I'm not a coffee drinker, but I do enjoy tea. Usually that would be black tea, although I've expanded my tastes to include green tea and the occasional flowery teas you find at a Chinese restaurant. I buy my tea at any of the large "marts" here in Seoul, but yesterday I happened to notice a large selection of tea at the very back of a local Mom-and-Pop grocery store. Since I had just run out of tea, I searched for some on the shelves.
Now, I've noticed before that the black teas are less available (popular?) than others - usually green tea, barley and corn tea being the most available. But what I found at this local shop was incredible. So surprising in fact, I took the one to record the myriad choices which were available at this tiny corner grocer.
1. 마차 sweet potato tea
2. 쑥차 mugwort tea
3. 대추차 jujube tea
4. 칡차 arrowroot
5. 호두율무차 walnut & job's tears tea
6. 호두아몬드율무차 ditto, +almonds
7. 단호박차 pumpkin tea
8. 쌍화차 herb tea
9. 생강차 ginger tea (x2)
10. 천마차 gastrodia elata tea
11. 둥굴래차 Solomon's seal tea (x3)
12. 보리차 barley tea (x4)
13. 옥수수차 corn (silk?) tea (x4)
14. 녹차 green tea (x4)
15. 현미 녹차 green tea w/brown rice (x3)
16. 메밀차 buckwheat tea
17. 마테처 roast Yerba mate tea (x2)
That's a total 32 brands of teas, of which 17 different varieties are available. And not a single black tea in the whole lot!
Many of these I've never heard of. For example, I didn't know they made tea from aquatic mammals. But seafood is so popular here in Korea, I'm not surprised to find they use seals to make tea. I won't even guess what a Yerba mate is.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining, as I can easily get black tea. To the contrary, I think this is wonderful. I remember The Stumbling Mother, a tea connoisseur whose own cupboards were home to 762 varieties of tea, was quite impressed with the variety of teas here in Korea during her visit here in 2007. She would have been delighted to find 17 teas at a tiny local shop.
Speaking of black tea, red tea as it's known in Asia, I've recently been drinking this tea from Antarctic adventurer Captain Robert Scott's ill-fated 1910 Terra Nova expedition. I believe it has been re-blended to match the original, although they say remains of the original blend still exist in tea chests at Hut Point and Cape Evans in the Antarctica.
I do wonder about this scarcity of black teas in Korea. While no tea expert, I associate teas with Asia. Curious why it seems uncommon here in Korea. But whether you like your walnut and job's tears tea with or without almonds, Korea is the place to find a wide selection of tea.