The name Don tea stems from the Korean word for the shape of a brass coin; a round, wide shape with a hole in the middle. The Don tea is a type of solid, fermented tea. The leaves are collected around May. Today in southwestern South Korea, tea is being cultivated in seven areas within Jangheung-gun and Jeollanam-do in over 100 ha of land and the total production amount is very low.
The collected tealeaves are dried in sunlight for one day, and then steamed in iron pots. The steamed leaves are crushed and ground and formed into circular shapes with bamboo sticks. These circular shapes are solidified after drying in the sun, and a hole is created in the middle. Multiple pieces are connected with rice straw and hung in areas free from rain for 7 to 10 days. The hole in the middle helps reduce the drying period. The completed tea is matured for over 6 months inside a pot, enhancing the tea's flavors and aromas. Some leaves are matured for over 20 years using this process. The method of drinking is also very unique, because the tealeaves are lightly boiled. The leaves are naturally sterilized, and have a unique, sweet scent. There is no sour taste, but a very smooth, sweet flavor. The tea is also said to be effective in enhancing eyesight, detoxificatio and the removal of fever.
Don tea started at the Borim Temple established in 821 in Jangheung. The temple and its tea culture have their roots in the spread of Buddhism from China. Jangheung has always been an area of active tea production with many tea centers for collecting, gathering, manufacturing and selling teas. According to research data in the 1930s, various methods existed according to each village and household concerning the name, drying method, tools, and drinking ways of Don tea.
While once common for nearly 1200 years, this product's popularity has been in rapid decline since the 1930s. The consumption of tea in general has decreased, which has led to the closing of shops selling Don tea. Today it is sold directly from producers in Jangheung and surrounding areas (Gangjin, Naju, Gurye, and Haenam), and promoted at special markets and events. Although many elderly people still enjoy Don tea, the younger generation uses it for medicinal purposes only. In addition, policies in the 1930's led to forced education of Japanese tea practices and ceremonies, damaging Korea's traditional tea culture. The rapid introduction of Western culture has also led to the domination of coffee and other beverages. According to statistical data from 2010, the tea market today is a mere 10% of the coffee market.