The Tomte community of tea lovers has, in my mind, grown so quickly because of how we are approaching the tea world differently. Our approach draws directly from the realisation that if you are going to consume something today, tomorrow and everyday for the rest of your life – you want to know everything about it. What impact it is having on yourself, on your local community and on the farmers who grow it? At Tomte, we constantly think about these impacts and how we can better structure our company to do the most good for all. That’s why we only source our tea direct from the best “artists of the leaf” producers- typically small 2nd and 3rd generation family farms from around the globe.
Tea has been enjoyed for thousands of years, consumed as nothing more than fresh water and leaves. In Asia, it is still very much consumed in this way. In Western countries however, clever marketing has combined fresh leaves with sweeteners and flavours to create all kinds of ‘lolly’ teas (check the back of your tea packet, is “flavour” listed as an ingredient?). We want our nourishment to be organic and ethically produced and the same goes for the tea we drink. There is nothing worse than empty calories.
At Tomte, we believe in respecting our food and nourishment by learning everything about it, particularly if we are consuming it everyday. We should all know where our food and beverages come from and we are going to start by giving some insight into the farms that supply Tomte teas.
To start, we’d like to share the story behind Whagae Hadong Korean Black Tea. The first Tomte tea to hit Sydney’s shores.
Whagae Hadong Korean Black Tea is an hand-made tea from a small tea farm in South Korea called Jukro. It is located over 66,000 square meters from only one area of the Jiri Mountain. They were one of the first commercial tea producers in Korea and have been producing traditional Korean hand-made tea since 1962 when Yun-seok Cho’s grandfather Tae-Yeon Cho founded it. Yun-seok Cho continues the family tradition today, winning numerous industry awards in the process. At the World Tea Contest held in Japan, their green tea and fermented tea won the Gold Prize and the Highest Gold Prize for four straight years between 2008 and 2011. They only began exporting their tea in 2008, with France being the first country outside Korea to enjoy their tea. Today, Whagae Hadong Korean Black Tea is served to tea lovers in Switzerland, Japan, Finland and others including, thanks to Tomte, Australia.
The tea is hand-made organically without the use of any chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and the tea trees grow natively under bamboo trees for cover. Their hand harvesting methods combine to ensure their tea has no astringency at all but a smooth and complex flavour profile. Harvesting occurs only once a year between the months of April and June. They produce approximately 2,000kg a year (that’s about 5-10 times less than South Korea’s larger farms).
We interviewed Yun-seok for this article. Here’s what he had to say about his farm:
Yun-seok, we must start by asking what a tea farmer likes to drink daily?
I drink a lot of tea! I drink over 2 litres a day of green tea especially. I can feel free while drinking tea and I love tea because it keeps me healthy.
How long have you personally been making tea at your farm?
We have been farming and making tea for three generations now since 1962. I have been helping out since I can remember, but the business was transfered to me in 1992 and I was confident in the entire process after about 4 seasons.
How many people work at your farm?
There are a total of 15 people working throughout the year on the farm. Five family members, seven farmers and three students who are learning the craft of tea.
Will you pass the business onto your children?
My oldest daughter has a lot of interest in tea already and she says she wants the business in succession for the 4th generation, but I do not force it. I will wait for her love of tea to grow even more than it is today. And it really does- my love of tea has grown and continues to grow every year!
What have been the biggest challenges for your farm?
Twenty years ago, green tea was only a small market in Korea- now it is very large. I wanted to share their love for our tea with other parts of the world, but it has been difficult to get our tea that we are so proud of into other countries.
How do you process your tea?
From the completion of harvesting it takes at least a month until the tea has reached the fermented state from the green leaf. All of this work is done solely by hand.
At Tomte, we consistently talk to the farmers that supply our small-batch, artisanal tea, and we will continue to pass this information to you, the Tomte community. The origin of tea is something we find fascinating. Tea is a drink we consume everyday and therefore the quality of the product is essential. This is what drives Tomte to provide the best teas to enjoy and appreciate everyday.