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The Hadong Wild Tea Cultural Festival: Working at a Green Tea Plantation
The Hadong Wild Tea Cultural Festival: Working at a Green Tea Plantation

You can see patches of green tea fields all over Hadong. I kind of expected them to look like the long and uniform rows of tea bushes blanketing the rounded hills I had seen so much of in the mountains of Sri Lanka. But the fields were strewn randomly all over the place. The ones on the sides of some of the larger hills looked a gigantic braided head with fluffy green hair.
 

The Hadong Wild Tea Cultural Festival: Working at a Green Tea Plantation


Highly prized for their hand-picked green tea, Hadong Region is where it all started. Until the Japanese occupation in the early 1900s, the area was the main producer of green tea in Korea. Now, it is known mainly for its quality leaves and production methods.

This year’s 14th Tea Festival started on the first of May and lasted 5 days. The whole festival was spread out into four major areas. The main area is the Green Tea Valley Zone in Hwagae-myeon. To its north-east lies Ssanggyesa Temple where the first green tea seeds were sewn. To the south-west of the Valley is the Hwagae market and to the south is Pyeongsa-ri Park where an award winning novel was set. Activities begin at 10 am and end at 11 pm.
 

            Green Tea Valley Zone


This is where most of the hands-on experiences are held during the festival. Activities include making candles, soap, tea pottery, tea-dyed clothing and rice cakes all with green tea. You can also learn how to perform a traditional tea ceremony then enter a traditional tea ceremony competition and see how well you took to the lessons.

At the Tea Cultural Centre, experts on Hadong green tea can instruct visitors on everything they need to know on the subject. Hands-on lessons are also offered outside of the festival period. You can reach them at 82-55-880-2955.
 

The Hadong Wild Tea Cultural Festival: Working at a Green Tea Plantation

            Pyeongsari-Park


There’s a small but white sandy beach where you can take a little walk and check out the folky totem-poles. Also, on the set of the TV show, some students from Masan University studying in the Sommelier Department gave small group demonstrations of a traditional tea ceremony.  
 

            Hwagae Market


At the door of the Hwagae Valley, the market used to be the hub of activity in pre-independence days. Now, it’s a nice place to pick up some local tea and tea products, and get something to eat. The surrounding area up to Ssanggyesa Temple would the best choices to spend the night. You can find some decent motels, and closer to Ssanggyesa Temple some comfy minbaks. Activities will only be held here for three days, from May 1 to May 4. At the same time as the Tea Festival, the Yeokma Festival will be held here where you will see most of the outdoor traditional performances such as tightrope walking, pansori and folk guitar playing. 
 

            Ssanggyesa Temple


You will be offered a tour of this historic and picturesque temple at the foot of the Jirisan National Park. They offer a temple stay program for both Koreans and foreigners those who make a reservation (82-55-883-1901).
 

            Geomdu Village [검두마을]


For my tea making experience I spent two days at the Geomdo Green Tea Plantation. It was a two day, one night that included picking the leaves, making tea snacks and then making the tea.

To make tea you would need a group to make it with. My little group consisted of four ladies from Busan who came up to Hadong every year during the festival for this program at the village. This year they were also acting as volunteers to help out with the daily running of the plantation. Boisterous and outgoing, I felt right at home with them.
 
Festival de la Arena de HaeundaeAt first, the sun was beating down hard on us while we picked the leaves. Thankfully, it started to rain lightly which was a nice respite. It’s tedious work. We specifically instructed to pick soft green healthy leaves that came in pairs. One of the pair had to be shaped like a spear and the other like a flag. They were not easy to find. However, the time passed quickly enough. That was in no short part due to one of the Busan ladies who kept telling us dirty stories while we worked.

Once we filled up a few baskets, we were ready to dry them. This process took up most of the day and a lot of the night.

The first step of the drying was to put the fresh leaves in a large concave shaped stove. We had to constantly toss the leaves so they wouldn’t get burnt. Then we had to knead the steaming leaves to soften them. Next we had to spread them out to dry. The last step was to pick out the imperfect leaves. But we had to do this process with each 7 batches of leaves 4 times.
 

The Hadong Wild Tea Cultural Festival: Working at a Green Tea Plantation


At about midnight we put the leaves in the large oven to dry overnight. Extremely labour intensive, we were ready to go to bed. I was ready to pass out but the two ladies I roomed with were feeling chatty. So, I didn’t get to bed until about 3 in the morning.

I was the last to get up at 8. We started the whole process again. The tea was starting to transform. From the lush vibrant green it once was, it had now turned into this dark burnt colour and a fraction of its original size.

We all got several packets each and made plans to meet up in Busan later on. The high school teacher, Mrs. Kang drove me to the bus terminal in Hadong-eup, we exchanged numbers and had a cheerful goodbye.

The program is open to visitors during the green tea leaves picking season which is from the start of April to the end of May. You can make reservations at 011-9541-7760.
 

            Directions


From Seoul: Take a bus from the Nambu Bus Terminal. Buses to Hadong leave approximately at every 2 hours from 7:30 am to 7:30 pm. You should get off at Hwagae not Hadong if you want to be near the tea festival. It should take about 4 to 5 hours.
 

            Tickets


For one adult it costs 26,500 won.

 
Written and photographed by Paula Kim

[Related Article]
Check out Paula Kim's Personal Blog
Read the “Fields of Green “ Column
News Article on the Latest Hadong Tea Festival

 
Date 05/13/2009



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