Jaeksul tea (or “bird tongue-shaped tea”) is a traditional local fermented black tea from the Hodong area. The name “jaeksul” actually stems from a local pronunciation of the word “jaksul,” meaning “a young tea leaf.” However, jaeksul tea is in fact made from fermented, withered tea leaves, and not young leaves.
The basic tea-making process of jaeksul tea involves collecting, withering (under the sun), rubbing, fermenting at room temperature (outside under the sun) and then drying tea leaves (again, under the sun). Activation of oxidizing enzymes during the withering process is very different from modern fermentation processes. The processes of withering, drying under the sun, and fermentation at low humidity are unique, and differentiate jaeksul tea from other black teas. The process of making jaeksul tea uses natural energies from wind, sun, and humidity, making the process eco-friendly.
To drink jaeksul tea, it can be served in hot water or as a “tang,” infused with a pear or a Chinese quince. Infused jaeksul tea has light scarlet and gold color and a sweet, clean taste. Jaeksul tea is a traditional tea embodying the spirit of the Hadong people. Before the 1980s when “green tea,” an generic word for tea, was popularized, jaeksul was the representative tea of the region. It has been handed down from generation to generation as a traditional fermented tea. At times, it has been used as medicinal plant and a household emergency medicine. Only in May and June, when the mature tea leaves turn hard, were people allowed to collect their tea to drink or to use as medicine.
The lyrics of a folk song from the Hadong area state:
"I collect the first leaves for a master and the middle leaves for parents,
The last leaves for a husband and the dead leaves for making tea medicine,
I will store tea medicine to use when my child has a stomach problem,
I wish for my child to grow up without any problem thanks to the tea medicine"
Jaeksul tea is also cited in Dong-da-song, a book of poetry about tea written in 1837 by Choi Sun-sa.
Today, as cheap imported tea floods into the domestic tea market and other teas gain popularity, jaeksul tea is losing its market share. Tea producers who make jaeksul tea for medicinal purposes (to cure stomach problems in winter) are aging. If the current situation continues, jaeksul tea producers will likely give up tea production for economic reasons.