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 http://www.malltb.com/video/47302604. 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.).