Saturday, August 13, 2011

2011 Kim Jong Yeol's Balhyocha Noeul Hyanggi “Sunset”

Today's weather isn't exactly green. The sky is cloudy, air quite breezy and it occasionally rains – somehow, it feels like this is the day I've been awaiting to open this special tea.

This season, Teamountain offers two yellow teas made by tea master Kim Jong Yeol (and it seems like one made by Kim Shin Ho is on the way as well), named poetically “Sunrise” and “Sunset”. I purchased Sunset on my visit to Brno's Sklenena Louka teahouse, owner of which also told me her impressions of these teas – while Sunrise is more chocolate-like and dark, Sunset is supposed to be more spicy and somehow reminiscent of Taiwanese Bai Hao oolong. While I haven't bought both of these teas and, therefore, will not be able to compare them in a similar way, I'd very much looked forward to trying Sunset on its own.

The origin of this fermented tea is Yonggang-Ri, Hwagae-myeon, Gyeongnam, it was picked during the second week of May and is made of wild, approximately 20 years old tea bushes.

This simple, yet beautiful packaging is opened and immediately releases intensive, deep smell of meadow flowers, honey and cinnamon. In terms of appearance, Wuyi Yancha is the first thing that comes to my mind; these leaves are dark with shades of black and brown, curly and mostly unbroken. When placed into the preheated teapot, their aroma intensifies even more, now being even sweeter and revealing a slightly roasty, bread-like note.

The first infusion is brewed with freshly boiled water and is orange-golden in color, still retaining the deep smell of dry leaves. Its taste is equally deep and sweet, offering countless tones, both those already revealed in smell as well as many new – dried fruit, particularly apricots, honey, flowers, cinnamon-like spiciness and very subtle, refined roast. Immediately after the first sip, this tea feels strong – not in a way of being over-brewed or too harsh (the exact opposite is true – this tea is very mild and noble), but it seems to have strong, warming and yet calming energy, which is impossible not to notice. This infusion also has expectably long and vivid aftertaste, filling the throat with subtle deep sweetness.

The second infusion is slightly darker orange in color, very transparent and very aromatic. Honey, fruit, meadow flowers and cinnamon remain the main tones, though they now seem to have a bit different mouthfeel – even deeper and smoother. There isn't a single trace of bitterness in this brew, instead, it fills mouth with various tones of ripe and dried fruit, seemingly alternating and complementing each other. The aftertaste of this infusion is more pronounced and even warmer than that of the first brew, evolving over time and becoming sweeter and sweeter.

The third infusion returns to the lighter orange-golden color of the first one, though its taste remains similar to the second brew, being very fruity, sweet and slightly spicy, now revealing a new tone as well – citrus-like juiciness, which overtakes the aftertaste as well – a bit like warm orange or lime with honey.

This citrus-like note gradually becomes dominant in the fourth, fifth and sixth infusions, though most of the other fruity and sweet tones remain present as well – just not as dominant as before, now they seem to be hidden under the main citrusey nuances. All of these brews retain the significantly warm, calming energy, detectable primarily in the long aftertaste.

With its clear, deep character and warm, remarkably soothing energy, this Balhyocha makes a simple session feel like a very special, important occasion. Its lyrical name Sunset seems to be very well chosen – it really has power to create the atmosphere of a calm, silent evening on a meadow inside a wild forest, watching the sun going down slowly; all that in a single cup, even in the heart of a city.


  1. Good stuff! I had it in Hwagae along with the Sunrise. I bought the Sunrise as I thought it was a more interesting tea but could certainly live with Sunset!

    Looks like you never have to leave your area to get the best teas in the world. How lucky you are.

  2. Michal,

    One is thoroughly enjoying your posts on Korean tea.

    Just to clarify:

    Kim Jong Yeol has produced two grades of Balhyocha (Korean yellow tea) this season:

    Balhyocha Saebyeok Hyanggi "Sunrise" is produced using early Saejak grade leaves. It is a pricier tea because of the higher grade leaves used for this balhyocha. The name "Sunset" likely refers to the lighter vibrant notes that often accompany balhyocha made with Ujeon (and in this case early Saejak) grade leaves.

    Balhyocha Noeul Hyanggi "Sunset" is produced using late saejak/jungjak leaves normally used for balhyocha. The name "Sunset" likely refers to the very relaxing qualities found from balhyocha.

    One should be receiving a sample of the Balhyocha Saebyeok Hyanggi "Sunrise" sometime next week. Stay tuned for a post on that tea soon.

    Thanks again for this wonderful post.


  3. Ho Go,
    I originally intended to buy both Sunrise and Sunset in Brno, but since I ended up buying a new teapot, one of the teas had to wait - it this case, it happened to be the more expensive one. I still hope to get my hands on Sunrise in the near future - from what I've heard in the teahouse as well as from yours and Matt's comments, it seems like there is definitely a lot to look forward to in this tea!
    I'm certainly fond and proud of the Czech and Slovak tea culture and I realize its unusual rareness - so I try to enjoy all of its advantages to the fullest :-)

    Thank you for your kind words as well as the clarifying insight. I thought these teas would be graded similarly to what you described - your comment helped specify what was originally only a guess of mine with accurate facts.
    I am definitely looking forward to reading your post on Sunrise!

  4. Michal,

    Second HoGo's comment!

    You are so lucky to be able to try so many Korean teas in your area.

    Enjoy it. :)


  5. Last night, I drank the last of the Saeboek Hyanggi 'Sunrise' tea. It was a bit sad seeing the caddy empty but after the first brew, I was reminded again why I felt this tea to be so good, maybe the best Balhyocha (Paryo cha) I've had to date. This tea is nuanced with all kinds of flavors and I suggest to drinkers to not skimp on the amount of tea put into the pot. Although costly by comparison with other Balhyocha, putting more leaf into the pot rewards the drinker with a much deeper, fuller, flavor and aroma than just a few grams will give you. In fact, I have found most Korean teas benefit from much more leaf in the pot than what is typically brewed at teashops and fairs. I am planning on ordering more of this tea this week.

  6. Ho Go,
    thanks for sharing your experience as well as valued recommendation. Your words made me even more determined that I have to try Sunrise - by the time of my next travel to Czech republic, Kim Shin Ho's Balhyocha will hopefully be already in stock as well. Seems like it's going to be another trip rich in Korean tea for me (as far as Sunrise won't be sold out, at least).

  7. I had a lovely Magnolia Oolong sent to me by Tea Savant. The color and aroma just seems to blend and the taste was absolutely divine. Thank you for sharing your tea experiences/expression/impressions are immensely poetic. You are knowledge and know-how about the way of tea.