March 10

Enlightening South Korean Tea Culture: Different from India

Written by
Annyeong India


It is believed that the tea culture came to Korea during the Three Kingdoms period in the common era, but the import of tea from China began in the seventh century. According to the past, Tea and fruits were used in memorial services for ancestors.

Tea culture on the Korean Peninsula continued during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) along with the development of Buddhist culture, spreading to the royal family, monks and nobles. As time passed, the manner of drinking and serving tea became an important part of etiquette for a family and their guests 


In Korea, tea is usually prepared with a variety of fruits, flowers, leaves, grains and roots to diversify flavours and tastes, as well as providing health benefits. In Korean culture, it is more than sipping a drink, but an experience requiring all five senses. The term for Korea’s traditional tea ceremony, “ Darye ” literally means “Etiquettes for tea”. 

Gohojae is a special cafe brand inside “Korea House ” in Seoul which focuses on sharing the colors of Korean culture, mainly in cuisine. Gohojae means ‘A house of those who love old things’. Just like the name, the exterior of the cafe is Hanok, a traditional style house and is surrounded by trees. Enough to relax among the hectic ‘skyscraper forests’ that is Seoul. 

It’s a rare experience even for Koreans to have this high quality tea table. The sweets and tea are just in perfect harmony with each other. High quality and not that costly. 


  • In Korea the tea culture and ceremony is practised to foster harmony in nature and humanity, strengthen the mind, and attain enlightenment.
  • During the reign of the Koryo Dynasty from 10th to 14th centuries in Korea, tea played a part in many aspects of its culture, poetry, drama, art, and song. It was served in a ceremony known as Ch’a-rye meaning ‘Tea Ritual’.
  • Korean Buddhist tea ceremonies focused on spiritual awakening, symbolising spiritual purification, absorption, and meditation attained by making and drinking tea.
  • At one point Korean tea and teapots were so famous that the Korean potters who were forced to work in Japan, produced some of the finest tea bowls for Japanese Tea Ceremonies, many of which are now considered priceless treasures.

Main Types of tea in South Korea

There are four types of traditional teas in Korea:

  • Green tea
  • Medicinal herb tea
  • Fruit-based tea and ,
  • Grain-based tea.

Saenggang-cha (ginger tea), Insam-cha ( ginseng tea), and ssanghwa-cha (medicinal tea) are made of medicinal herbs or other traditional ingredients.

Uniqueness in the Tea of South Korea

Korea tea harvesting is done mainly in the months of April and June. The process is competitively less compared to other tea producing countries like India. The tea produced in Korea is domestically produced and consumed by the locals. Finding Korea tea is fairly difficult in India but not impossible.

 The tea making progress is passed down generations by the small scale family owned businesses who are the actual producers of Korean tea. The Korean tea consists of numerous types of green tea and they are categorized by the

  • size of the leaves and
  • the harvest time.

It can be put down into 4 categories which are as follows :-

  • Woojeon 

Woo means ‘Rain’ and Jeon means ‘Before’. The woojeon tea leaves are delicate small leaves which start growing after a spring rain shower. The quantity is not produced and hence the price of Woojeon tea is fairly higher than the rest of the tea produced in Korea. This type of the actual needs specific water temperature and skill needed to preserve its delicate aroma. Woojeon is given as a gift to the loved ones or someone higher in position during the ‘Seollal’ and ‘Chuseok’ festival. 

  • Sejak or Jaksul 

It has medium sized leaves. It is harvested in the beginning of summer season.  It is the most consumed tea by the Koreans since it’s affordable and easily available in the supermarkets because of large scale production. 

  • Daejak 

Daejak leaves are larger and more coarse in texture compared to the previous ones because of it’s late harvest time. 

  • Balhyo cha 

Balhyo means fermentation and ‘cha’ means ‘tea’. Term Balhyo or fermentation has a very positive impression in the Korean cuisine as there are several dishes and cuisines like kimchi and gochujang made through the fermentation process. Sanhwa means oxidised and has a negative impression. 

Since there are teas prepared through the oxidation process. The term given for oxidised tea making is Sanhwa Balhyo cha meaning oxidised fermented tea. The post fermented tea is called Hu balhyo cha.

Green tea is the main type of tea produced in Korea. One of Korea’s most unique teas is Yuja-cha (citron), which is popular worldwide and can be stored for up to two years. Over the decades, the tea has seen its flavours diversified. 

But apart from the green tea leaves Korea has a huge culture of tea prepared from roots, roasted seeds and mushrooms each having several health benefits like alleviating the common cold and stomach problems, and its high content of vitamin C helps soothe inflammation and headaches.

Get you Korean tea here :-

Another traditional tea with a unique flavour is Ssanghwa-cha with egg yolk , which was considered an herbal bath and consumed in the morning and at night during the Joseon Dynasty. 

Tea Ceremony – Process of having tea in South Korea 

South Korean traditional tea is not just having a cup of tea but it is a ceremony. The process of making also includes some etiquette. It’s about how to handle tea and the mental attitude while preparing the tea.

