By Don Baumhart
Unlike the powdered tea used in the Japanese tea ceremonies, the Korean ceremonies use loose leaf green tea. Traditionally, this tea is referred to as “Jakseol-cha” (작설차) which literally means as “sparrow’s tongue tea,” as the small curled leaves resemble the tongues of sparrows. This “sparrow’s tongue” tea is well known for its exquisite flavor but, like everything involved the Korean tea ceremony, this depends a lot on timing. In his written guide to the tea ceremony, the 19th century monk Cho Ui (조의) noted that the flavor of the tea is adversely affected if the leaves are not picked at exactly the right time. It’s for this reason that Korean green tea is harvested in 4 different stages, which in turn determine the quality and thus the price of the tea.