I learned quite a bit from attending Yoon Hee Kim's Korean green tea tasting at this year's World Tea Expo. Yoon Hee is a great speaker on the subject of tea and it was clear that she is very passionate about promoting Korean tea traditions. I liked that she stressed the importance of using all five senses during a proper tea tasting to fully understand the flavors as they "peak" and "blossom." At one point she said, "Don't be afraid to get your nose wet," which I think is excellent advice for any tea taster (assuming the tea is not too hot!) She also expressed sadness that we didn't have time to try multiple infusions of these great teas and that she was not able to brew them in proper Korean teaware. However, she did provide real glazed tea cups so that we could avoid the paper-cup-taste that would have otherwise tainted our delicate greens.
One of the many standouts was learning these three steeping terms:
Hah tu - First add the leaves and then pour the water over them. This is how we commonly brew our tea in the West. For Korean tea this method is recommended during cold weather.
Joong Tu - First fill the vessel half full of water, then add the leaves, then add the remaining water. This style was the preferred method for several of Yoon Hee's teas. It is used to control the temperature and the infusion of the leaves. This method may be more common during mild weather.
Sahng Tu - First fill the vessel with water, then add the leaves. I had heard of this method used for Bilouchun (碧螺春) and Dragonwell (龍井茶) when brewed in a glass during hot weather but I have never tried it myself.
For this tasting, we used For Life brand teapots with steel basket infusers. We proceeded to taste six teas. The names of the teas and my tasting notes are below. Unfortunately we are not allowed to take any photos at the World Tea Expo, so you won't be able to see the leaves and liquors.
#1 Sah Wohl Organic Ujeon (brewed Joong tu style)
Aroma = Bright, crisp and very fresh. Taste = Buttery, delicate and sweet
#2 Gamnong Jakseol
Aroma = Roasty, popcorn, warming, crisp. Taste = Refreshing, dry, reminded me a little of sencha.
#3 Misty green organic second flush Saejak
Aroma = Woodsy, nutty, reminded me a little of bancha. Taste = full body, forest, grass
#4 Early Summer Joongack (brewed Hah tu style)
Aroma = fuity, ocean, spice. Taste = thick body, brothy, sweet dew.
#5 Chigarok Hwang Cha (an oolong)
Aroma = wood, rose, wine. Taste = rich and dark, reminded me slightly of keemun.
#6 Bountiful Earth HyunMi Nokcha (blended with toasted rice and steeped for 4.25 minutes)
Aroma = strong and roasty, nutty. Taste = cereal, genmaicha.
All of these teas were really amazing but if I was forced to rank them I would choose this order: 1, 2, 5, 3, 4, 6. The sublime flavor of tea number one still lingers in my memory.