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The World of Korean Tea


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Nokcha (Green tea)

Nokcha (녹차), or green tea, is made from tea leaves that have been dried to retain their green color. It is one of the most frequently enjoyed beverages both at home and in teahouses, and is readily available in grocery stores. Nokcha is a light delicious beverage that can be served hot or cold. Special nokcha teabags are even available for a refreshing cold green tea drink in the summer. The best temperature for brewing nokcha is between 60~68℃, ideal for retaining all the properties beneficial to health. Korean people use nokcha to enhance the green color of vegetables and to neutralize fish or meat odors. As to its medicinal effects, the catechin in green tea helps prevent food poisoning and geriatric diseases. Nokcha is widely used in cookies, cakes, bingsu (a shaved ice dessert), and ice creams to enhance both flavor and color. People also use green tea for aesthetic purposes: water infused with green tea is used for bathing, while yogurt mixed with green tea powder is often applied as a facial pack.

The tea culture in Korea was widely influenced by Buddhism and Taoism, leading to the development of Suyangdado, the performing of tea ceremonies as a way of cultivating the mind. Tea was thought to soothe the mind and create a peaceful atmosphere. Korea has long been referred to as Geumsugangsan, meaning ‘silken tapestry of rivers and mountains’, and was known as a country flowing with water, a perfect backdrop for the fulfillment of the ancient teaching that says “good tea requires good water. ” The best-known tea production regions in Korea are Boseong in Jeollanam-do, Jeju-do, and Hadong in Gyeongsangnam-do, each of which annually holds a green festival.

Medicinal Tea

Saenggangcha (생강차, Ginger tea)

For thousands of years ginger has been a key ingredient in dishes served throughout the world. In addition to its delicious flavor and culinary importance, the spice has great medicinal value. Ginger is believed to warm the body, ease symptoms related to fatigue and help absorb other medicinal compounds while neutralizing toxicity in the body. Saenggangcha is often taken at the first sign of a cold to prevent symptoms from getting worse, especially chills or fevers. It’s no wonder that this beverage has long since been a mainstay among Korean home remedies.

* Recipe: Thinly slice fresh gingerroot and marinate in sugar or honey. Add a spoonful of the mixture to hot water and stir. Or, just simply boil ginger and honey in a pot of hot water. Pour and enjoy.

Insamcha (인삼차, Ginseng tea)

Korean ginseng is globally known for its health benefits. Ginseng tea stimulates the appetite, and prevents fatigue, nervous disorders, and diabetes. In spite of being known as an appetite stimulant, it is also highly valued as a dietary supplement because of its reputation as a natural energy booster. There is a mistaken belief that people who tend to have a higher body temperature should not eat ginseng. In fact, ginseng can either raise or lower the heat in the body depending on the individual and the amount of ginseng ingested. When selecting a ginseng root, look for a smooth surface, firm texture and significant weight. In Korea, the best ginseng roots come from the Punggi and Geumsan regions. For a first-hand look at how ginseng is grown and harvested, visit one of these exciting festivals: Pung-gi Ginseng Festival or Geumsan Insam Festival.

* Recipe:Add sliced ginseng and jujube to water and simmer for several hours. Mix with honey and garnish with a few pine nuts

Ssanghwacha (쌍화차, Ssanghwatang)

Ssanghwacha or ssanghwatang is deep brown in color with a slightly bitter taste. The word ‘ssang’ refers to energy and the concept of ‘yin and yang’, while ‘hwa’ means harmony. Hence, the name of this tea is derived from an ancient prescription used to supplement energy and bring the body into a more balanced state of equilibrium. This kind of tea is said to cure fatigue, physical weakness, and cold sweats, making it a drink that it often consumed by Koreans when they feel under the weather. Ssanghwacha can be made by boiling down a number of medicinal herbs, but many people today buy it pre-made in medicinal herb shops, pharmacies, or supermarkets. For a more traditional experience, try one of the teashops in Insa-dong, which sell great-tasting ssanghwacha teas.

* Recipe:Add the roots of white peony, sukjihwang (steamed rehmannia root), other medicinal herbs (depending on your particular tastes and/or symptoms), ginger, and jujube to water. Simmer for several hours.

Fruit-based Tea

Daechucha (대추차, Jujube tea)

In Korea, Daechu (jujube) is synonymous with autumn fruit and has long been used as a medicine and in a variety of Korean dishes. The best daechu fruits are large, lustrous and deep in color. When the fruit ripens to a rich red, it is dried and ready to be made into tea. The tea is known as a powerful agent in combating colds, reducing fever, soothing neuralgia, warming the body and aiding digestion

* Recipe: Add dried daechu to water and boil it down until it becomes a dark infusion. Stir a few spoonfuls of the mixture into a cup of hot water.

Yujacha (유자차, Citron tea)

The deep aroma and flavor of yuja (a type of citrus fruit) make it a much-favored wintertime tea. Korean people have been making yujacha since ancient times, using the highly acidic citrus rinds of the yuja, a part of the fruit that would have had very little use otherwise. To make the tea, remove the seeds, leaving only the flesh and rind. The easiest way to make yujacha is to thinly slice the rind and boil it in water to extract the flavor. Yuja is beneficial in treating coughs, headaches, and neuralgia. It is interesting to note that yujacha is especially popular with the Japanese.

