; Cwyn's Death By Tea: the Back-Up Plan ;

Thursday, June 25, 2015

the Back-Up Plan

Sejak, left; hwangcha, right.

Might surprise a few of you that I do drink tea other than puerh. Every pu head needs to have a back up plan for those occasions when drinking puerh just isn't possible. For example, they don't allow puerh knives in prison. In my case, I'm heading for the nursing home where no laws are supposed to apply, but those people cut your meat in advance, and I'll be lucky if I can keep my Xbox, to say nothing of piling up bamboo tongs in my room. No, I expect that unless I want to file a court case I'd best identify some other teas I'm willing to drink before I'm unable to do much more than mutter over the tea bags in the community room. Actually, I'm quite partial to Korean tea so the decision of what else to drink is easy. But finding it? Not so much.

Korean teas have a delicate leaf that reminds me of saffron fronds, and that leaf resembles no other teas in the world, in my opinion. During the hot weather of summer that we're having right now, I like me a nice salty Sejak. The only problem is, a good Sejak is difficult to find. When you do find any Korean green teas, they are expensive, and sell out fast. And once gone, you won't get another opportunity until the following year. The new teas tend to appear in the west in late summer or early autumn. I've been out of sejak for almost a year now, and so when recently clicking on the Sale button over at puerh-sk, I was surprised to see a Junkro Sejak and hit the Back button real quick. I couldn't believe the price which came in at about $14 for 50g.

First steep.
This high mountain sejak doesn't disappoint. I'm mainly looking for the salt in the first steeping which is a bit of that misty ocean air. You can taste it all around your lips and for me it mitigates the beany-umami flavor. I find teas with an overwhelming umami flavor to be a bit too sweet for my liking, and so I'm particular about the sencha I drink for this reason. I gong fu brew sejak, and I don't measure the leaf. Because the leaves are very delicate, they tend to lift up in a clump and I don't want to disturb them too much. A rinse is unnecessary for me, this ain't warehouse pu. And I can forgo a strainer and waste bowl for once, any stray leaves at the bottom of the cup can go right back into the gaiwan. I use 10 second steeps for the most part. The second steeping is darker still, but the real action is that first cup, in my opinion. I usually get a good 6 steeps or so out of sejak. In the summer, the thought of that salty steep just makes my mouth water, especially on hot, muggy days when I've been sweating away.

I suppose I will suggest you pick some of this Sejak up, but I'd rather you left it there in case I need it. Actually it was an excuse to also pick up some pu and naturally a teapot too. I wouldn't have done all that but for my friends on Instagram constantly taunting me with teaware, and puerh-sk is the place to go to hoard both tea and teaware in one big shopping spree. So really it isn't my fault I now have this Sejak.

by Jeong Jae Yeun
Another Korean tea I'm very partial to is Jeong Jae Yeun's high mountain "hwangcha." Jeong Jae Yeun dedicates herself to creating this one tea only, organically grown wild and semi-wild tea trees literally at the highest altitude, much past which tea won't grow. This type of processing is most similar to Chinese yellow teas, but not the same, so really this Balhyocha is a tea unlike any other. This past year, What-Cha carried this tea but they are now sold out. Before that, the only vendor I'm aware of is Arthur Park at Morning Crane tea, and he usually does a group order in late August or early September. Sometimes he has left over packages and you can drop him an email if you're interested.

This tea, aside from puerh, is what I can recommend as the best tea. Full stop. My initial curiosity with this tea came from the story Arthur Park tells on his blog about how a Buddhist nun tasted this tea at Jeong's home and then stopped later at an artisan pottery workshop and shared her experience of drinking the best tea she'd ever had. I wanted to try and discover what a Buddhist nun might see in this particular tea, and the answer was easy to discover.

Using about a tablespoon of tea, try the first steep in your gaiwan at 150F/65C. I know that Buddhist nuns, especially those on the road, tend to fast more as a rule than western nuns. When breaking a fast, one doesn't want to put boiling hot water into one's stomach. Either use a cooler brew, or you let the tea cool a bit. Now I've done my share of fasting, and what happens is every one of your senses becomes more sharp. The first steep of this tea at a cool temp is a burst of chocolate, and I think the nun must have wept in delight.

Second steep.
Earlier this year I served this tea to my sister along with a light snack of grapes, goat cheese and crackers. She stopped mid-sentence while drinking the tea to say, "I think this is the best tea I've ever had in my life." My sister is the most beautiful person I know, and so I mailed her my extra package of this tea. She is the only person on the planet for whom I would part with my stock of this favorite tea.

Author's lovely sister, in Jordan, 2014
In any case, this tea calls for a cooler temp and a light hand on the gaiwan, and is gorgeous back-to-back with the Sejak, from salty to sweet. In later steeps an oolong plumminess is at the forefront. I think this tea goes very well with light summer fruits, veggies and rice but of course it is so lovely I drink it on its own. I could go on more about this tea but you can find an excellent tasting video from the guys over at TeaDB.

So now you know my Back-up Plan, in case drinking pu just isn't possible.

Requiescat in Pace.


  1. I love hwang cha. I wish Korean Teas were cheaper and easier to find. I regularly watch Korean dramas and when they are drinking tea I get jealous. Give it to meeeee oppa!

    All the Korean stores I've hit here in Los Angeles have been all grocery store crap or that jelly sweet stuff in a jar.

    1. Seems crazy it is easier to get phones and cars from Korea than tea.