Last weekend, two friends and I embarked on an epic journey to reach the Hadong Green Tea Festival. We travelled by taxi, train, subway, express bus and finally by chartered bus to reach Hadong. Was it worth the trip? I will admit that more than once during the trek I was willing to give up and go home (especially when I noticed a vendor near the bus station selling live frogs and turtles as snacks) but we made it, and yes, it was worth it.
Tea themed topiary
First in a long line-up of tea experiences was picking it.
The tea fields of Hadong have great historical significance. Tea arrived in Korea from China in the 9th century and was first cultivated in Hadong. Or as the brochure says: “Hadong has the nation’s largest production area of wild tea that has planted tea seeds for the first time and distributed them widely.”
The brochure goes on to say: “The tea tree is a tree in which its fruits and flowers have a mutual encounter.” Even a biology degree didn’t help me figure that one out.
The harvest instructions were a little unclear, and so I proceeded with extreme caution. Especially after I discovered prickly roses, stinging nettles and giant caterpillars lived among the tea trees.
Tea picking, I decided after a little while, was like rice planting. In movies and paintings, it looked romantic and exotic. I strolled through the tea field, picking the tiny leaves and imagining myself curled up next winter, happily sipping a fragrant cup of tea brewed from leaves I had harvested. By the time I had picked enough leaves to brew about a quarter of a teaspoon of tea, I was bored. I decided it was a very good thing I hadn’t been born into a farming family.
The women who picked tea for a living have my undying admiration. I also rather fancied the pink sequined scarf this tea picker wore over her hat.
We then took our meager harvest to the Tea Culture Zone to learn how to make green tea. First we had to don tea making outfits. I think the arm protectors are quite fetching.
Thankfully, the tea making demonstration provided tea leaves. They added our pitiful handful of leaves to the top of the pile and we began.
First, the tea was roasted in a cast iron pot heated to 240 degrees Celsius. The tea had to be tossed continuously to prevent it from burning.
The tea master told us we could tell by the smell when the tea was done. It was a good thing she was there; it smelled weird when we started and smelled even weirder when it was apparently cooked. (Think hot Play dough.)
The next step was to take off the Mickey Mouse gloves and roll the tea on a rough mat.
Apparently the heat of our hands and the sweat on them were good for the tea. Sweat I had aplenty with all of those tea cauldrons heating up the room, I just wasn’t so sure how I felt about mixing it in with the tea leaves.
Our squished and rolled sweaty tea leaves were then spread on a screen to dry. The process would then be repeated 9 times before the tea leaves were deemed ready for consumption. Our part in the tea making process however was done.
We went upstairs to take part in a tea ceremony. Now that I knew that someone’s sweat was an integral part of green tea, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to drink it anymore. But I did, and it was delicious.
We decided to stick to green tea ice cream.
We also had time for a quick cuppa with Mona Lisa.
And finally a few minutes were left to watch some traditional Korean dancing before we began our epic trip home.
The trip seemed faster on the way home but perhaps it was all the caffeine whizzing through my system.