May 13, 2009

TEA BAGGAGE:

Green tea is more than a way of life in South Korea: The farming, harvesting and drinking of the beverage dates back about 1,500 years. (Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee, May 13, 2009, LA Times)

Seasonal changes are subtle in Los Angeles. Having lived here most of my life, I appreciate the delicate, small signs that signal a new season. Spring rains bring fluffy white clouds that gather above our surrounding mountains. Large bunches of basil make their way into our farmers markets in the summer. The autumn brings cooler nights. And the Southern California winter yields fragrant lemons and tangerines, ripe for the picking.

Although I love the mild climate of my adopted Southland, the cool breezes and early morning fog this time of year sometimes find me reaching for a cup of green tea and longing for the verdant hills of my birth country, South Korea.

In early spring, the first leaves from the tea plant poke their heads into the sunshine of Boseong, a tiny town in the southern part of the country known for its tea fields. The leaves are harvested from early April through the first part of September, but these earliest leaves are the most prized. Handpicked by the local women who live in the South Jeolla Province, they're sold for exorbitant prices at fancy tea shops throughout the country.

Tea drinking has been part of Korean culture since at least the 7th century. There are historical documents that describe Emperor Suro (he founded the Gaya Kingdom, during Korea's Three Kingdom Period) and Queen Seondeok (the first female ruler of the neighboring Silla Kingdom) enjoying cups of green tea. The seeds most likely traveled to the peninsula in the luggage of monks from China's Yunnan province, who imported Buddhism along with the precious plants.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 13, 2009 8:02 AM
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