Jeju vs Hadong: A Tale of Two Korean Matcha Terroirs

Jeju Island and Hadong County are two of South Korea’s premier tea-producing regions, each with its unique characteristics that contribute to the distinct flavors and qualities of their respective matchas. While both areas produce exceptional green tea, their differences in geography, climate, and cultivation methods result in matchas with distinctive profiles.

Jeju Island: Volcanic Paradise of Tea


Jeju Island, Korea’s largest volcanic island, is a UNESCO Global Geopark located at the southernmost tip of the Korean peninsula. As of 2020, Jeju’s tea production has been steadily growing, with its unique volcanic terroir contributing to the island’s reputation for high-quality green tea and matcha.


Ideal Growing Conditions of Jeju


Jeju’s fertile volcanic soil is rich in minerals, and the island benefits from naturally purified underground water. The island’s mild climate, with an average annual temperature of 15.8°C and annual precipitation of 1,598mm, provides optimal conditions for tea cultivation.


Cultivation and Processing in Jeju


Jeju’s tea industry combines traditional knowledge with modern scientific approaches. The island employs advanced facilities and technology, focusing on eco-friendly agriculture. This blend of tradition and innovation results in a matcha with a unique flavor profile.


Flavor Profile of Jeju Matcha


Jeju matcha is known for its:

  • Nutty undertones
  • Creamy texture
  • Sweet notes


Hadong: The Heartland of Korean Tea Tradition


Hadong, a picturesque county in South Gyeongsang Province, is one of the three major tea-producing regions in South Korea. As of December 2020, Hadong’s 1,060 tea-farming households cultivated 726 hectares of tea fields, yielding an annual production of 1,223 tons, which accounts for 30.1% of the country’s total tea production.


A Rich History Steeped in Tradition


Hadong boasts a remarkable 1,200-year history of tea agriculture. The Samguk Sagi, a historical record of the Three Kingdoms period, mentions that tea seeds brought from Tang China during the Silla Dynasty were planted in the Jirisan mountain region. The area around Ssanggye Temple in Hwagae-myeon, Hadong, is believed to be the birthplace of tea cultivation in Korea.


Ideal Growing Conditions of Hadong


Hadong’s Hwagae-myeon area, where the Seomjin River and Hwagae Stream converge, is renowned for its misty and humid conditions. This unique microclimate, coupled with the region’s mountainous terrain, creates an ideal environment for tea cultivation.


The Art of Traditional Tea Production in Hadong


Hadong green tea is made using the traditional “Jeda” method, which involves handpicking tea leaves from wild tea trees growing on the steep slopes of the Jirisan mountains and processing them in hot cast-iron cauldrons. In 2017, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recognized Hadong’s traditional tea agriculture as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System.


Flavor Profile of Hadong Matcha


Hadong matcha is characterized by its:

  • Floral notes
  • Honey-like sweetness
  • Subtle chocolate undertones
jeju matcha hadong matcha

Embracing Innovation: The Rise of Korean Matcha

Both Jeju and Hadong have been focusing on developing their matcha production, an area traditionally dominated by Japan. The Hadong Green Tea Research Institute, established in 2007, has been at the forefront of this endeavor, developing shading cultivation techniques and importing special stone mills from Japan to produce high-quality powdered tea.

Global Recognition and Export Growth

The efforts of both regions have paid off, with Korean matcha gaining recognition in the global market. Hadong County, for instance, saw its exports of premium powdered green tea reach $3 million to 15 countries, including the United States and Australia, in the previous year – a sixfold increase from $500,000 five years ago.

Choosing Between Jeju and Hadong Matcha

When deciding between Jeju and Hadong matcha, consider:

  • Flavor preference: Jeju’s nutty and sweet notes vs. Hadong’s floral and honey tones
  • Cultivation method: Jeju’s blend of tradition and modern technology vs. Hadong’s more traditional approach
  • Historical significance: While both have rich histories, Hadong is often considered the birthplace of Korean tea


As both regions continue to innovate and promote their green tea industries, it’s clear that Korean matcha is poised to become a significant player in the global tea market. Whether you choose the volcanic-nurtured matcha of Jeju or the mist-kissed tea of Hadong, you’re sure to experience the unique and rich flavors of Korean matcha, each telling its own story of terroir, tradition, and innovation.

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