PYONGYANG (Xinhua) – For a year or so, drinking a cup of tea at leisure has gradually become a new fashion in North Korea and a number of teahouses sprang up around the capital city of Pyongyang.
The fashion of tea drinking that starts to prevail in the nation may result from the success in the cultivation of an indigenous tea – the Kangryong green tea.
Located mostly above the 38th parallel north, North Korea 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 unfavourable 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 oxidised 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 North Korean 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 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 North Korean won (about two US cents) a cup and a dish of five or six loaves of bread sells at only 450 won (six US cents).
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 grammes of tea leaves ready for sale with the price ranging from US$18 to US$28.50 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 US$2.80 and the rest US$2.10 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.