Don tea is a fermented green tea variety produced in Jangheung, a county in southwestern South Korea, also known as “doncha Jangheung” or “Cheongtaejeon".
The artisanal processing methods used to make this tea call for time and knowledge. Production begins in spring with the manual harvest of the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plants that grow wild in the mountains around Jangheung.
Twelve hours after the harvest, the leaves are steamed for around five minutes on a camasot, a traditional stove fueled with oak wood.
As soon as they turn yellow, the leaves are removed from the heat, turned by hand to eliminate any moisture and pounded in an oak mortar.
The mix is then shaped into the characteristic “don” form, the ancient round coin with a central hole that gives this tea its name.
The central hole allows many tea forms to be hung together for drying and helps reduce the drying time, which usually takes seven to ten days. Once dry, the tea is placed into terracotta pots and left to ferment to enrich its flavor and aroma. The tea can be used after six months, but it improves with age and may be kept for much longer - even up to twenty years.
Before being consumed, the tea is traditionally placed on a brass plate and heated over a low flame to roast both sides. This step allows for the sterilization of the tea leaves and the development of a unique herbal aroma and sweet flavor with a clean and lingering finish.
At this point the tea can be steeped in boiling water. It is ready after ten minutes and is drunk warm, but is also excellent enjoyed at room temperature and cold. According to popular belief, the tea can help improve eyesight, aid detoxification and reduce fever.
While once common for nearly 1200 years, this product's popularity has been in rapid decline since the 1930s. The consumption of tea in general has decreased, which has led to the closing of shops selling Don tea. Today it is sold directly from producers in Jangheung and surrounding areas (Gangjin, Naju, Gurye, and Haenam), and promoted at special markets and events. Although many elderly people still enjoy Don tea, the younger generation uses it for medicinal purposes only.
Photos — Archivio Slow Food