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‘Hwang-cha’ and ‘Mal-cha’(Seo Yang-won, CEO)

Seo Yang-won, CEO of the Hankook Tea Company, Revives Traditional Korean Teas like ‘Hwang-cha’ and ‘Mal-cha’

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Seo Yang-won, CEO of the Hankook Tea Company which has been making full efforts for the Korean tea industry for some decades, was designated as the 34th traditional Korean food master in the field of ‘Hwang-cha’(half-fermented tea) and ‘Mal-cha’ (powdered tea) in August 2008. Mr. Seo has been recognized for his efforts at developing the Korean tea industry from 1957 up to the present. Since 1970s he has concentrated on the revival of Hwang-cha and Mal-cha both of which had been forgotten for a long time. His assiduous efforts to boost the quality of these teas and export them have been finally publicly acknowledged.

Hwang-cha (half-fermented tea) was also called ‘Hwang-mae’; now it is known by the names ‘Oolong-cha’ and ‘Oryong-cha.’ It is processed midway between green tea and black tea being 50~60% fermented. While Korean tea companies started developing Hwang-cha products four to five years ago, Mr. Seo started making the tea products twenty years ago after attaining permission to produce the half-fermented tea.

The most important aspect of making Hwang-cha is fermentation. Mr. Seo uses a unique and original fermenting method that makes the tea agree with the palates of Koreans. The key is to keep the freshness in the fermentation process. By employing this method the rich taste and fragrance of the tea lasts for a long time. This distinguishing feature of Mr Seo’s tea is this: First he ferments and then dries it in a revolving mould, and then he ferments again. The color of the tea after fermentation is blackish red, but when brewed it assumes a reddish-yellow hue. Hwang-cha made of tea leaves picked in Bosung in South Jeolla Province has a delicate taste; it has fainter fragrance than green tea.

The Mal-cha is a powdered tea made by pounding fresh tea leaves, drying them, and grinding them finely in a stonemill. It is a high quality tea having a distinct froth on top after it is brewed. With the foam tea drinkers can consume vitamins, protein, and fibroid material, which are all insoluble in water.

Mr. Seo produces the tea leaves that are used in making the Mal-cha in a unique way. After young tea leaves sprout up in spring he covers them with a curtain for twenty days from early May to block the sunlight. The result of this procedure is that the tannin content is less concentrated so that the bitterness is reduced. Also the leaves become wider and their color is enhanced. Mr. Seo said: “The Hankook Tea Company saves the original color of the Mal-cha and minimizes the bitterness to make the tea soft and subtle. And the powder completely dissolves in water.”

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In 1996 Mr. Seo exalted the prestige of Korean tea when he participated as a national representative in an international tea contest held in Shizuoka in Japan. In 2002 he won awards in three sections at the international superior tea contest that included powered tea, ‘Oojeon-gamro,’(tea made of tea leaves picked around ‘Kogu’ season [one of the 24 seasonal divisions falling on about April 20]) and ‘Gamro’ (tea made of leaves of ‘Suguk’ [Hydrangea macrophylla var. thunbergii])

Mr. Seo has built a 100,000 pyeong-sized cultivation area for tea leaves in clean optimum areas like Jangseong, Yeongam, and Haenam in South Jeolla Province. Now he hopes to export his tea products to the world. Mr. Seo said: “I collaborated on making ‘Sulloc-cha’ brand with the AmorePacific. It was a start to popularize green tea. Since then I’ve been applying myself to laying the foundation for the Korean tea industry. I will spend rest of my life on promoting our tea products and spreading Korean teas around the world.”

The Hankook Tea Company was first established under the name of ‘Hankook Hong-cha’ in 1951. Later, in 1994, the original name was changed to the ‘Hankook Tea Company.’ In the same year the company exported ‘Duchung-cha’ (Dughung [Eucommia ulmoides] tea) to Japan and ‘Jakseol-cha’ (tea mad of tea leaves that look like a sparrow’s tongue) to Canada in he following year. In 2005 the company founded the ‘Chasaengwon,’ a local store in Los Angeles in the United States to promote Korean tea and tea culture.

Park Sung Eun  parkse@agrinet.co.kr

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