Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Primer on Ddok Cha


[Photo Courtesy of The Mandarin's Tea]

Ddok cha (ddeok cha, ttok cha, tteok cha) is a form of Korean compressed tea. The term ddok refers to the pounding method used to process the tea. In tradition, a pestle and mortar or a mallet and plank were employed. The name ddok is popularly thought to come from the sound of pounding with a large, wooden mallet on a large, thick wood plank: ddok, ddok, ddok.

To make ddok tea, fresh leaves were picked and selected, and then the leaves were steamed in an earthenware steamer. The cooked leaves were pounded to a pulpy mass, the pulp formed into little cakes, some as small as the size of a coin. To dry and store, cakes were pierced and strung together on a cord, like a string of copper cash.

According to Brother Anthony of Sogang University, Seoul, ddok cha was very much a traditional tea made by households in the tea-producing regions of the south. The making of ddok tea died out as a result of Japanese colonization, but there has been a recent revival among families and enterprising monks. He describes the taste of the tea as medicinal with the quality of bitter herbs. Brother Anthony, an authority on Korean and East Asian tea, says that ddok cha, like other compressed teas, naturally ages if kept, becoming mellower and less harsh. He recommends a web video showing the preparation of ddok cha, which can be viewed at In a further note, Brother Anthony says that the thick wooden planks used in making ddok are now being used as tea-tables among knowledgeable tea-drinkers.

The term ddok in ddok cha is derived from the traditional Korean food known as ddok, a form of rice made in the tenth lunar month with newly-harvested grain. Ddok is made from powdered rice, a very fine flour mixed with water that is steamed and pounded to make a roll of white, dense paste. Allowed to dry slightly, the roll of rice paste is cut into coin-size rounds and used in cooking. When put in broth, stir-fries, sauces, seasonings, and other dishes, the texture of ddok is soft and chewy. Ddok was one of the sacrificial foods offered to the spirits in ancestral rites. At Solnal, the Korean New Year, ddok was a feast food eaten by all in the form of ddok-kuk, a beef soup in which the coin-like pieces of rice paste were thought to ensure a prosperous year. Different kinds of ddok were associated with specific seasons and festivals. There are many kinds of ddok: some made of glutinous rice, many sweetened with red beans, chestnuts, jujubes, and sesame, some colored white, green, and pink, and often taking a wide variety of shapes. Ddok is being revived as a culinary treat as main dishes, soups, and desserts. The sweet forms of ddok are often accompanied by tea.

Ddok -- tea and rice -- are linked by a number of similar features: the communal nature of the harvest and processing; the use of newly-harvested produce (tea and rice); the process of steaming and pounding; and the popular reference to their size and shape as “coins.” In historical terms, ddok cha is remarkably similar to the process of making caked tea as described in the Tang Chajing, Book of Tea, by Lu Yü (733-804 C.E.).


Brent said...

Thank you for the informative post. I discovered ddok cha very recently (through a generous gift from Matt of MattCha's Blog) and have been craving more info about it ever since.

On a related note, I am curious; do you know of any vendors selling ddok cha to the US?

Thanks again for the great article!


corax said...

brent, i surmise that mattcha's blog, like toki's, has been the source that has introduced this remarkable tea to many people in the west. i'm very grateful to steven owyoung for elucidating it further for us all here, and i'm glad you enjoyed his article as well.

i don't know of any vendors that sell ddok cha to or in the US; one possibility that springs to mind is FRANCHIA in NYC [], but i haven't checked with them yet. there are 'koreatowns' in a number of US cities [the wikipedia entry sub uoc. lists 22 such], and it might just be that you would have better luck in one of those. if you do find a vendor, please post the news here in another comment! i'm sure many readers share your enthusiasm and craving.

Matt said...


Thank you so much Steven Owyoung, and Cha Dao for outlining so clearly the hard facts about ddok cha.


Although one tries to stray far from the commercialization of ones blog and tea in general, due to the peeking interest in this tea, one has arranged with a friend, teacher, and tea producer, Mr. Kim at Nok Ya Won, help in suppling those who are interested with this rare tea.

He offered to sell 100 gram cakes of his 2008 ddok cha at a discount price of 20 000 Korean Won (approx 20 USD) plus shipping per cake.

This is the exact same cake which one sent out to Brent and eight others a few months ago.

Those who are interested please email one at matthewnorick(at)hotmail(dot)com. One is always slower than most at replying but will try to respond in due time.


Matt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
~ Phyll said...

