Most Modern, Traditional Tea of Korea
I had no idea that traditional Korean tea could be this exquisite yet simple. Tea grew on me after visiting Tea Collective.
Tea Collective is a tea brand created by design studio Artment.dep that offers art directing services, mainly for F&B businesses. Tea has never been an oddity to Kim Mi-jae, director of Tea Collective, who went to school in Tokyo and London where tea is a big deal. “Tea was always available where I was, and as a designer I had opportunities to research various tea brands and their packages, but not with traditional Korean tea. That’s why I thought it would be fun to work on tea branding or packaging in the design studio.” Five years ago, she got to run a pop-up store at Shinsegae Department Store’s Gangnam branch, introducing Korean tea–an opportunity she grabbed while working on the Lifestyle Zone consulting during the store renovation. That was the beginning of Tea Collective.
“We’re making effort to pay more attention to the way tea is enjoyed or how it is packaged so that the younger generation or foreigners can drink tea in a more modern way.”
More often than not, people think of full leaf tea using green tea leaves when they talk about Asian tea choices. Japanese tea ceremony and Chinese tea art are also based on full leaf tea. On the other hand, Tea Collective focuses on alternative tea using grains or vegetables instead of leaves from tea plants. “Korea offers so many great ingredients that can be made into tea,” said Kim. Popular choices at Tea Collective include hobac-cha (pumpkin tea) that is made by steaming and drying the mixture of pumpkin and sweet pumpkin a total of four times, ssug-cha (wormwood tea) made using young wormwood leaves harvested from late March to early April, and yuza-cha (Citron tea), which comes sugar-free and offers clean aroma and taste, unlike a drink made with preserved citron. Along with these kinds of single-ingredient tea, Tea Collective also offers blended tea, mixing various herbs such as rosemary and lemon balm with the original tea base.
Director Kim also focuses on the effect of traditional Korean tea. “Personally I have considered tea ingredients as some sort of food with health effects. When thinking of what kind of tea people would like, you would think of a tea with those benefits and no caffeine.” Her customers would often select tea that could positively affect their body if, for example, they have a hangover, feel swollen, or have a sore throat due to the fine dust in the air. Aroma is not a big factor with traditional Korean tea. Rather, it’s a combination of health effects such as supplementing vitamins and minerals or achieving antioxidant effect that you want when you brew various grains, vegetables, and leaves in hot water. “Pumpkin tea helps with swelling, and wormwood tea is good for those with cold hands and feet. Persimmon leaf tea has more vitamin C than grapefruit.” Kim smiled, saying after four years of drinking traditional tea, she can vouch for its healing power.
The global community is fascinated with the unique ingredients and effects of traditional Korean tea. Kim, who now feels like it is her mission to promote Korean tea, gives presentations where she introduces the new culture and lifestyle involving local tea. “For the past three years of giving presentations on tea in cities like Copenhagen, London, and Paris, what amazed the audience was facts like pumpkin can be made into tea, not just pie or soup. It is beyond imagination, yet the tea tastes wonderful. I think Korea is the only country where so many ingredients can be turned into tea.” Responses were great. British magazine “Monocle” and Japan’s “BRUTUS” magazine chose Tea Collective as a must-see in Korea. In 2020, Tea Collective will open a cafe in London.
Created by a design studio, Tea Collective as a brand also draws customers’ attention with its modern teaware and packages, leading to collaborations with various foreign brands, including the making of a tea package celebrating the Garosu-gil store opening by fashion brand COS, a tea package for Francis Gallery launched by UK-based travel and style magazine “Cereal”, and the redesigning of citron tea package for London’s lighting studio, Tala. Tea Collective also hosts a monthly “Studio Talk” event, as part of its effort to create a tea-friendly culture. This is not simply for the promotion of Tea Collective. Celebrities from Korea and abroad are invited as well. Last year, Alexandre Thumerelle, who runs a bookstore-and-gallery named Ofr. Paris in Paris, visited the Cheongdam store of Tea Collective. “I think it’s important for people who have the same values regarding a certain topic to get together. When tea could be enjoyed by them, that would be the best moment.”
Most people who are not familiar with the tea culture mistakenly believe tea brewing is complicated. “Sometimes tea experts come to our shop and ask us in amazement if it is alright to make tea that easily. That’s where we come in. To drink Korean tea from now on, the existing method won’t be of help. Instead, we only use premium-quality ingredients.” Having seen the growth of Korean coffee market while engaging in F&B brand consulting for bakeries and cafes, Kim says it is important to keep tea nearby and drink them as often as possible, in order to find your preference and taste in tea. Kim became interested in Korean craft while running the tea shop and ended up making her own collection of teaware suitable for Korean tea. The teaware used in her shop, resembling the Moon Jar, was designed by Tea Collective and crafted by a young Korean ceramic artist over the course of six months.
Kim enjoys drinking wormwood tea in the morning or before sleep, and her best moment with tea unexpectedly occurred while she was traveling overseas. “Once I was in Europe on a business trip and had no tea for a week because I ran out of Tea Collective option. I craved it badly. I felt my body knew what was going on, like how you naturally seek Korean food when you’re abroad. When I drink tea from Tea Collective while visiting other countries, I feel like my body is at home, in Korea, and that gives me a sense of relaxation. It reminds me of how great Korean tea is.” Do you want to drink traditional tea in a modern way? Are you looking for an item to remember Korea by? Then, you’d better head to a Tea Collective shop.
Best Tea Collective Choices: Top 4
Ssug-cha (Wormwood Tea)
Kim’s favorite tea. Ssug tea is made up of young ssug leaves harvested by hand between late March and early April from a clean area in Hadong County, South Gyeongsang Province. Ssug tea keeps your body warm and, according to the ancient medical book, “Donguibogam”, it is good for women, particularly those who just gave birth.
Yuza-cha (Citron Tea)
The leaves of yuzacha, or citron tea, are harvested locally in Goheung County in the South Jeolla Province. The patented technique of Tea Collective brings out sweetness from the leaves without adding sugar. Unlike commonly-found citron tea, Tea Collective’s yuza tea is made of pure yuza tea leaves for a light, clean and bright flavor. It’s recommended for those who prefer a healthy flavor to a sweet, tart flavor.
Gamip-cha (Persimmon Leaf Tea)
Gamipcha, or persimmon leaf tea, is a rare herbal tea using only the youngest persimmon leaves that can be harvested for just three days a year in early April in Hadong County, South Gyeongsang Province. It has 20 times more Vitamin C than grapefruit and is excellent for fatigue.
Original Essential Tea Set
The Original Essential Tea Set is comprised of tea promoting health. Burdock tea boosts the immune system. Loquat leaf tea helps with fatigue and appetite. Corn silk tea reduces swelling. Wrapped in hemp cloth with a couple of dry leaves tucked in, the set is a great gift item.
Tea Collective Samseong
Tea Collective’s Samseong-dong shop is located on the rooftop of a 17-story building. Featuring glass panel walls, the shop gives you a sky view when you look up and the view of Seollung and Jeongneung Royal Tombs when you turn your head. A mini garden in one corner of the shop is inspirational. Despite being in the center of downtown, the shop creates a feeling of leisure and relaxation.
Address Tea Collective 17F 449, Bongeunsa-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Address Tea Collective 17F 449, Bongeunsa-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul