PNU's 차밭골Teahouse

 PNU's ChaBatGol teahouse is always busy as it is popular with PNU students and staff. The name means tea tree-field village and it is really easy to find. 
To get there just go right up infront of PNUs main gate. On the right there is a huge shopping center. To the left is a smaller street with foodstands. Going only about 1 building down the small street (university on your right with foodstands infront of the wall) on your left you'll see the building pictured here.

The 2nd floor is a pool hall. Going up the stairs you'll probably have to pass alot of smoke. Quick inhale, hold your breath and on up to the 3rd floor.  
Inside you'll find alot of tables and chairs as well as a korean style ondol seats. Its hours are a bit unusual, most days it is open from 10:30am to 10:30 except for Wednesday and Sunday when its open from 12:30 to 10:30.
ChaBatGol has a wide range of teas including many common to most teahouses: OMeJaCha (a dense fruity tea) and the plum-like DaeChooCha among them.
This time I ordered another tea common to most Korean teahouses : 쑥차/SookCha. Sook is a kind of herb that is most commonly used when making the pounded sticky rice cakes called Deok. If you've ever had Deok you'll know that Deok as it is very sticky and a gummy. With a sip of tea, Deok becomes alot more marshmellow like mushy insteady of gummy. And that's your tea tip for today: when given Deok, ask for tea, tea makes the gummy go away.  If you're looking for a strong tasting tea, SookCha is your thing. It has a strong spinachy taste. 
My wife had their 황차/HwangCha. It comes to you in a similar collection of teapots and filters similar to the 보이차/Boey Cha or Pu'er Tea mentioned before. Like Boey Cha, just add water to the ceramic pot, wait then filter it into the glass teapot or spouted bowl to cool. HwangCha is alot like Pu'er tea: slightly woody in taste but generally quite smooth. When strong (steeped for 1 minute or more), tends to the acidic/tannin. Personally I like it when its steeped for 30seconds only. 
 Overall, ChaBatGol is a great place to kickback and unwind. My wife and I used to go there often after a long hike behind PNU. We recommend bringing alot of books. It is especially wonderful when it rains as the interior is made to look like an old Korean village house: you can listen to the pitter patter of the rain and imagine Korea's past when things moved alot slower. Best wishes, and stay steeped. MWT.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Dog That Won't Bite: Ujeon Green Tea.

Usually I'm more of a 시장 (open air market) kinda guy. Except when it comes to April and May. April showers and the cherry blossom flowers mean its time for green tea: the good stuff is coming next month. I was just in the Shinsegae Department store and my wife noticed the sign: "2011 우전녹차 예약 판매" panmae is waiting list. Now is the time you can register to get your first season/Ujeon green tea.
Essentially as many guides will tell you, Ujeon tea is the tea that is made from the first young green tea buds and leaves picked around 'Gokwoo' or April 20th. The leaves are picked, rubbed, roasted and packed.

That's all fine and dandy you might say. But what's the point you may ask. Isn't green tea green tea?
The difference is in the taste:
If you've ever had green tea you'll find it is a bit bitter especially from the teabags. Sometimes it's mixed with buckwheat (메밀). Usually they use lower quality, older season green tea for that. Bitter teas do have their place.
The difference is like this: regular green tea is like a mint or peppermint in that it has a sharpness to it, it has a bit of a bite. Well Ujeon green tea has no bitter bite to it. Its closer to peppermint than mint in taste. Just picture peppermint without the sharpness yet still retaining that mild cooling effect. That's Ujeon green tea. Usually you steep the tea for only 30 seconds or so. It comes out clear but has that awesome cooling effect. A great tea for summer. I'm looking forward to trying it out as an iced tea.
It _is_ expensive Shinsagae has it for 80,000 won for 80grams, but overall it is worth it: This tea stays strong even after several steepings.

Fine about the taste but why the waiting list?
That is what I'm about to find out.
On his website Brother Anthony of Taize says Ujeon tea loses some of its quality by around Christmas time or after 8 months. Something I plan to put to the test once I get my hands on the 2011 Ujeon NokCha available from next month.
Unable to wait until then, today I rummaged around our tea cupboard and dug up an old 2009 Ujeon green tea. We still have some left! (We save it for special occasions). The best before date says it's still good up until April 2011 (uh ohhhh) and it is.  We paid 100,000 won for all 80grams of it.
Suffice to say, you may forgo the waiting list and buy last years Ujeon NokCha instead as for certain it has no bitterness. Ujeon NokCha is a dog that won't bite.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tea and Translation: A Catholic Monk in Korea.

