Hadong in Gyeongsangnam-do is a hub of green tea culture in Korea. It has environments that are favorable to green tea production. Hadong has a richer history and tradition of green tea. Hadong is the first area in the nation where green tea trees were planted. Hadong’s wild green tea fields grow with Jiri Mountain and the Seomjin River as their backdrop.
Hadong-gun (county) Governor Youn Sang-ki reached an agreement with Starbucks Coffee Korea calling for providing 100 tons of Hadong green tea in February 2017. Starbucks launched its tea brand “Starbucks Teavana” in Korea in September 2016.
With growing concern about air pollution in Korea, demand for organic green tea and pure air is on the rise. In addition to its high-quality tea, Hadong also began to sell canned fresh mountain air in partnership with a Canadian company.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs signed a contract with Hadong County tea exporter Vision Korea Corp. on exports of Hadong organic green tea. The deal calls for creating a 482-hectare cultivation area for organic green tea in the county and help growers expand processing and sterilization facilities. Vision Korea will seek to ship 100 tons of Hadong green tea to North America, Germany and other countries this year.
Lee Jong-guk, director of Institute of Hadong Green Tea, said: “Hadong is home to a 1,200-year old history of green tea plantations. The town of Hwagae-myeon in Hadong produces the most green tea in the area. It is also where the first green tea trees, which were brought in from China in 829 were planted.” This theory is based on the Samguk Sagi(History of the Three Kingdoms) that says Kim Daeryeom brought tea seeds from Tang, China in 828(3rd year of King Heungdeok of Silla Dynasty). The king ordered tea seeds to be planted on the slopes of Jirisan Mountain.
The best way to enjoy a trip to Hadong is to start with a visit to the nation’s first green tea tree plantation situated in the village of Seogmun in Unsu-ri near the entrance to Ssanggyesa Temple. The Korea Record Institute officially certified the site as the “first green tea plantation site in Korea” based on the records of the Silla Kingdom (Silla Bongi) found in the Samguk Sagi.
Unlike other tea production sites, which typically use machines for processing, Hadong continues to produce tea using time-honored traditional methods. As a result, it produces particularly high-grade teas, which are often sold at high prices.
In Hadong, a variety of green tea experience programs are available. The Hadong Tea Culture Center located at the foot of Jiri Mountain aims to promote the tea culture of the area, the first tea producer in the nation, while publicizing the quality and superiority of Hadong green tea.
In the Tea Culture Center, there is a tea culture museum where you may learn about the history and culture associated with Korean tea. At the Tea Promotional and Experience Center visitors can enjoy such hands-on programs like making tea in a traditional hand-made way and learning the traditional tea etiquette of the region, a pottery class where you can make your own pottery in a traditional way, and a tea market where you can purchase a variety of high-quality tea produced in the region.
Every year, the center holds the Hadong Wild Tea & Culture Festival. During the festival, visitors can sample a variety of Hadong’s tea for free and purchase their favorites at bargain prices. The festival offers visitors a unique and entertaining combination of events and hands-on experiences, drawing a large number of visitors every year.
The Green Tea Experience Hall has many hands-on programs using green tea. It exhibits materials and relics on the history of green tea in Korea.
The Green Tea Experience Hall enables visitors to experience roasting green tea and a green tea ceremony. The roasting program highlights the area’s traditional way of making green tea and how it is brewed. The program includes harvesting, picking, roasting, and rubbing the tea leaves. The harvesting takes place in the field right behind the Green Tea Culture Center.
Lee Jong-guk, director of Institute of Hadong Green Tea, observed that Korea’s tea culture was ruined as Japanese forces kidnapped a number of experienced potters during the Japanese Invasion of Korea (1592-98). As a result, he said it was virtually impossible for Koreans to use green tea in their rituals at that time. In this regard, the Green Tea Experience Hall will continue to train people, especially younger ones, on the tea ceremony.
Lee said Hadong County remains dedicated to promoting “commercialization” of Hadong green tea, saying that the county’s tea products now remain competitive in many foreign markets, such as the United States, Canada, Bolivia, Mexico, Australia and Southeast Asian counties. He said the main export item is tea powder. It is used as a main ingredient of green tea latte, green tea ice cream, green tea bread. In addition, Hadong green tea is also used for production of high-quality cosmetics, soaps, shampoos and some medicine. Annual green tea exports total nearly US$30 million.
Hadong County Mayor Youn, who concurrently serves as Chairman of Institute of Hadong Green Tea, said he remain optimistic about the future of Hadong tea products. “I believe Hadong green tea will be a solution to the pollution problem which is worsened by greenhouse gas and yellow dust sand,” he said. “Hadong is a carbon-free and eco-friendly community, which is a great attraction to tourists.”
Meanwhile, Hadong began to sell canned fresh mountain air in a tie-up with Canadian firm Vitality Air. A ceremony was held in June this year to mark the dedication of a plant on a site of 99 square meters in the town's Uisin Village to produce canned air coming from Mount Jiri in the region. The plant of Hadong Vitality Air has a production capacity of 1,000 to 2,000 air cans per day.