Korean Green Tea & Grades (Ujeon, Sejak, Joongjak, Daejak, Yeopcha)

by Soo Chung

Do you want to learn about Korean green tea? Start from here! This is the basic guideline for the Korean green tea and tea grading system based on the current regulation by the National Agricultural Products Quality Management Service (NAQS) in South Korea.

Korean Green Tea & Grades (Ujeon, Sejak, Joongjak, Daejak, Yeopcha), black tea, fermented tea.

The world of Korean tea can be confusing with different terminology, history, and custom.

Before I overwhelm you with details, I decided to prepare this basic guideline, so you can understand the basic terms and how the tea grading system works in South Korea.

South Korea Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs

The Rule of Law and Enforcement

Korean Green Tea & Tea Grades Regulation

In 2015, the NAQS introduced the first tea grading system to organise and standardize the artisan loose leaf tea market.

The regulation is controversial til today because the major tea grading system is solely based on harvesting time.

This means if you are growing tea in colder weather where tea buds come out later than the warmer region in South Korea, you might lose a chance to sell your quality tea under a certain name that consumers acknowledge and pay a premium.

Curious about the overall law and enforcement for the tea industry in South Korea? Korean Tea Industry.

Want to know about the specific law and enforcement for the tea grading system in South Korea? Korean Tea Grades.

* They are all written in Korean.

The Official Korean Tea Grades

Korean green tea
Korean ujeon woojeon tea

์šฐ์ „ Ujeon = Woojeon (้›จ็…Ž)

Grade Name: Ujeon
Meaning: Before the grain rain (gogu, ็ฉ€้›จ).
Harvesting Time: Before Gogu (-4.19)
Harvest: First harvesting/plucking
Leaves: Two leaves and a bud

Tasting Note: A tasting evaluation is non-regulatory. I opted out the tasting notes for this post.

๊ณก์šฐ Gogu (็ฉ€้›จ)

Grade Name: Gogu
Meaning: The first spring rain
Harvesting Time: 7 days within Gogu (4.20-4.27)
Harvest: First harvesting/plucking
Leaves: Two leaves and a bud

Honestly, I’ve never heard of Gogu as a tea grading before I read the regulation.

People don’t use it except the government official who probably doesn’t drink any artisan tea.

Gogu is known as one of the seasonal days in Spring. It’s an important day for agriculture. That’s about it.

Korean tea sejak
Korean tea sejak
source: osulloc

์„ธ์ž‘ Sejak (็ดฐ้›€)

Grade Name: Sejak
Meaning: A sparrow’s small and thin tongue
Harvesting Time: 4.28-4.30
Harvest: First or second harvesting/plucking
Leaves: Three leaves and a bud

Korean green tea joongjak
image source: cholocwon

์ค‘์ž‘ Joongjak (ไธญ้›€)

Grade Name: Joongjak
Meaning: A sparrow’s medium tongue
Harvesting Time: 5.1-5.31
Harvest: First or second harvesting/plucking
Leaves: Three leaves and a bud

Korean Green Tea & Grades Daejak
I only had roasted green tea in Daejak.

๋Œ€์ž‘ Daejak (ๅคง้›€)

Grade Name: Daejak
Meaning: A sparrow’s large tongue
Harvesting Time: After June 1
Harvest: Third-fourth harvesting/plucking
Leaves: tea leaves

The Daily Korean Tea Grades (Unofficial)

Korean green tea

Apart from Ujeon, Sejak, Joongjak, Daejak, there are also newly created and commonly used terms.

ํŠน์šฐ์ „ Teuk Ujeon

Korean Green Tea & Grades Teuk Ujeon
image source: https://t1.daumcdn.net/cfile/tistory/990ACD3359D11C6109

Geographically, it is very rare to harvest tea leaves in South Korea before April.

However with climate changes, sometimes tea farms harvest tea buds earlier than usual. With these tea buds, tea farms make the most tender and delicate tea.

These teas are sold as Teuk Ujeon means Supreme Ujeon, a higher version of Ujeon. It generally costs $100-150 USD for 30-40g.

But that’s what tea companies say. To me, it is another bad sales tactic. If I compare Teuk Ujeon to Ujeon, I barely see a difference or no difference at least on the internet. If you tried Teuk Ujeon that is truly superior to Ujeon, please let me know.

Korean Green Tea & Grades Yeopcha
Korean Green Tea & Grades Yeopcha

์—ฝ์ฐจ Yeop Cha

Grade Name: Yeop Cha
Meaning: loose leaf tea
Harvesting Time: After June 1
Harvest: Fifth harvesting/plucking
Leaves: tea leaves and stems

You can easily purchase Yeop Cha from common Korean supermarkets such as Homeplus or Emart.

Since Yeop Cha is considered as the lowest tea grade that consumers don’t bother to pay a premium, I think NAQS opted out this category within the tea grading system.