Journey into the world of tea and you'll soon find yourself bumping into monks of all creeds and colors. One of my first experiences in the tea world here in Busan was with a Monk BabSan of Beomosa. On a few occasions we'd have tea: a green tea followed by a lighter flower tea as was his custom. Yet, here is another monk, of whom I have yet to make acquaintance.
I ran into this particular monks website earlier this morning as I was researching an old poetic treatise on tea called the 동다송(東茶頌) Dong-da Song (more on that later...).

The Catholic monks of Taize are known for their choral style chanting well, this particular monk of Taize is known for his tea and translation. Brother Anthony, otherwise known as An Sonjae in Korean, has lived in Seoul for over 29 years and has written two books on Korean tea. His website has a most informative section on tea. If you google "An Sonjae" you'll find several articles by him or on him. He has been a very active member in Koreas poetic and tea circles.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A brief history of tea...

I happened upon a rather detailed history of tea, on a website for men's clothing nonetheless!
Most informative indeed. Do check out:
Andy Gilchrist on tea.

Someyeon's 오!자네왔는가 Oh! Janae Watnunga or Oh! You came!

So far the count is 5 teashops in Someyeon. 2 close to the Lotte Department store (the old coffeeshop like 하나방 and the rooftop house beside Wabar 다전) and 3 near Judies TaeHwa (the one with well blended fruit teas 행복한 찻집, the zen garden like 다소울 and finally the very old style Korean 오!자네왔는가. Do see the Busan Tea Cozies Facebook site: The discussion section has turned into a database on teahouse locations and each places' menu items.

Sadly I didn't take any interior pics, you'll just have to see this place for yourself. There's the low style Korean ondol seats by the window and also several tables with chairs to sit at. This place has it all.
This place is on the same street as the previously reviewed Happy Teahouse/행복한 찻집. To get to Oh! You came, start at the above ground McDonalds, near Dunkin Donuts and the 2F Outback steakhouse. Walk to the Burger King restaurant. In the same block of the BurgerKing, across from Judies Tae-Hwa you'll see what is pictured above: a pharmacy. With your back to this drugstore you'll see what's in the next picture.

 Tada! On the 3rd floor above the foodstand Dokpoki/Odang shop you'll see Oh! You came.
Their menu is all in Korean so I'll take you through it. It is divided into several sections. With several green teas and a large Chinese tea section they also have several unique flower teas: 새싹감잎차: SaeSak: baby, Kamip: persimmon leaf, Cha: tea, 민들레차: dandelion tea.
They also have 목련차/magnolia tea and 수국차/hydrangea flower tea. All of which I have yet to try. This place is worth several visits indeed. As I make menu discoveries at this place I shall post it to the Facebook site so stay tuned to there too.
They are open daily from 12am to 12pm great if you're in the Someyeon area and have just finished work, or if not a good place to drop by on the weekend. Pictured below is the 대추차 I ordered. It came with a side dish of shelled sunflower seeds. The dim lighting in the evening is great for settling down before heading home. Not so great for interior pictures though. They do sell some tea items including the 홍화차 I'd mentioned in another earlier post.
Wishing you a pleasant evening and a wonderful time in touring the teashops.  Till next time, stay steeped. M.T.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Mummy Flower Tea: The Rise of The Bastard Saffron.

 홍화차 Hong-hwa cha or red flower tea. I picked it up from a tea vendor in the narrow crowded streets where Kukjae market turns into Jalgachi. All it said was 호화차 and nothing more. I bought it and brought it home to discover its wonders.
The red flowers when steeped for a mere 30 seconds brings forth a rather strong  amber tea. It had a flavor like lemon peel without the sour bitterness with a light pure honey aftertaste.

My wife and I quickly employed the tea in our meal and soon discovered it easily took away  the onioney aftertaste of Chinese our food. It was quite remarkable in that it removed the onion after taste quite easily while leaving only this gentle honey flavor in its place.

Consulting one of my teabooks I discovered this red flower was "Safflower"or Carthamus Tinctotrius. 새플라워 in the Korean. I then learned that in the culinary arts this flower is often referred to as bastard saffron as it is often used as a cheaper saffron. The book also stated that the rags used to wrap mummies was colored using Safflower giving the mummies wrappings a slightly yellow color  According to Wikipedia however, these flowers were used to form a lovely garland for King Tutankhamun. Later this week I'll try mixing some into my rice.

The flowers in dried form look alot like the near microscopic shrimp you get as a sidedish when you have dweji gookbap as you can see above. This flower tea is rather quite common, they sell it in Nampodong as well as in Someyeon's 오!자네왔는가 teahouse. A particular teahouse I shall be visiting again tomorrow and reviewing for you with menu assistance notes later this week. Till then, stay steeped.

(The book referred to in this article: 차 수첩 by 사쿠야마 와카코 translated by 우제열 part of the 구르메 수첩 series by 우듬지 press ISBN 978-89-91292-67-3 13590).