What is “shade-grown” tea?

In the world of tea, especially when it comes to describing green tea and powdered green tea, the term “shade-grown” is often used to describe the environment in which the tea leaves were grown.

What does “shade-grown” mean?

Some shading is naturally provided by surrounding mountains and/or dew or fog from the ocean.

Some loose leaf green teas and all malcha require the leaves to be at least partially shade grown. In order to control the amount of sunlight that the tea leaves are exposed to, this step is usually done manually. A large net is placed over the tea field to control the amount of sun/shade that the leaves are exposed to. The degree of shading and period of time before harvesting will vary depending on the farmer/company. Hankook Tea’s malcha (ceremonial grade powdered green tea – photo below) is shaded for approximately 2 weeks before harvesting.

How does this affect the tea?

All tea leaves are made up of the same components. Where and how they are grown and processed will change the level of each component within the tea leaf.

Tea leaves grown in shade for longer periods of time will have higher levels of chlorophyll and amino acids. This is why shade-grown teas will be brighter green in color.

Increasing the length of time of shading will also increase the level of caffeine, as well as the level of theanine. Theanine is the component in green tea that is responsible for the sweet, savory flavor. Teas that have a higher content of theanine will have a sweeter flavor, and are considered to be of higher grades.

Exposure to sunlight will increase the level of vitamin C, as well as the level of tannins. Tannins are the components in green tea (same as in wine) that is responsible for the smooth texture, as well the astringent, bitter taste. It is also one of the main components that fight cancer. Sun grown teas will generally have a more full-bodied flavor.

One method is not necessarily better or worse than the other. It really depends on what you are looking for. For specific health benefits, these are the factors that one should pay attention to, especially when looking for malcha and/or powdered green tea. (Read about: Malcha vs Powdered Green Tea)

Malcha vs. Powdered Green Tea

What is Malcha?

Malcha is the Korean pronunciation of the Hanja characters 抹茶 (matcha in Japanese, muocha in Chinese), directly translating to “powdered/ground down tea”.

How is “Malcha” different from “powdered green tea”?
The two are essentially the same – green tea leaves ground down to powder form.
All malcha is powdered green tea, BUT not all powdered green tea is malcha.

So what’s the difference?
Any type of green tea that is ground up can be qualified as “powdered green tea”. The green tea can be sun-grown, shade-grown, steamed, pan-fired, etc. As long as it is ground up into powder form, it can be called “powdered green tea”.

In order to qualify as “Malcha”, it MUST follow these rules:
(1) The green tea must be “연차” (yeoncha 碾茶 – “tencha” in Japanese). Yeoncha is made of tea leaves that are shade-grown (partially or fully), steamed and dried (some may roll or chop the leaves to make it easier to grind).
(2) The yeoncha must be ground to a fine powder with a stone mill.

Malcha will also foam well upon whisking. In Korean, we call this process of whisking and foaming malcha “격불” (khyuk-bool). In the photo above, one can see whisked malcha in the bowl on the top right (right of the bowl with the tin canister).

In order to produce such fine foam, two things are necessary: fine powder and technique. The latter is a skill that must be honed over time, through practice and experience.

The finest powder comes from tea leaves that are ground down slowly using a stone mill. While other methods (ceramic-ball milled, machine ground, etc.) are used to produce powdered green tea, the stone mill is what gets Malcha to this ultra-fine state, without destroying the essence or health benefits of the leaves. This is also the factor that limits the quantity that can be produced in a certain amount of time, making fine malcha such a high-priced commodity.

Like a great cup of latte, the smoothness and fineness of the foam at top can make all the difference.

Teuksun Jaksul Cha (Sejak Grade)

Teuksun Jaksul Cha

Sejak grade green tea from Hankook Tea.

Jaksul Cha means “Sparrow’s Tongue”, indicating high-quality green tea in Korea.

Hand-harvested right before and after Ibha*, it is difficult not to appreciate the complexity of this tea. Teuksun still has the delicate and sweet flavor remnants of the first flush harvest leaves, which are interwoven beautifully with more mature, robust tones. These spring leaves are skillfully steamed and slightly pan-fired into perfection.

*Ibha  is 7th of the 24 seasonal divisions, falling on the 5th or 6th of May, according to the lunar calendar.

Gamnong Jaksul Cha (Sejak Grade)

Gamnong Jaksul Cha

Sejak grade green tea from Hankook Tea.