For example, I purchased 150g of Yeop Cha less than 5 USD from Homeplus.

But you know what? Just because the market determines what is high and low quality doesn’t mean it carries the same value to you. I like Yeop Cha as much as Ujeon.

Korean Green Tea & Grades Sejak, Jakseolcha
source: teazen

์ž‘์„ค์ฐจ Jaksul Cha = ์„ธ์ž‘ Sejak

Many Korean teas are associated with a sparrow. I am not sure what’s so important about Korean tea and how it resembles a sparrow’s tongue, which is not even appealing. Anyway, Jaksul means a sparrow’s tongue. Jaksul Cha is usually equivalent to Sejak.

Korean Green Tea & Grades Cheotmulcha
source: sundawon

์šฐ์ „ Ujeon = ์ฒซ๋ฌผ์ฐจ Cheotmul Cha

Cheotmul Cha means the first flush, usually means Ujeon.

Remember in order to sell tea under the name Ujeon, a producer needs to follow the official guideline?

What happens if there is a tea farm that gets tea buds later than usual and fails to prepare tea before the deadline?

  1. Risk fines (under $10,000 USD) and sell tea as Ujeon anyway.
  2. Sell Ujeon under Cheotmulcha, which means first flush tea.

Ujeon has the highest branding power, so Cheotmulcha is sold cheaper than Ujeon. This means you can purchase tea as good as Ujeon and pay less.

Although I love bargains I don’t wanna rip off hard-working farmers. This is one of the reasons why I think the regulation needs to be changed.

Korean Green Tea & Grades (Ujeon, Sejak, Joongjak, Daejak, Yeopcha)

For Your Information, Cha = Tea

Cha means tea in Korean. So whenever you see the word cha, you can use tea interchangeably.

  • Jaksul Cha (์ž‘์„ค์ฐจ) = Jaksul tea
  • Dumul Cha (๋‘๋ฌผ์ฐจ) = Dumul tea
  • Ujeon Cha (์šฐ์ „์ฐจ) = Ujeon tea
Korean Green Tea & Grades (Ujeon, Sejak, Joongjak, Daejak, Yeopcha)

Lastly, Tea is cultural. Just because a certain term sounds cool, you canโ€™t apply it everywhere.

When it comes to East Asia or any place, respecting originality is your best move, unless you have a legitimate reason.

โฃWhile I am writing this post, I’ve noticed more and more tea companies in the West categorized Korean tea as sencha. Sencha is the term for Japanese tea.

If you are an avid tea drinker, you can easily notice that Korean sencha sounds as awkward as Sri Lanka Darjeeling or Yunnan FTGFOP. โฃThere is no reason to call any Korean tea as sencha unless a specific reason is backed up.

Korean Green Tea & Grades (Ujeon, Sejak, Joongjak, Daejak, Yeopcha)

Are you considering to introduce Korean tea to the market? Please research or consult a professional before you mistakenly use a symbol or terminology.

Foreign affairs are no joke. No matter how your intention is innocent, your ignorance can put you in danger.

I hope this post helped you to understand some tea terms and the grading system for Korean tea.

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Eric F Glass April 29, 2020 - 5:54 pm

Great job, this is the most clearly put way I’ve seen so far. If I read Hangul I might know others, lol.
What about oxidized tea? Like the “balhyocha” I have heard of.

Soo Chung April 29, 2020 - 9:11 pm

Hi Eric, thanks for mentioning Balhyocha. Balhyocha is also widely used for Korean tea, but it has been used incorrectly. I will write a post sorely about Balhyocha. Thanks!

Prof. Brian Park April 30, 2020 - 7:56 am

I think Korean tea culture is not easy to expain complete contents with light learning. Here I found many translation mistakes.
Please exaime translation and explain it in English. The writer have difficulty to understand basic terminology on teaics as Ujeon, Gokwoo etc.

Soo Chung April 30, 2020 - 12:40 pm

Hi Brian, I wrote this article as a guideline, not as a summarization of the entire Korean tea culture. Feel free to critique, yet could you provide more specific examples where I made so many mistakes? Although I literally translated the official terms into English in my post, I don’t see a point to translate Korean into literal English though.

Unlike Ujeon, Gogu is grain rain that indicates one of the 24 traditional solar terms. It is commonly known as Guyu, Kokuu, Gogu or you could call it Gokwoo if you want to.

Brian Park June 16, 2020 - 2:37 pm

Hello Soo Chung, I started my questionnaire for your writings in Facebook. I hope your trial will be useful information for exact understanding on Korean tea

Soledad Candi May 7, 2020 - 2:28 am

Is there a newsletter to suscribe?

Soo Chung May 8, 2020 - 9:28 pm

Hi Soledad, you can sign up for a newsletter here: http://eepurl.com/gX1w0T. I think you’ve already signed up last month. If you signed up and haven’t received anything yet, that’s because I haven’t sent any.


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