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Three places in Seoul to experience first flush green tea

April 18, 2024 - 13:56 By Kim Da-sol
Woong Cha's tea table (Kim Da-sol/The Korea Herald)

The first flush, or the very first plucking of a tea plant’s harvest season, yields tea of the highest quality. In Korea, green tea made with the first pluckings is known as "ujeon nokcha," highly prized for its sweet, soft and subtle flavor.

When the tea leaves are harvested indicates the quality of the tea, among other factors. The first pluckings of the year are of the highest quality because the nutrients stored in the plants are highly concentrated by the time spring arrives.

In Korea, ujeon nokcha leaves are harvested before "goku," one of the 24 seasons of the year according to the solar calendar. A new season starts every 15 days, and goku (pronounced gok-u), the sixth season of the year and the last season of the spring, falls around April 20. Goku means spring rain that enriches the grain, while ujeon means before the rain.

Korean ujeon, equivalent to Chinese "mingqian" and Japanese "shincha," traditionally uses tea leaves harvested in South Gyeongsang Province’s Hadong County and South Jeolla Province’s Boseong County.

Ujeon nokcha (Kim Da-sol/The Korea Herald)

Wait for May for new harvest

A tiny, quiet tea house located in a residential area in Eungpyeong-gu offers various teas including Korea’s unique green tea from the Hadong and Boseong regions.

While only a small batch from last year's harvest of ujeon green tea is currently available at Woon Cha, and it still does taste great, the shop owner plans to start offering this year's Ujeon green tea in early May.

“The reason is just that I don’t want to bother farmers at this particular time, because they’re already very busy. I also believe that even though tender leaves are plucked before goku, it’s important to give it time to ripen so the leaves can hold more moisture and for the raw smell of fresh cut leaves can disappear,” Woong Cha owner Park Jung-woong told The Korea Herald.

Reservations for 40 grams of the highest quality ujeon green tea are available through April 20 at Woong Cha. The price is 40,000 won, a 40 percent discount from the original price of 66,000 won. Reservations can be made at Instagram @woong_tea_.

Woong Cha is open daily from noon to 10 p.m., but it's better to check Instagram for the opening hours because it's a one-man-run shop that often changes its hours.

Ujeon nokcha (Keochageu)

Dessert pairings

Located near Mangwon Station on Subway Line No. 6, Keochageu invites visitors to taste carefully brewed tea and coffee alongside well-paired desserts.

Keochageu, whose name comes from an abbreviated Korean word for drawing coffee and tea, specializes in tea courses and one-day tea classes that explore different nuances of tea variations from green tea to white, oolong, yellow, dark and black, as well as the full-bodied flavor of flannel drip coffee.

This year’s ujeon green tea will be available from next week, according to the shop owner Yoo Ha-yeon.

Keochageu is open every day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Make a reservation through Instagram at @with_yen.

Matchacha Seoul's tea counter (Matchacha)

Tea from around the globe

Located at the edge of Seoul Forest, Matchacha Seoul opened in 2018 to offer seasonal tea variations not just from within Korea but from abroad, such as China’s white tea and "qingcha," also known as oolong tea.

Under the concept of “enjoy our selection of tea in simplicity and mindfulness,” those who make reservations can participate in a tea course and private tea classes, which are conducted in Korean only. The place is open for walk-in guests as well only during April and October. Those who wish to try tasting ujeon green tea can enjoy it a la carte at 12,000 won.

Matchacha is open Wednesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.