Gamnong, in Hanja, means “sweet harvest”, referring to the sweet flavor produced by the delicate leaves. These are the delicate leaves and buds at the tip of the tea plants, hand-harvested and processed with years of experience.

Jaksul Cha means “Sparrow’s Tongue”, indicating high-quality green tea in Korea.

Hand-harvested right before and after Gokwoo* season, Gamnong is the tea of choice by tea masters in Korea and abroad. Clear as morning dew, the first flush tea contains bright, crisp and pure flavor tones and the soft bouquet of a spring day right after a light shower. The depth and intensity of this tea is further enhanced by the lingering sweetness that remains.

 

 

*Gokwoo is the rainfall for seeding (the 6th of the 24 seasonal divisions according to the lunar calendar that fall on the 20th or 21st of April).

Gamnong Matcha (Powdered Green Tea)

Matcha (“malcha” in Korean) means powdered tea.
Though there are powdered forms of all types of tea (white, oolong, partially oxidized, black), matcha refers specifically to powdered green tea.

There is is no set rule, but the term “matcha” usually refers to high quality powdered green tea. Discerning quality comes down to two main factors – the grade of the tea leaf used and how well it foams when whisked.


Hankook Tea’s founder and CEO Yang Won Suh has received recognition by the Korean government as the 34th Grand Master of Traditional Korean Foods (or Myung-In) for his superior production of Matcha and Hwang Cha.

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Our Gamnong Matcha uses Sejak grade tea leaves (same grade as our Gamnong Jaksul Green Tea), grown at our Jangsung Tea Plantation. Part of this plantation is reserved specifically for our matcha.

The tea leaves shaded for a short period of time to produce a brighter color and slightly sweeter taste. The shading is only done for a short time in order to retain the “natural” green tea taste, as well as to retain higher levels of tannin and lower levels of caffeine.

Like a great latte, fine foam is an important part of matcha (see example in photo above: bowl on top, right shows whisked matcha topped with fine foam) In order to get great foam, technique and much practice is needed. But more importantly, the powder needs to be very fine. The best method found to date is by using a stone mill, which keeps all the nutrient intact while getting the leaves down to a soft, fine powder. Using a grinding machine is also common for powdered green tea (not matcha grade), but it cannot get the powder ground down as finely without destroying the nutrients or flavor of the tea leaf.

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Gamnong Matcha – 30g
Luxuriously smooth and slightly sweet in taste, the bright green liquor has a light grassy aroma.

Ujeon Gamro Jaksul Cha (Special Grade)

Ujeon Gamro Jaksul Cha

This is Hankook Tea’s special grade of green tea.

Ujeon, in Hanja, means “before rainfall”, indicating the time these leaves are harvested. They are the absolute first buds that shoot up with the start of spring. These delicate buds are hand-harvested and processed with years of experience.

Gamro, in Hanja, means “sweet dew”, indicating the taste and aroma of the tea. When steeped correctly, there is a delicate sweetness that is produced.

Jaksul Cha means “Sparrow’s Tongue”, indicating high-quality green tea in Korea.

Some categorize it to be a Sejak grade.
Others categorize it to be in a class of its own.
Harvested before Gokwoo* season in early spring, the first budding shoots of the year are meticulously hand-picked leaf by leaf to create this peerless tea. Steeps a bright, green liquor possessing a light sweet taste with delicate undertones of clean grassiness.

*Gokwoo is the rainfall for seeding (the 6th of the 24 seasonal divisions according to the lunar calendar that fall on the 20th or 21st of April).

Haenam Tea Plantation

Location: Yeon-dong-ri, Haenam-eup, Haenam-gun, Jeolla-namdo
Size: 17 acres

Haenam Tea Plantation was established in 1981.

Like its nickname “ddang kkeut maeul“(땅끝마을 – directly translating into “village at the end of the earth (land)”), Haenam is located at the southern most tip of South Korea’s mainland.

Our tea fields are located in idyllic surrounding near the coast. The cool ocean breeze and abundant rainfall create the perfect climate for tea shrubs.

One of the greatest factors in choosing a tea field is the balance of “yin and yang”. In the case of growing tea, this is the balance of sun exposure and natural shading. This ensures the best, natural taste of the tea leaves.

The natural “shading” at Haenam is provided in part by surrounding hills as well as the sea breeze (being near a large body of water, there is slight fog in the morning, blocking the sun’s rays from directly hitting the fields until later in the day).

The tea from all three fields of the Honam Tea Estates are combined to ensure consistency in aroma and flavor, year after year.