Tea has been grown in Korea for well over one thousand years, with some records suggesting the time may even be twice that. Many believe tea was first introduced to South Korea in 828, when it was brought from China and planted on the slopes of Jirisan in Hadong County. The life of a tea farmer here isn’t an easy one, but the reward is in producing some of the finest green tea around.
In Hadong, whence we source our green tea, the climate is warm and wet – temperatures range from 4° to 32°C with an average of 14°, and there is nearly twice as much precipitation as the national average. This makes for great-tasting tea which is harvested between April and September each year. The highest quality leaves are those picked early in the season and at high elevation – the former means braving spring fogs and days where temperatures vary wildly between day and night, while the steep slopes of the mountain heights make machine harvesting impossible.
Even were the tea on flat ground, it is unlikely farmers would change their traditions of manual gathering, as this way only the best leaves are picked. Tea plants are cultivated so that they grow to waist height, which makes for easier picking, but the work is still laborious. Workers make their way down the rows of plants, tanned from the sun and with baskets on their backs. Only the bud and top few leaves are picked, giving a low rate of collection but promoting denser bushes of more tender crop. As well as the harvesting, the care of the plants, and even much of the processing, is still done by hand, and is usually a collective family effort and a job for life. So the next time you enjoy a cup of Korean green tea, give thanks to the farmers who have invested their time into your satisfaction.