South Korea – Seoul’s traditional Tea House

Why go there: The tea experience in Korea is different from other Asian countries. During one of our visits in Seoul, we head to Insadong, a popular neighborhood filled with art galleries, souvenir shops, street food, cafes and a few tea houses. Hidden in one of the alleys, we look for one of Seoul’s traditional old tea houses, the Shin Old Tea House.

This was the first time we’ve visited a Korean tea house, so we were very excited to try their tea and experience something authentic and local. Entering the small wooden tea house is like a step back in time. With a rustic wooden interior surrounded by greenery and birds singing, it makes for a perfect winter afternoon.

The experience: With our shoes placed aside, we are greeted warmly to enter inside. The menu was quite simple—of mostly herbal teas, Green Plum, Jujube, Ssanghwa, and Ginger teas, as I recall, which came with Korean rice cakes and snacks. I wanted something unique and specific from Korea, so we tried the Jujube Tea and Ssanghwa Tea for the first time.

The Teas: This was definitely not a Gongfu (Chinese) brewing style of drinking tea. The teas were prepared in the kitchen, served ready to drink in ceramic mugs, both garnished with pine nuts and thin slices of jujube.

Jujube Tea (대추차): This was my first. I’ve had Jujube (a Chinese date fruit that tastes like a mild apple) before, but not the tea version. Jujube is known to aid digestion with its calming qualities, but I was really after the taste and experience. The tea, served hot, was quite thick and soupy in texture, with a pulpy consistency, or the likes of a miso soup. It was somewhat opaque and appeared to have been cooked over a period of time.  It was mild with a hint of sweetness, with no specific taste. It’s definitely different from the aromatic and smooth loose leaf teas that I’m used to. No seconds for me but happy to try it again.

Ssanghwa Tea (쌍화차 Double Harmony Tea): Served hot in a mug, the tea color (liquor) was a deep, dark, caramel brown, similar to an earthy dark pu-er tea. It tasted like of a concoction of a Chinese medicinal dried roots and herbs cooked together, with a hint of cinnamon and licorice. To be honest, my first thoughts were: sweet gasoline, in a strangely surprisingly pleasant way. We felt like our bodies were restored and revitalized for the next 10 years. This was definitely perfect for the winter. We later find out that the name of this tea is derived from an ancient prescription to supplement energy to cure fatigue, colds, etc. and is sometimes stirred with an egg yolk.  Will have this one again!

Getting there: Take the train to Anguk Station, Line 3. Exit Insadong. Turn left onto Insadong street. The tea house is at the end of an alley off to your right after you walk past Ssamzigil Mall.

Where to stay: Seoul is blessed with many districts, each with its own style and characteristics. We’ve stayed in different hotels over numerous short visits from Gangnam, Myeong-dong and Insadong—varying from small boutique hotels to big chains to trendy ones.  To date, Lotte Hotel Seoul never fails. The location is in the heart of Myeong Dong, so it’s a great base for shopping and restaurants. Access to the sauna and steam room (Onsen style) was the added bonus to end the day. Plus there’s an amazing gourmet Food Hall selection downstairs, providing more option and convenience. You can easily loose yourself in this foodie heaven. The Classic 500 Executive Residence Pentaz is another favorite in Gwangjin-Gu, if you prefer a modern apartment style hotels. It’s perfect for family or small groups. Alternatively, The Plaza Seoul Autograph Collection is another great option for its location, across the City Hall and walking distance to Lotte Dept. Store. Rooms are a bit smaller compared to the others, but has a winning location, with easy and fast shuttle from the airport.

Lotte Hotel Seoul, http://www.lottehotel.com/seoul/en/

Classic 500 Pentaz Executive Residence http://www.theclassic500.com

The Plaza Seoul Autograph http://www.marriott.com

The Bottom line:

Throughout our visits, Seoul has become a personal favorite fashion-forward city of ours. It’s a daily treat: from its Korean BBQ, to street markets, to skincare products, to cat cafes for animal lovers like us, not to mention the great hikes available just outside the city. Tea wise, while there are more cafes and coffee lovers over tea, there are still some traditional teahouses and new tea brands that we’ve yet to visit. We’re definitely heading back and highly recommend Seoul when you get the chance.

Written by Yvette.

Posted on May 2017

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