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Tea in Korea

Date: November 10, 2007

By John Scott Marchant-Freelance writer

It’s 7a.m in my room at a quaint mushroom shaped mud-brick pension perched atop a hill near the Boseong Tea Plantation in South Jeolla Province. Gazing out a window with views of the surrounding pine forest, I sip a cup of locally grown handmade green tea poured into a white ceramic cup. The tea's fragrance is inviting and the taste so good that it leaves me almost believing stories of great Korean tea masters being able to discern six separate tastes in green tea. I look up at the clear blue sky and back down again at my cup of lightly steaming yellow-green liquid with its almost flawless clarity. After just two days in Boseong, my appreciation of Korean green tea is not only growing, but I find myself looking forward to the next cup, eager to compare the variety of tastes with the one before.    Though Mount Jiri and Jeju Island round out the list of Korea's three greatest tea producing regions, Boseong is undoubtedly the most famous. Images of its towering cedars, oaks and terraces of verdant green tea bushes frequently appear in local television commercials, dramas and movies. These days, tea is struggling to find a niche market in Korea. Once the mainstay of cultural life, coffee drinking has exploded in popularity as Koreans are influenced by Western pop culture and slick corporate coffee house marketing campaigns. This is in marked contrast to the West where the exotic image of white and green teas, combined with consumers' growing awareness of tea's high polyphenol, or antioxidant, content has helped these once unfamiliar products make the crossover from health food shop oddities to the mainstream market. But the true believers in Boseong have an answer. They are producing items made out of green tea; utilizing the leaves' therapeutic fragrance, antioxidants and other nutrients which research shows prevent skin diseases and relieve arthritis. Soap, shampoo, moisturizers, bath treatments, cooking powder, ice cream, and latte mix are now available. There is even green tea doenjang (soy bean paste) to use as stock for one of Korea's most popular soups, doenjang jjigae. In fact, this diversification has been so successful, that 60 percent of Boseong's population is now employed in green tea and related industries.

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