Friday, 22 June 2012

茶 이야기 - Korea's teas

차 - 茶 - tea, 'cha'

A lot of people talk about Korea's food and alcohol, but often overlooked are the country's traditional teas, tisanes and non-alcoholic drinks (the encompassing Korean word for drinks is 음료). Korea has some really wonderful and unique flavours when it comes to traditional beverages, and there are loads that I recommend trying.

It seems that everywhere nowadays is dominated by Starbucks-style coffee culture, and more traditional drinks can be hard to find, if you're not sure what to look for. An easy way for tourists to sample traditional drinks is to go to a tea house in Insadong (인사동), Seoul. Some drinks are also popularly sold in supermarkets and grocery stores, either in tea bags or packets of powdered mix. Citrus tea is often sold in jars, resembling marmalade. There are some drinks, such as 식혜, that you can always buy at jjimjilbangs, and you can also find a range of teas at refreshment carts around areas such as temples, mountains and historical sites - I saw loads on my way to Beomusa in Busan. Finally, if you live in Korea, ask one of your friends or colleagues if they have a favourite traditional drink!

Yours truly, attempting to look lady-like with a tiny teacup of 녹차

First, your basic tea, and some common tea alternatives:

홍차 Black tea 
녹차 Green tea
보리차 Barley tea (very popular in Korea; not a tea but rather an infusion of roasted barley)
옥수수차 / 옥수수 수염차 corn tea (another traditional Korean tisane, made using roasted corn)
현미차 Brown rice tea (tisane made from ... yep you guessed it, roasted brown rice!
현미녹차 A blend of green tea and roasted brown rice

5곡차, 10곡차, 12곡차 The '곡' here means 'grain', so if you see '10곡차' it's a blend of ten different grains, beans or cereals. This could include various rices, corn, black soybean (검정콩), Job's tears, and others.

The branded bottles of cold tea that you can buy in Korean convenience stores are often cereal teas, usually promoted as healthy or slimming. They are not sweetened like many Chinese teas are, and may or may not contain actual tea. The taste is so uniquely Korean, and I really miss it now I'm not there!

You can just see a little pine nut floating on this sweet 'n' spicy liquid

Some popular non-tea drinks:

식혜 Shikhye, a traditional chilled sweet rice and malt drink. Very refreshing, with a sediment of rice at the bottom.

수정과 Sujeonggwa, a traditional sweet drink made with ginger, cinnamon and dried persimmons. It's a dark brown colour, usually served with pine nuts floating on top. Super delicious! Look in grocery stores for a popular brand that sells 수정과 in little yellow cans.

미숫가루 Misutgaru. Thick sweetened drink made from a mix of powdered roast grains. Absolutely heavenly! Like a nutritious liquid porridge shake, perfect for an on-the-go tummy filler.

쌍화차 Ssanghwa tea, a dark brown infusion of all manner of medicinal dried roots and fruits. Traditionally would have an egg yolk stirred into it.

둥굴레차 Solomon's Seal tea, a tisane made from the roots of a kind of plant, thought to be medicinal.

대추차 Jujube tea ... Mmm, another of my favourites! Jujube is a Korean red date, dried. It tastes great in so many other things, too. If you buy powdered 대추차 mix in a store, it usually has yummy little bits of jujube and walnut in it.

율무차 Job's tears tea (another kind of grain)

국화차 Chrysanthemum tea, made from the yellow flowers. You probably know it as a popular tea in China, but you can find it in Korea, too.
Chrysanthemum tea,국화차, in Insadong, Seoul
Firey ones:

생강 Ginger
인삼 Ginseng
홍삼 Red ginseng

Fruity ones:

오미자차 Omija (a kind of red berry)
유자차 Citron (sometimes called yuzu in English)
모과 Quince (may be blended with honey, 귤)
복분자 Korean black raspberry
석류 Pomegranate    
매실 Green plum (Prunus mume, common names include Chinese plum or Japanese apricot. It's a hard little green fruit and the drink made from it is my favourite on this list! Look for a green bottle in shops.)

The green stuff. Korean-grown tea at Boseong, Jeollanam-do
Finally, did you know that a lot of people in Korea drink vinegar?! Supposedly it's good for you. Here are some popular kinds of flavoured drinking vinegar:

감식초 Persimmon vinegar
복분자초 Korean black raspberry vinegar
석류초  Pomegranate vinegar

My pre-schoolers get a lesson in the proper way to serve tea

What's your favourite? 

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