Myeongin Shin Gwangsu Cha Producing Beautiful Tea Imbued with Nature
Wild Jakseol-cha Made Using the 500-year-old Gujeung-Gupo Method
Have you ever listened to the sound of a waterfall and felt the scent of trees in the woods while taking a sip of tea? Have you ever tasted tea that has a beautiful hue and scent? The tea that with one sip makes you warm and full of energy―Myeongin Shin Gwangsu Cha is a Korean producer of jakseol-cha (a type of green tea made with young green tea leaves). The name of the company literally means “tea made by tea master Shin Gwang-su.” The tea company offers will make you feel the nature and give you the nature’s energy.
The owner of the tea room Swan in the Czech Republic wrote in a letter to his acquaintance in Japan that he felt like he was listening to the sound of a waterfall and inhaling the refreshing air in the woods when he was drinking the tea produced by Myeongin Shin Gwangsu Cha. A Japanese person named Sakamoto Yoko sent to the tea master Mr. Shin a thank-you letter for producing the tea that makes people happy and encouraged.
The sense of nature and the happiness that can be felt with a sip of jakseol-cha are attributed to the tea leaves that come from wild tea plants and Korean native varieties of green tea. Mr. Shin explains that his tea plants grow in harmony with nature, so their leaves have the original and genuine scent, taste, and effects of green tea.
Native Tea Plants Grown in Mountainous Areas in the South of Korea
Mr. Shin continues the tradition of making tea by roasting tea leaves in gamasot (iron pots). He has been representing the tradition for 49 years. All the leaves for the tea are harvested from organically grown tea plants. Mr. Shin inherited the unique roasting method from his father. Overall, the method―called gujeung-gupo (literally “nine-times steaming and drying”)―is about 500 years old and has been preserved in a 1000-year-old temple, Seonamsa, in the Suncheon area of South Jeolla Province. Making the tea according to this method is an arduous process that requires roasting tea leaves in gamasot over a wood fire generated from oak and paulownia trees; rubbing and drying the tea leaves; and repeating those steps nine times. All the tea products offered by Myeongin Shin Gwangsu Cha are made using that method. In 1999, the Korean government awarded Mr. Shin the title of traditional Korean food master for his efforts to preserve the gujeung-gupo method. The selection of traditional Korean food masters is a rigorous procedure and the title is given only to individuals who follow the traditional food making or processing methods. Those who win the title are regarded as human cultural assets in the field of food production.
Mr. Shin harvests tea leaves at two plantations located in a mountainous area in the Suncheon region of South Jeolla province. One is a 15ha plantation of wild tea and the other is a 45ha plantation of native tea varieties. The native tea trees there have grown for several hundred years in environmentally-friendly conditions―with a favorable climate and soil. According to Mr. Shin, the tea plants grown for mass production live for about 30 years and have a lot of smaller roots due to the usage of fertilizers, so it is difficult to make a good tea with their leaves. He likened the native wild tea plants to wild ginseng and the improved tea plants to farmed ginseng.
Grand Prize at a World Tea Contest, Exports to Japan from 2006
Myeongin Shin Gwangsu Cha gained fame overseas when it received the grand prize at a world tea contest held in Tokyo, Japan in 1982. The company’s products have been exported to Japan in earnest since 2006. They are known as prestigious teas there. At a world tea festival in Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan in 2007, they received a huge amount of attention and were featured as jukro-cha (bamboo dew tea) in Japanese newspapers and TV programs. The excellence of the tea was proven by the fact that during the festival the Japanese emperor Tomohito personally sampled Myeongin Shin Gwangsu Cha tea and had a conversation with the master.
A famous Korean actor, Bae Yong-jun (nicknamed “Yon-sama” in Japanese), added to the fame of Myeongin Shin Gwangsu Cha by visiting it in 2009 and spending about four hours sipping the tea. The visit of the actor to the tea house is featured in his essay book titled Journey in Search of Korea’s Beauty. Boosted by the attention, Myeongin Shin Gwangsu Cha organized an experience program that is attracting a lot of Japanese tourists. The company obtained an organic food certificate from the Korean government and passed the safety tests of a certification agency under the USFDA (US Food and Drug Administration) in order to demonstrate to consumers abroad the credibility of its products. For the same purpose, Myeongin Shin Gwangsu Cha acquired a JAS (Japanese Agricultural Standard) certificate for organic food and an ISO9001 certificate from the ISO (International Organization for Standardization).
Mr. Shin explains, “The genuine tea has its own life and its color and scent come from the deep-rooted tea plants.” He added that the optimal way to make tea good for the body and soul is by roasting the tea leaves in gamasot, although the tea-making method may vary depending on the condition of the tea leaves.
Production of the Best Tea with Leaves from Tea Trees 300 to 600 Years Old
Based on his principle of producing genuine tea, Mr. Shin puts a lot of effort into cultivating wild and native tea plants. Since the 1980s, he has been working on native tea plantations in Suncheon of South Jeolla Province and Gimhae of South Gyeongsang Province. Currently, the combined area of the newly cultivated native tea plantations reaches 670ha. Approximately 70ha of the plantations are directly managed by the master. They are treated as wild tea plantations and are the only such cases in the world. The tea trees over 600 years old occupy about 0.15ha of the plantations and yield 130 to 150 units (80g each) of tea per year. All of that tea is produced by order. The 300-year-old trees are grown in bamboo groves on 12ha of the plantations and yield 1,000 units (80g each) of jukro-cha annually. Most of the tea is exported to Japan and China where it is sold under the brand names given based on the harvest time. These are: Seungseol, Jinhyang, and Nanhyang.
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