Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Korean Way of Tea

 To begin at the beginning of this blog, click here
There is something compelling about tea that goes far beyond the ordinary.  Each morning I sit with a Korean teacup, small, no handle, subtle in color and form, fitting my hand like no other.  It is filled with Korean green tea - picked early in the spring - warm to both the hand and heart.  Those moments take me away from the blur of daily life to peace and clarity.  For me, that is ‘tea’.
     I suppose each of us has their moment of ‘tea’ or we would not be interested in this web site.  We have discovered the compelling nature of tea.  For me that time comes from that perfect joining of Korean tea and Korean teacup.  
   This spring we hosted a small group of tea lovers and went into the mountains near Gangjin to visit Baekryeonsa an old temple where Cho Ui the great Korean tea masters once lived.   

Il Dam's 'Free brewed' Tea
While the monk Il Dam was ‘free serving’ us newly made green tea the great tea-master Ya Yeon returned from the temples tea garden where he had been picking tea and presented his collection to our group.  

Ya Yeon's Fresh Picked Tea
Ya Yeon has rediscovered the temples famous ddokcha an aged red tea in cake form once made during the Goryeo Dynasty.

Ya Yeon's Ddokcha
Koreans and Japanese have long known about Korean tea but Korean tea is little known in the Western world.  Few books on tea contain any information on Korean tea*.  However, knowledgeable tea connoisseurs have reported that handpicked and processed Korean green teas are among the best green teas in the world.  It is said of Korean green tea that it has both the taste of Luan tea and the healing-powers of Mengshan tea.
At the same time, knowledgeable tea ware connoisseurs have reported that hand formed Korean tea bowls are historically the finest tea bowls in the world.  Even today, many tea ware connoisseurs from around the world, but principally from Japan, travel to Korea to find outstanding tea bowls.  They have been known to pay enormous prices for new Korean tea bowls and present prestigious awards to Korean tea ware potters.  Most books that include information on tea bowls include long descriptions of selected Korean examples.  The famous book An Unknown Craftsman: a Japanese Insight Into Beauty by Japan’s famous aesthetician Soetsu Yanagi includes an entire chapter on one very humble Korean teabowl. 

The 'Kizaemon' Tea Bowl
The discrepancy between the appreciation of Korean tea and Korean tea ware is enormous.  We hope this tour will begin to pave the way toward a greater appreciation for Korean tea so that one day the two worlds of Korean tea, tea ware and tea, will both be greatly appreciated.

On my first trip to Korea, now more than thirty years ago, a friend took me to visit a potter.  The potter’s work was very Korean, made of porcelain and at first glance simple, humble and plain - quiet in its subtle beauty.  As we sat, the potter’s daughter, dressed in a simple white hanbok, walked slowly into the room carrying a tray on which was works by her father.  Quietly she placed the tray on the low table and sat on the floor.  It was fascinating to watch her first warm the bowl and cups with hot water and then with graceful fluid movements simply prepare tea.  I had never experienced tea like that before.  The flavor was so profound, the poetic moment unforgettable.  It was not a ceremony, but it was the Korean way of tea.   
In their book The Korean Way of Tea Brother Anthony of Taize and Hong Kyeong-Hee write:
‘Sitting in a traditional Korean house, with doors and windows open to the early morning sunshine, the taste of the first cup of tea, made with water that is far below boiling point, on a palate freshly awakened, is so intense, so indescribably fragrant, that from that day on the only question can be: ‘When shall I be able to go back and drink that tea again? 
That too is the Korean way of tea.  

Tea Ware Artist Park Jong Ill Prepares Two Types of Tea
Later we met with the potter Park Jong Il who after some exciting side trips through Jirisan tea country finally took us to his home high into the mountains near Gyeongju, the capitol of Silla at the time when tea was first introduced into Korea.  There we spent the night in the tea house Park Jong Il had made from raw clay he dig nearby and from trees hewn from the mountain.  With his simple natural tea ware, lightly glazed or just kissed by the now melted fly ash during the firing, we sat as he prepared tea.  Moments like that always awaken the spiritual side of tea. That too is the Korean way of tea.        
   It is these experiences and more that have guided us to offer you this unparalleled opportunity to experience the Korean way of tea.  
This is not a commercial tea tour highlighting the Korean movies filmed at one of Bosong’s tea plantations.  Your tour will be in-depth and will highlight both quality tea and quality tea ware.
The tour will begin in Seoul with an introduction to Korean tea presented by Brother Anthony of Taize, co-author of the book The Korean Way of Tea and one of the translators of Korean Tea Classics.  Then it will travel to the WOCEF site in Kwangju before traveling to the International Mungyeong Tea Bowl Festival where you will see the work of international and local tea ware artists.  Mungyeong has a thousand year history of producing tea ware.  Three ceramic Human Cultural Treasures live in Mungyeong among many other excellent tea ware artists.  This is one of the sites where Hideoshi’s army camped during the Imjin or “Pottery War”.  Many potters were taken from this area in that historic war.  They helped lay the foundation for Japan’s pottery today. 
Although we are beginning at the Mungyeong Teabowl Festival we usually like to avoid crowds and travel to out of the way places.  The tour becomes much quieter and spiritual as we trace both the history of Korean tea ceramics and the history of Korean tea.
Brother Anthony of Taize and Hong Kyeong-Hee authors of The Korean Way of Tea and translators of Korean Tea Classics are helping to plan and will participate in the tea portion of this tour.  As mentioned, at the beginning, they will introduce the tour.  They will join us when we enter the tea area of Jirisan and travel with us through Gangjin.  These mountains are famous as the areas that produce the “best teas in Korea”.  It is in Jirisan where tea was first planted in Korea.  The Goryeo Dynasty - that made Gangjin famous was the height of Korean tea and home of the great tea-master Cho Ui.  After touring important areas of Jisan Tea, Br. Anthony and Mr. Hong will take us to Hwaeom-sa  a very famous tea temple.  There you will experience temple life or you may choose to rest at a nearby hotel.  The following morning, Br. Anthony, Mr. Hong and the temple monks will guide you through the experience of picking and processing your own Korean green tea. 
The tea portion of the tour will allow you to witness several tea plantations, including Jirisan areas and Bosong and we will travel to Gangjin famous for celadon made during the Goryeo Dynasty.  Gangjin is an historic stop for Korean tea connoisseurs.         
We, with the help of Chung Yang-mo, foremost authority on Korean ceramics, are planning the tea ware portion of the tour.  We have more than 40 years of Korean ceramic research experience and have selected some of Korea’s more interesting ceramic artists.  They include a potter considered by some Japanese and Korean authorities to produce the finest tea bowls in Asia.  You will visit Intangible Cultural Assets of various ceramic styles and Park Jong Il, the humble potter whose raw clay home sits high in the mountains near Gyeongju as well as many others.      
We simply want to introduce you to both Korean ceramics and the Korean way of tea.  Our hope is that on this tour, with guests including tea connoisseurs, tea ware artists and others, you experience at least one moment when you will not only witness the Korean way of tea but will feel it deeply. 
“To read is to know, to travel is to understand.”
We hope that you will be open to the great experiences that await you on this tour.
Please contact us at: Morning Crane Tea to register and be informed about this great adventure as it develops. Please go to our introduction post for information on registration.

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