Tea, coffee drinking becomes trendy in DPRK

Source:Xinhua Published: 2014-11-30 22:03:29

For a year or so, drinking a cup of tea at leisure has gradually become a new fashion in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and a number of teahouses sprang up around the capital city of Pyongyang.

The fashion of tea drinking that starts to prevail in the liquor-loving nation may result from the success in the cultivation of an indigenous tea --- the Kangryong green tea.

Located mostly above the 38th parallel north, the DPRK is not supposed to be an ideal place for tea planting, as tea bushes won't possibly survive in chilly and arid climate. It is even widely believed that growing tea above 36 degrees north latitude can hardly succeed by traditional techniques.

However, the late leader Kim Il Sung gave instructions as early as in 1982 that the country should produce tea on its own. His successor Kim Jong Il continued to put the task on the agenda and ordered to further advance research in tea growing.

Even during the "Arduous March" in the 1990s, the cultivation effort had not been slackened.

Despite unfavorable natural conditions, the Kangryong green tea was eventually produced on a large scale in Kangryong County in South Hwanghae Province on the western coast between 37-38 degrees north latitude, almost a southernmost place in the territory.

Shortly after, the Kangryong black tea also emerged when the green tea leaves were crushed and oxidized by fermentation. But in some teahouses only green tea is available probably because people grow more fond of green tea that is more beneficial to health.

A waitress at a cafe situated on the first floor of Koryo Hotel told the reporter that the Kangryong green tea was also named "Un Jong Tea" (meaning "gratitude"), in order to express their gratitude for the two deceased DPRK leaders, "without whose care and guidance the people would not have been able to taste the homegrown tea."

The most popular teahouse in downtown Pyongyang is the "Silver Bell" located on a bustling street about 10 minutes' walk from the famous Koryo Hotel, where foreign visitors are often accommodated. Although the teahouse was renamed "Un Jong Teahouse," the people are used to calling it "Silver Bell".

The teahouse opens at 12 o'clock at noon and all the wooden chairs and tables make it antique and elegant, very much in tune with the tea tasting atmosphere. Only tea, coffee and bread are offered in the shop.

The Kangryong green tea and black tea are sold at an attractive price of 150 DPRK won (about 0.02 US dollars) a cup and a dish of five or six loaves of bread sells at only 450 won (0.06 dollars).

During lunchtime, several groups of locals entered the teahouse and had a pleasant time chatting with friends or families over a cup of tea, looking relaxed and satisfied.

Surprisingly the ceramic mugs are all equipped with a tea strainer to separate tea leaves and water. The waitress said these tea infuser cups were distributed when the house was first established and she did not know where to get those cups.

The leaves could better be brewed twice or three times to let the nutrition facts fully dissolve, read the instructions on a sealed paper box containing 100 grams of tea leaves ready for sale with the price ranging from 18 dollars to 28.5 dollars at different stores.

The Kangryong green tea is said to be able to help prevent arteriosclerosis, reduce blood pressure, ease fatigue, boost brain power and eliminate toxins.

Apart from Un Jong Tea, Ginseng tea has been well reputed for long. At a teahouse at Koryo Hotel, more teas are offered yet at much higher prices. A cup of the Kangryong green tea is charged 2.8 dollars and the rest 2.1 dollars including ginseng tea and Baek Hwa Tea ("tea of a hundred flowers").

Ginseng tea is mainly produced in Kaesong, a city not far from the demarcation line and renowned for its high quality ginseng. And Baek Hwa Tea, which wins popularity with female customers for its special skin nourishing effect, is also produced domestically.

Another famous teahouse nearby, or rather called a coffee shop, is "Pyolmuri", which means star cluster in English. There are two rooms in the cafe, one for ordinary meals and the other for beverage and desserts.

In the coffee shop two middle-aged local men ordered milk coffees and asked for extra sugar. A broad variety of choices are offered including espresso, latte, cappuccino, machiato and mocha, each priced at 5 dollars for a cup. All coffees are handcrafted with a Swiss made automatic espresso machine, with milk exported from Germany and ready-to-use "illy" ground coffee.

The barista, who is a twenty-something young girl, explained that because domestically-produced milk contains more fat they chose German milk instead to make coffee taste better.

The cafe was luxuriously-decorated and furnished with stylish tables and lights, and it also served various western food and beverages besides coffee and tea, such as spaghetti, pizza, tequila. Even cheese fondue was on the menu.

Pyongyang folks love coffee as much as tea, and it depends on individual preference whether to order a tea or coffee, said the waitress. But compared to tea and coffee, beer remains the favorite drink among the natives, she added.

That is true. Coffee and tea, as two emerging casual beverages in the country, are indeed gaining increasing popularity among the local people, but still not so widely accepted as beer and low-degree white spirit (they call it Soju) for the Korean nation who regard the long standing wine culture as an indispensable part of their life. Beers are always a must-order at restaurants.

There are tiny convenience stores named "Cool Drinks" almost everywhere on the streets of Pyongyang. The natives said the "Cool Drinks" refer to beers in particular, though the store provides a variety of drinks and snacks.

Un Jong Tea, a self-cultivated green tea, has rapidly expanded its influence across the country over the past two years and is almost well known to each and every household. With all the perseverance and consistent self-reliant effort, the people of the DPRK took up the challenge, pressed ahead with cultivation research and finally came to taste the long-expected green tea, which has a number of health effects and also helps beat summer heat.

As Pyongyang local people have come to grow fond of latte or mocha (it seems they like espresso mixed with milk), it is expected at the same time that Un Jong Tea will make itself better known all over the world just as ginseng tea did, and more people of different nationalities could have the chance to take a sip of the hard-earned Kangryong green tea.

Posted in: Asia-Pacific

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