Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Wild Tea Festival 2012, Hadong, Korea

Around this time every year, the town of Hadong hosts it's annual tea festival. This is my second time to make it to this festival, and even though it's nearly a five-hour drive from Seoul, it's really worth it.  Because of the traffic due to the Children's Day holiday we arrived a bit late and our day was a little too rushed, we still had a great time.

After 5 hours of driving to Hadong from Seoul, we were all a bit ravished, so first stop was lunch. Sanchae bibimbap (mountain vegetable bibimbap) is the most famous dish in town, so we ordered that along with a pajeon to share between four of us. It was obvious we had left Seoul, not even the Koreans with us could identify the unusual banchan (side dishes) that came with our meal.

After lunch we headed right for the tea roasting area. We suited up in bright orange aprons, kerchiefs for our heads plus gloves and arm protectors to keep us safe from the hot iron tea roasting pans.

Each group was given a big basket of medium sized tea leaves (small leaves are the highest quality, best tasting, and big leaves are low quality)

This friendly, green tea expert ajumma told us how to do everything.

First, roast the tea leaves in a super hot roasting pan. Make sure you're wearing gloves and arm protectors. Constatnly flip and stir the tea leaves with your hands to prevent it from burning and keep it roasting evenly.

Second, roll and rub the tea leaves on this rough mat on the table until the leaves are good and roughed up. Finally, scatter the leaves on drying racks. They said that this process would be repeated several times more before it would become real tea.

After the tea making we had some free time to wonder around the festival grounds. In the heat of the day the thought of eating some green tea ice cream was too tempting to resist. And so was the chance to take a photo with some trick art, apparently.

Then we wandered over to a tent where we got to try our hand at making ddeok (Korean rice cake). That hammer was seriously heavy! Unfortunately, they finished smacking the ddeok just as I was about to take my swing....

Then we watched this woman cut up the ddeok and it was immediately put out for sale, where of course it was bought up quickly!

Next stop was picking our own green tea leaves. We were instructed to pick the youngest leaves so that we could make the tastiest tea. If you've been to Boseong, a famous location in Korea for learning about green tea cultivation, you may think this field looks a little different. Here on this hill, green tea bushes are not grown in neat rows but rather scattered here and there all around. That seems to be because this site claims to be the first site of tea cultivation in Korea. It is said that during the Silla dynasty, an envoy from China (Tang Dynasty), brought back tea seeds when he returned from his journey. The king bade him plant the seeds here near Ssanggyesa temple and the king proclaimed that this tea grown in Korea was finer than anything grown in China.

Finally, our last stop of the day was Ssanggyesa, a temple nearby the festival grounds. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we didn't have too much time to wander the temple, but just as my last visit, it was decorated with many colorful lanterns in preparation for Buddha's birthday.

For more information about the Hadong Wild Tea Festival, see their website: http://festival.hadong.go.kr/html_a/a01.html

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