“Coffee or tea?”
In Korea, the tea in question is usually nokcha (녹차), green tea. Unlike black tea (홍차, “red tea”), green tea goes through less oxidization and generally maintains the color of the tea leaves.
Tea has been part of Korean culture since the 7th century, when it was introduced via China. Mostly used in Buddhist ceremonies in the Three Kingdoms era, tea culture developed and flourished further under the Goryeo Dynasty (10th C ~14th C) when Buddhism was encouraged. Historical artifacts of the famous Goryeo celadon and pottery that have been discovered are mostly teaware, confirming the popularity of tea in that era.
When Confucianism became the ruling philosophy in the Joseon Dynasty after the 14th century, the popularity of green tea diminished due to its religious connections with Buddhism. Other varieties of herbal and medicinal tea were consumed more and more.
In the 20th century, the aftermaths of the Japanese occupation and the Korean War basically wiped out all tea production in the country. It was only in the 1970s when tea production resumed and re-interest in tea gradually grew to what it is today.
However, it’s interesting to note how coffee took over as Korea’s most popular caffeinated beverage these days, which can be easily proven by the number of coffee shops compared to that of tea houses. But what’s also interesting is that most of these coffee shops offer green tea or green tea related beverages on their menu; green tea has become that much of a basic drink.
So what if you don’t want to drink green tea in a coffee shop? Where do you go?
Answer: traditional tea houses, most of which can be found in Insadong (인사동). Insadong is in the heart of Seoul, a district known for its traditional settings. It’s a popular tourist destination, so if you visit Seoul it’s a place you’ll find on your must-go itinerary.
There are many tea houses in the area but when I’m in the mood for green tea, I head for O’ Sulloc. O’ Sulloc specializes in green tea, with their own tea plantation in the Jeju islands where they also have a tea museum. The tea house offers not only green tea but many other varieties, and their desserts are always delectable and sumptuous.
O’ Sulloc is in the main alley of Insadong, near the center.
The first floor is the tea shop, the tea house is on the second and third floors.
Table service by lovely waitresses in uniforms is one of the things I like about O’ Sulloc. The place is always full with customers; when with friends I sit in the inner area, when alone I take a place by the full front windows overlooking the street.
The tea is served on a wooden platter with complimentary tea cookies. Hot water is refillable so you can enjoy the tea at its various stages.
In the summer, hot teas are served with an extra chilling bowl, should you want your tea warm and not boiling hot. This set came with tteok (떡) instead of cookies.
For those who like their drinks cold, there is always the iced version.
I like sweets with my tea. This set includes green tea cheese tiramisu, brownies, green tea chocolates, and macarons with cream. And yes, I ate the whole thing by myself.
A close up. The tiramisu is delicious! Better than even some patisseries that I’ve been to.
The tea house and shop has a natural warm atmosphere, with touches of bamboo and greenery.
The shop sells various selections of teas and also pottery sets. The products can also be found in major department stores around the country.
Besides Insadong, O’ Sulloc has tea houses in Myeongdong and Daehakro.
Opening hours : 9:00 am ~ 10:30 pm (Fri & Sat until 11:00 pm)
Tel : (02) 732-6427