There are several types of tea ceremony here is the traditional ritual drinking tea in a South Korean way-

  • The first step is to pour the hot water in a bowl later which is transferred to the cups starting from the server then the elders to insure the warmth of the cups. 
  • Meanwhile tea leaves are poured in the jar with the help of a spoon.
  • The bowl water is then transferred to the jar and after waiting a few moments, tea is slowly being poured in the cups with a gently moving teapot in order to equally spread the flavour. Tea is served starting from the server’s cup and later the elder’s cups. 
  • The tea is poured in 3 sets.
  • After that the elder’s tea cups are transferred on a tray and the server keeps her tea on her right side.
  • After the server holds the cup with both hands, look at the tea colour, smell it, take a sip and taste it in the mouth and nod. Only then the guests can have their tea.
  • After the whole ceremony. Server bows to thank their guests.

Tea is accompanied with small bite size sweets called Dashik. 

There are several types of Dashik like for example Bam dasik 밤다식 made of steamed and mashed chestnut, or chestnut powder from finely sliced and sun-dried chestnuts. Geomeunkkae dasik 검은깨다식 made of toasted black sesame seed powder, Kkae dasik  깨다식 made of toasted sesame seed powder, Kong dasik 콩다식 made of steamed and pounded yellow soybean, Pureunkong dasik 푸른콩다식 made of steamed and pounded green soybean, Songhwa dasik 송화다식 made of pine pollen, Ssal dasik 쌀다식 made of steamed, dried, toasted, and then pounded glutinous rice flour.

A Korean tea which meets the Indian roots

Gukhwa-cha (Chrysanthemum tea)

This tea is made using Indian chrysanthemum flowers that are collected before they’re fully open. The flowers are blanched in bamboo salt water, washed, and dried in an Ondol room for later use. Ondol is the traditional floor heating system in Korean homes. When you order a cup, three or four flowers are placed in a cup and hot water is poured over them. In Korea, this tea is also served in a honey variation in which the flowers are preserved in honey for weeks and then for drinking hot water is poured over a scoop of the honey flower mixtures.

The dasik were also introduced to Korea some 1,600 years ago from India along with Buddhism and tea culture. Tea was first introduced to Korean royalty, and later reached the upper classes. Korean farm land is unsuitable for the cultivation of tea due to the region’s climate which made it difficult for the elite class to enjoy the foreign drink. Buddhist ceremonies were the most common times one would drink tea, making Buddhist temples centers of Korean tea culture.

How is tea consumed differently in India ?

India is known to be the land of spices and especially famous for tea since it’s the world’s largest producer of tea. Ranging from green tea, black, herb and many more. The biggest factor contributing to this massive production is the weather. The weather in India differs tremendously from one region to another making a favourable climate for tea cultivation throughout the year. 

India being the biggest producer, is also the biggest consumer of the tea. But something like tea wasn’t grown in India a century ago. Drinking tea was considered something elite and consumed by the Europeans which were then exported from China at a high price. Finding an alternative, British introduced tea and set up tea production houses in Assam which now has become the most preferable tea out of all and goes by the name ‘Assam Tea’. It gained its popularity throughout the sub continent only when the price went down with its high production.

Assam Tea Health Benefits: What is Assam tea and what are its benefits

Over the time Indians added spices like ginger, cloves, elaichi etc to make one of a kind Masala chai. 

Today there are 1,00,000 tea estates in India and about 80% of the million tons of tea it produces is consumed by its own people.

Tea Growing Regions

There are several types and flavours of tea depending on the region and community  like Mumbai’s cutting chai, Hyderabadi Irani chai, Darjeeling chai, Rosy Kashmiri noon chai, Malai chai, Khular chai ( earthen cup ), Masala chai etc. 

The best types of teas are hard to get in local stores but  you can easily get a hand on these from online shops. 

You can buy your Indian tea here :-

Indians are known to consume around 2-3 cups of tea throughout the day. It’s an integral part of their daily lives. It’s served for guests and also has evening snacks. The undeclared national drink, tea often called as ‘Chai’ in India is such a common thing to consume that ” Tea sets ” are gifted during special occasions rather than tea leaves. 

The preparation of the tea is fairly more complex than Korean tea making. The main ingredient is milk, tea leaves and spices however the process included boiling and is prepared in the kitchen away from the guests.

  • Milk is poured and brought to a boil.
  • Add Ginger/Elaichi/cloves with sugar and tea leaves.
  • Strain the boiled tea leaves with the help of a strainer.

Unlike the Korean tea ceremony there’s no such ceremony performed by Indians. Also  the snacks consumed during tea drinking can range from something spicy mainly ‘ samosas ‘ or ‘ pakoras ‘. Consuming something sweet would lessen the sweetness of the tea and hence sweets are not preferred. Tea is also enjoyed with rusks and Savory snacks prepared at home.

Monsoon is incomplete without these 10 delicious desi snacks | The Times of  India

The tea making is a business unlike Korean tea making ceremony which takes place in special tea houses or special occasions. It’s really common to find stalls called ‘ Chai tapri ‘ at the side of road where people enjoy tea with some Indian snacks which cost nothing more than Rs 10 which is roughly $ 0.14. 

There’s a lot of difference from the consumption, availability and production process to the ways of drinking and the snacks eaten along with the tea.

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What do you think about the Korean tea tradition? Tell us below in the comments.

Author: Smriti Ekka & Saransh Rajjarwal


Balhyo cha, Daejak, India, Sejak or Jaksul, south korea, Tea Culture, Woojeon

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