* Recipe: Mix slices of yuja with sugar and set aside for 3 to 4 days. Add a few spoonfuls of the mixture to hot water and stir. Drop in a couple of pine nuts for garnish and enjoy.

Omijacha (오미자, Schizandra tea)

In Korea, omija has long been used for medicinal purposes. It comes from the Schizandra plant, a woody vine on which clusters of the red berries form in August and September. As the Korean name omija (five flavors) signifies, the berry exudes salty, sweet, sour, pungent, and bitter flavors. The tea has a vibrant red color, making it the perfect base for fruit punch. Omija is beneficial in lowering blood pressure and for detoxification. Dried omija berries can be ground to a powdered form and mixed in hot water as a tasty beverage. Fresh berries can also be soaked in cold water for a few hours until the flavors are extracted. It is then boiled and mixed with honey or sugar.

* Recipe:Combine dried omija with water and let it simmer. Sweeten with honey or sugar.

Mogwacha (모과차, Chinese quince tea)

Mogwacha is made using the fruit of the Chinese quince. The sweetness and fragrant aroma of mogwa makes it a more unusual drink, and it is often enjoyed in the winter. Drinking mogwacha regularly helps prevent colds and the ginger and cinnamon in the mixture help warm the body. Mogwacha can be made at home or bought in glass jars in grocery stores.

* Recipe:Put thinly sliced fresh ginseng, ginger, cinnamon, mogwa preserves, and jujube in water and let it simmer until reduced to half.

Maesilcha (매실차, Plum tea)

Maesil tea is made from an Asian species of plum. Brewed from the sour juice of the fruit, maesilcha aids in combating fatigue and stimulating the appetite. It also helps detoxify the body, enhance intestinal function, and relieve symptoms of food poisoning and diarrhea. In spring, people can be found busily preparing maesil extract, maesil liquor, and maesil pickles, which are tried-and-true home cure-alls. Maesil is also used to make jam, juice, condensed liquid, soy sauce and vinegar. It can be dried and stored for later consumption.

* Recipe: Take well-ripened maesil, wash it and dry thoroughly. Arrange a layer of maesil in a large pot and sprinkle with a layer of sugar. Repeat until the pot is filled. After a month, take the maesil out and leave it to ferment for 1 to 3 months. To make the tea, mix a few spoonfuls of this condensed juice in hot water.

Grain-based Tea

Yulmucha (율무차, Adlay tea)

A perennial plant of the family Poaceae, yulmu (aka, Adlay or Job’s tears) is a healthy grain with a higher protein and fat content than rice. The grains of yulmu are dried and ground into a powder, which is then added to boiling hot water. Valued by Koreans as a healthy pick-me-upper, the tea can be purchased in powdered form in grocery stores. It is also widely available in coffee vending machines.

* Recipe: Dry the grain of yulmu and grind it into a powder. Mix into boiling hot water.

Boricha (보리차, Barley tea)

Boricha is roasted unhulled barley tea that has a nutty flavor which sets it apart from other Korean grain-based teas. Not only does barley fiber activate bowel movement and help stop diarrhea, it is also believed to help hydrate the body, especially in people who are weak and perspire heavily. Nowadays, boricha is readily available in teabag form in grocery stores and in many households serves as a substitute for plain water. To enjoy, simply put a few teabags in water and simmer for about 30 minutes.

* Recipe: Roast unhulled barley and boil in water. Serve hot or cold.

Traditional Beverages

Sikhye (식혜, Sweet rice drink)

Sikhye is a traditional sweet Korean beverage served after a meal or during teatime. It is sometimes called dansul or gamju, but these terms can also refer to other beverages containing alcohol. Sikhye is made from cooked rice and barley malt powder. In days past, the drink accompanied meals because it was believed to aid digestion. In wintertime, sikhye was garnished with a few pine nuts to prevent the drinker from gulping the cold beverage too fast and giving him or herself a stomachache. Today, sikhye is served as a dessert in many restaurants, and it is readily available in cans or plastic bottles in grocery stores and convenience stores. Sikhye is often made at home as part of holiday celebrations and has become a favorite thirst-quencher at jjimjilbangs.

* Recipe: Pour malt water into a pot containing steamed glutinous rice, and leave it to ferment. After it is fermented, remove the rice and rinse it in cold water. Boil with sugar and ginger, and set aside to cool. Pour some of the drink into a cup, add some rice sugar, and top it off with pine nuts.

Sujeonggwa (수정과, Persimmon punch)

Sujeonggwa is a sweet and pungent traditional drink that is customarily used as a palate cleanser. Usually made on New Year’s Day (January 1 by the lunar calendar), Sujeonggwa is made using dried sweet persimmons, cinnamon, and ginger. The ingredients combine to produce a fragrant aromatic drink that is said to warm the body and even cure hangovers. Together with sikhye, sujeonggwa has long been a favorite traditional beverage of the Korean people, and can easily be found in retail stores in cans or plastic bottles. It is also often served as a dessert in traditional Korean restaurants.

* Recipe:Simmer ginger and cinnamon sticks and then add sugar or honey. Garnish with dried persimmon and pine nuts.

For more information about Korean food and Korean culture , please visit the Official Korea Tourism Organization Website.


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