Reviving the Korean tea culture

Organic green tea grown on the pristine island of Jeju is a main key ingredient in many products by brands under AmorePacific.

O'Sulloc, the beauty company's brand of fine teas, also happens to be the biggest tea producer in South Korea.

But rather than just grow tea for commercial purposes, AmorePacific's late founder, Suh Sung-whan, had gone into tea farming with the noble intention of restoring the country's tea culture.

"Many tea producing countries around the world still have unique, distinctive tea customs, but Korea's tea-making tradition has become, in effect, defunct. I am determined to restore the beauty of Korea's tea culture at any expense."

With these words, Suh took an important first step into the green tea business by purchasing wasteland located about halfway up the south-western part of Mount Halla on the island in 1979.

Despite desperately harsh conditions and being told that the land was barren, Suh toiled the land with just an old tractor and crane until he was able to develop the Dosoon tea farm.

In 1983, the Seogwang tea farm was cleared and ready for harvesting.

The Seogwang area, along with the Hannam tea farm that was cleared in 1995, was previously abandoned because of its harsh conditions.

It was inaccessible by car or heavy machinery, and so most of the clearing of land had to be carried out by hand.

After fighting with time, nature and numerous obstacles, tea was harvested for the first time in the fields that same year and in 2009, the O'Sulloc Dried Fired Green Tea was recognised and awarded the World Tea Champion at the 7th International Tea Exposition in Nevada, United States.

Today, the three organic-certified tea fields belonging to O'Sulloc produce 700 tonnes of tea of superior quality annually, which have passed a strict 16-step system.

In order to keep the same quality and taste of tea leaves throughout the year, organic pest management techniques are employed.

And unlike teas by other companies, O'Sulloc teas are harvested using scientific measurements and analysis that determine the most appropriate time to collect the leaves.

The O'Sulloc name is not just popular among tea drinkers but also local and foreign tourists, who make it a point to visit O'Sulloc Tea Houses throughout South Korea.

The O'Sulloc Tea Museum at the Seogwang Tea Garden on Jeju is also a popular attraction.

Opened in September 2001 and taking the shape of a green tea cup, it draws in some 700,000 visitors annually with its exhibits on various old and modern art and ceramic pieces relating to the tea drinking culture: a collection of tea cups from over 100 countries which includes everything from traditional Chinese teacups to European demitasse cups; tea derived products from brands by AmorePacific past and present; and a collection of over 60 different types of teas, including those from South Korea, China and Japan.

Apart from sipping tea at the O'Sulloc Cafe, visitors can also relax next to the lotus pond at its indoor garden and enjoy the view from the observatory deck on the second floor overlooking 300ha of the organic tea garden.

Next door is the O'Sulloc Tea Stone. Designed by renowned Korean architect Cho Min-suk, it is a private venue where visitors participate in Korean tea ceremonies and experience the best teas cultivated by O'Sulloc under the tutelage of a trained tea sommelier.

A little further ahead is the innisfree Jeju House, the brand's flagship store with a cafe serving organic foods and desserts from the island. The store also provides the more adventurous with the opportunity to dabble their hands at organic soap-making.