Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A tea lovers omijacha tea house journeys

This week I awoke with an intense tea-craving for which I have not yet fulfilled!  I was in Trader Joes, a health foods store here in America, with my mom and walked by the tea section. I saw a box of pomegranate white tea! It looked delicious, but right now I'm on a no caffeine kick. Although I now know it has less caffeine than natural green tea, I'm trying to hold strong to the no caffeine.  Pomegranate is delicious and white tea is loaded with antioxidants, all the good stuff that helps you fight off illness and bad things in your body! The combination is difficult to beat. Pick some up if you have the chance.

The color of pomegranate white tea reminded me of one of my favorite Korean teas: omijacha.  It literally means five-flavored tea and is supposed to satisfy the five distinct tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent).  This tea, often slightly bitter to first time tea drinkers, is made of a berry from the schisandra chinensis vine originating from China and is used in herbal medicine. The red berries have healing properties that can open up the airways of asthmatic individuals or soothe the raspiest cough. They're also known for keeping the liver healthy and helping digestion among other properties.  Don't take my complete word for it! You'll have to try it yourself!  No one individual reacts the same way. If it doesn't work for you, just enjoy knowing you're filling your body with something tasty and healthy! I'm down for a cup of omijacha any day.

With the thought of omijacha comes the flooding memories of my first experience drinking it  at a cultural village in a tea house in South Korea.  I remember traveling with a group of new friends in 2008 in the Joellanamdo province. After a day of touring the cultural site, learning about pottery, and creating some traditional Korean crafts, we sat down for a refreshing cup of tea. I had no idea what to expect and was a little afraid the tea house would be too formal for my tastes. However, the ambiance and oriental feel of the tea house were both comfortable and relaxing. We had the option of sitting at a table or in a room with special mats. We had a large group of individuals and therefore sat at the table with benches. It did not necessarily retract from the tea house ambiance as we had cute little tea cups. Personally speaking, and many others would agree, the environment and ambiance are a huge part of the experience!
Once I was settled, I browsed the menu. Because it was my first time ordering tea in Korea, I chose something that sounded flavorful and looked pretty. Of course I don't judge a book by it's cover or a person by his looks! I just have a peculiar interest and obsession with the presentation of food and beverage. Presentation is half the taste. If it looks good, it should taste [at least a little] good! All that to say I chose the iced omijacha to soothe my soul and cool down on a day of humid delight. How was it? Delightful! A little sweet, bitter, pungent, sour, and salty! Well, honestly speaking I couldn't make out all of the flavors. If you sip it slowly you may just sample them all!
You could say my first, and definitely not my last, tea experience was amazing!  It didn't hurt to be in the presence of some fun friends. I knew I loved tea. However, this experience developed a long-lasting relationship and devotion to Korean tea houses not to mention omijacha.  Ultimately, the omijacha sampling experience sent my taste buds into a heightened sense of happy joy and me on a journey to sampling omijacha at as many venues and in as many forms as possible. I even purchased those tasteless instant packages from the Lotte supermarket more than once!

my first cup of omijacha on a very hot day
pure bliss:)
This brings me to a final significant memory of drinking omijacha with a special friend!
Two years after my first experience, a Japanese friend came to visit me in South Korea.  It was February '10, the dead of winter-one of the coldest winters Korea experienced in a long while!  After a freezing day trip to Nami Island, a beautiful island in the Gangwando province, known to be a great place for lovers and the site of the drama filming, "Winter Sonata" we found our way back to Seoul.  A warm tea house and a hot cup of tea were the only things that made sense!. We found our way into a special tea house hidden away up a flight of stairs in Insadong. Insadong is a more traditional part of Seoul packed with tourists looking for the ultimate Korean experience.  Although seemingly quaint and small from the outside, the room was well lit and very comfortable. It had the perfect mix of traditional and modern tea-house styles.  I happily ordered my omijacha. Without question, my friend and I ordered it hot on that frigid day.  Another cup of pure bliss to satisfy the senses.  For non omijacha drinkers, there are many other options such as yujacha (citrus), insamcha, (ginger), oksusucha (corn), etc. Be adventurous and dive into the selection of other traditional and herbal teas!

a much needed hot cup of omijacha

By now you've realized I love omijacha and tea houses!

For more information on tea drinking spots you can read an article at about a few tea houses in Seoul including one similar to the one my friend and I visited in Insadong. Matt is passionate about food and knows how to make it look good, too!  He and his partner were traveling in Korea and happened to explore a little bit of the tea scene in Seoul. Check out their take on tea in Seoul!

What is your favorite tea and where are your favorite tea houses?
Happy tea drinking my fellow tea lovers!

1 comment:

chris kim said...

Dear sir

I am an exporter of Korean food.

I found that your comments on omija cha and it is very impressive. Can I quote your blog to my client?


Chris Kim