I think I have been consuming tea since at least starting secondary school (aged 11). I don’t recall ever wanting to try it, as you might do with cigarettes or alcohol. I don’t even recall the first taste. I do however, remember graduating from ‘putting the kettle on’ to ‘making a full pot’. Helping my mum make tea for herself was probably the initial stimulus which eventually led to full on regular consumption. I thought that if I go to the trouble of filling up the kettle, waiting for it to boil, warming the teapot, and then brewing, I should just drink some for myself. I started with lots of milk and two sugars; over time this changed into my basic well-brewed, zero sugar, strong, builder’s tea. As I got older and began to learn about new cultures I became interested in all types of tea. I now use tea like a prescription drug as much as a refreshing beverage. Here are the various types I consume and what I use them for.
홍차 Black tea (bags):
I drink ‘Lancashire Tea’ with breakfast or in the morning. It’s a strong black tea which I brew for 3 minutes then add milk. I drink it ‘Northern style’ or ‘Irish style’. I have noticed that tea is brewed very weakly in the South of England. The colour is brick-red and it should taste strong. If you were to drink this without milk it would stain your teeth with tannin. I will also consume this if I feel down or if I have a headache. I have Lancashire Tea sent over to me from England to Korea, it’s the only thing from home that I would desperately struggle to live without. The tea in my local supermarket is quite good (Homeplus is half owned by Tesco). However, they only have the typical types – English Breakfast, Assam etc. If there is no Lancashire Tea then the taste is similar to the more commonly available ‘Yorkshire Tea’, in fact, its taste is almost identical. Otherwise PG Tips or Dilmah would be my choice. I guess this is my recreational tea.
홍차 Black tea (loose leaf):
I now drink one cup of loose leaf ‘Lancaster Blend’. Although I am from Lancaster, I drink this because of the high quality. I’m not particularly patriotic for my red rose city or county but Lancaster is blessed with one of the best Tea & Coffee merchants I’ve ever been to. It was just round the corner from my house in Lancaster and it’s called Atkinson’s http://www.thecoffeehopper.com/. This tea is a blend and functions a bit like the tea mentioned above. I usually drink it just before work starts and I use a glass cup with a filter and lid. This was an amazing present from my girlfriend. It means I can enjoy loose leaf tea without having to use a teapot at work. I particularly enjoy watching the water change colour into a deep amber. I also add milk at the end.
녹차 Green Tea:
I think I first tried Green Tea in a Chinese restaurant in England. It’s a great after dinner drink especially after spicy food. I drink Green Tea after my tea time break at 4.30. It helps settle me down and calm my nerves. I often drink Green Tea in coffee shops and restaurants too. Korea has outstanding Green Teas, from the South Jeolla province and from Jeju Island. I get all my Green Tea directly from the Boseong Plantation. I have only been there twice but I bought enough to last me a long, long time. There are an infinite variety of Green Teas in the Far East but for my daily consumption I continue to drink the first pick from the plantation. I drink Green Tea unadulterated but I sometimes drink Green Tea Latte in cafes around Korea. I’m still not convinced about Green Tee Latte, but I’m open-minded.
생강차 Saenggacha (Ginger Tea)
This is a tea made from ginger stored in honey. It looks like a giant jar of fruit preserve you might spread on toast but it works like a gelatinous paste you add hot water to. It’s available in many cafes but I usually just drink it at home before breakfast. The first time I lived in Italy I found the Abruzzo winter was too cold for my humours. I used to make my version of this tea using root ginger, lemon and honey. I took it into work in a thermos and I swear it’s the best cold prevention in existence. My homemade ginger tea was about 4cm of ginger root grated, a full lemon, and two table spoons of honey. You simmer this for about 5 minutes then strain it through a sieve or tea strainer. Sometimes I left some of the grated ginger in for an extra kick. I stopped making it until I felt the same winter chills in Korea. However, infusions such as this are quite prevalent in East Asia so now I can just buy a jar. This tea is an aid to digestion, nausea and a cold or influenza prevention method. I think the best time to drink it would be as the first drink of the day.
유자차 Yujacha (Citron Tea)
This is another Korean tea which has the same preparation method as the Ginger Tea described above. It has the rinds of the citron fruit which are preserved in honey and sugar. The first time I tried it was actually in the hairdressers in Jeonju. It was a cold quiet morning and I think the hairdresser was bored. She told me that she had picked it up at a discount and made me sample some. It’s pretty intense and medicine like. It’s not a tea I keep in my larder but if I find myself in a café and it’s too late to drink coffee I often opt for this delicious tea. I believe Koreans use it to prevent the common cold, I’m sure it would prevent scurvy too. You will find this in any Korean supermarket next to the preserve teas in the tea and coffee aisle, most cafés serve it too.
오미자차 Omijacha (5 flavours Tea)
After actual tea made from Camellia Sinensis, this is my favourite. I have never seen it in Europe but from what I know it is found in China, Japan, and Russia, in fact the name of the fruit is Schisandra chinensis. The tea is made from the red berries of this plant which can be left in sugar to make a cordial type syrup. The first time I tried it was in a restaurant in Gunsan, Jeolla province. I tried it cold and it was delicious. The name translates to 5 flavour tea; it is said to comprise the five basic flavours i.e sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and pungent. My palette isn’t good enough to detect all those flavours but I do enjoy this tea. I bought the berries from the big Lotte food court in Seoul and I sometimes make it on the weekend. I would love to know the best preparation method without having to leave it in sugar. After trial and error I leave about a tablespoon of berries in a litre of cold water for 2 days. I then pour the water into a pan and simmer it for about 7 minutes, the water should turn a deepish red. I was told that it relieves stress amongst other claims. all I know is that I like it.
율무차 Yulmucha Job’s tears tea
This is a fairly common Korean tea made from the grain called Job’s tear. The first time I tried it was in a bus station at a vending machine, it costs almost nothing and I tried it with the perverse curiosity of how bad can something so cheap taste? It didn’t. The nearest taste in the UK would be those malt drinks which help you sleep, such as Horlicks or Ovaltine. However, you don’t add milk to this one, just water. I have spent half my life in Korea waiting for buses so this tea has special significance. I used to wait for my girlfriend to arrive in the morning at a small bus terminal and I walked there each time. The walk was a bout 45 minutes in the morning so the yulmucha was a real reward once I had made it to the bus terminal, I guess for me personally it makes waiting enjoyable. It is particularly good on cold winter mornings. You can buy this in powder form at most Korean shops and you add about 3 teaspoons to a cup then hot water. I keep some in the larder but I mostly drink it whilst waiting for buses.