Thank you Mr. Owyoung and Chadao for the background of Ddok cha!

Dear Matt,

The ddok cha as depicted in your excellent blog does not seem to have gone through the pounding method as mentioned Mr. Owyoung's article above. They appear to be compressed whole leaves. What is the difference?

Thank you so much for the opportunity to try out the 2008 ddok cha! I have dispatched an email to you.



Anonymous said...


Thank you for your kind comments. I believe your question regarding pounded and compressed leaves is directed to Matt. However, please allow me to jump in here as well.

Pounding tea leaves breaks down leaf and stem fiber, but unless the pounding is relentlessly long-term, the leaves and stems remain remarkably intact. Even in the Tang dynasty, the tea master Lu Yu complained in the Chajing (Book of Tea, 780 C.E.) that it was very difficult to reduce the stems to pulp, never mind pounding them to a paste. So, what appears to be a pulply mass is really merely leaf attached to stem, broken and held together with water and tea juices and oils.

To make compressed tea of the ddok cha variety, tea was pounded for a while, but not long enough to make paste of the leaves nor completely pulp the stems. Leaf and stem remained intact. Then, the pulp was pressed into molds and given shape, dried, and strung. In this instance, ddok cha is pounded tea compressed to form caked tea. If you carefully watch the vido link recommended by Brother Anthony, you will see that, as the molds are filled, bits and pieces of the pounded tea are actually individual leaves still attached to stems.

I hope relationship between pounded tea and compressed tea is a bit clearer. Thanks again for your interest.


~ Phyll said...

Dear Mr. Owyoung,

Thank you for your lucid explanation on the pounding and compressing of ddok cha. If I understand correctly what you wrote, the common factor with every ddok cha is that it must go through some pounding, whether it be "relentlessly long term," to borrow your words, or only for a short while.

My question to Matt was to gain understanding about the ddok cha that he is kindly making accessible to interested parties. Matt's particular ddok cha went through a hand rolling process that he described as "violent" on a fibrous mat. This is before the leaves are dried, sorted, steamed and then compressed. No pounding.

Might this be a different interpretation of ddok cha production?

I am increasingly interested in finding out more about this tea and its culture. And, of course, to hopefully taste some one day.

Thank you again.


[Matt, just to be clear, I am not at all doubting or questioning the authenticity of the ddok cha that you depicted on your blog. I am in no position to doubt anything, as I know nothing about this tea in every sense of the word "nothing". I am only curious if the term ddok cha can also apply to compressed leaves that have only been rolled by hands, but not pounded. This is a discrepancy of my own understanding that I'm trying to reconcile. Thank you.]

Anonymous said...


It must be mentioned that Brother Anthony insists that the term ddok means cake, that is to say, ddok cha is any tea in the form of a cake regardless of how the tea leaves are processed. The broader, more general definition of ddok, cake-the finished form and shape, may account for the different methods used in processing the tea, i.e., pounding and rolling.


Matt said...

Phyll & Steve,

You are right. The tea's dry leaves that one is offering don't look like the ones pictured here. What Steve mentioned was also true, 'ddok cha' is a general term that means 'cake' tea and what Phyll guessed was also true, that there are different ways of triggering the oxidization process, some of which include beating the tea and others which include just violently rolling the tea. As well, there are different methods of pounding or pressing the tea into cakes with a board to create the end form of ddok cha. There are really no 'rules' about ddok cha, its a common people's tea and the method of production are pretty much dictated by the producers who produced this tea in the Southern tea producing areas of Korea. Even in Korea 99.9% of people probably have never even heard of this tea.

A few years back Mr. Kim produced ddok cha by pounding the leaves into a pulp but found the resulting tea too bitter for most people's tastes. See a picture of these cakes at

So gradually, over the years, he has used less force when tearing up the leaves and less force while compressing the leaves into cakes. This years ddok cha was produced with much gentler actions, the result is a cleaner tasting cup of tea. Currently, he is doing an ongoing aging experiment with different degrees of pounding ddok cha, just like the aging of peurh cha, only time will tell which is best suited over long periods of storage.

Hope one answered some of your questions,
If there are any more don't hesitate to ask.


~ Phyll said...

Thank you Mr. Owyoung, Matt, and certainly not least, CHA DAO. This is all very fascinating!


Matt said...

Please dis-regard the offer on disk type ddok cha. This thread is 2 years old and Mr. Kim has stopped making this tea the last few years.

See this recent post on more detailed infomation on ddok cha: