Friday, July 8, 2011

Madeleine's Tea Tour Korea 2011 Post

   Madeleine, an international business woman who enjoys both tea and tea ware, was one of our guests on Tea Tour Korea 2011.  She sent us a wonderful email and has granted permission to share it with you as a post.  The illustrations and footnotes are ours.

Dear Arthur and Mary,
   I am finally home after some rushing about here in the region, and I am finally setting down to write you both a much-deserved note of thanks.
   I have "The Book of Korean Tea", "The Way of Korean Tea", "Korean Tea Classics", all proudly displayed on my table and lately my friends have been looking through them and simply saying "wow".
  That is the best way to describe the trip - an eye opening experience into a world so close to me physically, but where thanks to you both, the veil of mystery has been lifted and one enchantment after another revealed.
   From the moment we got on our magical mystery tour bus and walked through the Spring air and historic gates of the fort at the Mungyeong Tea Bowl festival, to the rushing waterfalls1

Mountain Stream near Hwaeomsa
and temple bells in the Jiri Mountains, the peace of Hwaeomsa temple and drumbeats echoing through the valleys2,

 3:30 AM Drumming Hwaeomsa
the tea fields in Hwagae Valley and rushing river by the mountain side, 3

Wild Tea in Hwaegae Valley
 the soft contours of the sea and mountains as we neared Gangjin, the elegant tea ceremony at the Myung Won Cultural Foundation, the detailed archeology museums that opened up centuries of Korean culture - the trip was a multi-layered exploration of archeology, culture, religion, geography, history all brought together through a tea leaf steeped into a beautiful bowl of magnificent simplicity and energy.4 

Simple Tea 
   Each day was filled with these experiences brought to life through individual contact and exchange with master ceramic experts who all offered us tea in stunning natural settings.5

The Mungyeong Artist Oh Sung Teak serves us tea
  I will not forget the enchanted gardens, mountain top vistas sitting on warmed floors, walks though camellia forests

 Red camellias bloom at the tea temple Baekryunsa near Gangjin
and tea served by Buddhist monks6 and gracious nuns.  

 Tea monk Duk Jae, at Gu Chung Am, Hwaeomsa  2&6
Most of all, the open, warm and generous hospitality of lunch and dinner where small dish after dish flourished bringing regional delights and tastes amid friendship and laughter with our kind and laughing hosts.7

 A Korean Lunch
   The generosity and lack of artifice of highly accomplished ceramic and tea masters is a memory that I will carry for a long time to come - in each and every encounter, we were welcomed to handle treasures, patiently provided with answers to endless numbers of questions about tea preparation, hosted to wonderful and spontaneous tea and then always, provided with a beautiful gift.  Whether this was green tea, blossom tea from a tea master or an individual teacup from a ceramic master's studio, each item is treasured and savored with delight.
   It is a testimony to your generosity and friendship with each master that we were received with such kindness.

  Brother Anthony - An Sonjae
  My special thanks also to Brother Anthony,8 who opened the gates of the temple to us and bid us farewell in Seoul over lotus blossom tea served in a large jet black bowl with floating pristine lotus flower.9

Lotus Blossom Tea at the tea shop Tea Friend
   And finally, my sincere thanks to my travel companions, delightful multicultural group of tea experts consisting of Classic scholars, philosopher/attorney, intrepid world explorer and organic gardener, tea host with quirky sense of humor, attorney turned potter and video expert 10

 Tea Tour Korea 2011 group with Min Young Ki
   Exquisite, gracious, warm, as well as filled with laughter.  These words and sound sum up the trip.
   With very best regards and looking forward to keeping in touch on a regular basis,

1.  These rushing waterfalls are at Hwaeomsa.  We will post on the Mungyeong Tea Bowl Festival later.
2.  Tea Tour Korea 2011 stayed at Hwaeomsa where we picked wild 'bamboo dew' tea under the guidance of the monk Duk Jae (5) who heads the Gu Chung Am at Hwaeomsa.  While there each morning we woke to witness the drum beating before early morning chanting at the temple.
3.  If you look closely you will see hundreds of wild tea bushes scattered across this steep hillside and going into the bamboo forest above. 
4.  I illustrated Simple tea with a bowl made by the international ceramic artist Min Young Ki.
5.  The tea ware artist Oh Sung Teak serves us tea at the Mungyeng Teabowl Festival.  The setting of the festival is one of the most beautiful settings in Korea.
6. The tea monk Duk Jae serves us wonderful hwangcha - yellow tea at his hermitage Gu Chung Am above Hwaeomsa.  We picked and processed 'bamboo dew tea' at Gu Chung Am.
7.  The dishes for this restaurant were designed by the international artist Jeon Seong-Keun best known for his incredible porcelain carving
8.  Here Brother Anthony sits by the mountain stream near Hwaeomsa.  I believe it is one of his favorite spots in the world,  It is certainly one of ours. The first photo is taken from the same area.
9. Tea Friend is a wonderful small tea shop near but not in Insadong.  The owner, Bo Hyun Sim, has many types of tea including a stunning variety of 'herbal' teas.
10.  The Tea Tour Korea 2011 group is seen here with the tea bowl artist Min Young Ki, his wife and son Min Bum Sik who is also a fine tea ware artist.  
11. We are accepting registration for Tea Tour Korea 2012.  There will be no Tea Tour 2013 but possibly another in 2014.  We are looking for 6-10 participants total and have 4 or 6 interested currently.  If you have an interest in joining us on Tea Tour Korea 2012 it is obviously not too early to register.  Contact us through this blog link.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tea Tour Korea 2011: The State of Tea Bushes in Korea

Damaged bushes in Hwagae Valley
Tea Tour Korea was in planning for more than two years.  For several years before that we thought about proposing such a tour.  We have many friends and acquaintances that are Korean tea ware artists, have a great interest in Korean tea and have explored Korea’s tea areas - some areas quite often.  But even though I am a passionate consumer of Korean teas, knew some Korean tea producers and have studied Korean tea extensively, our true expertise is in the area of ceramics and tea ware.  I make tea ware not tea.  That is why in developing this tour we asked the advice and help of several experts on Korean teas to assist us in making this tea journey a special one.  I’ll return to these tea experts in subsequent posts.
Normally I would have begun posting about Tea Tour Korea 2011 at the beginning of the tour and followed it chronologically.  But Korea had a terrible winter and their tea bushes suffered terribly.  Have you ever been asked, “What do you want to hear first, the good news or the bad news?”  If I were to be asked that question I would pick the ‘bad news’ to be heard first just to get it out of the way.  So lets begin there.
Concern about the state of the tea bushes began when several of our Korean friends, on more than one occasion, told us that they were experiencing an extremely cold winter.  As spring and the tea tour were getting closer we received an email from Brother Anthony confirming that the winter was truly a harsh one and would have an effect on the tea bushes.  No one knew when tea might be ready for picking.  Tea would definitely be picked later than usual this year.  How much later, no one knew.
In at least two ways, Tea Tour Korea 2011 began as a great leap of faith, faith that there would be tea to pick and faith that we could even form a tour group.  We were not able to form a viable tea tour group in 2010 so we traveled with our friend Park Jong Il through this beautiful country simply to get a better sense of the area.  This year, our guests were slowly but steadily joining the tour and giving us early hope that a tour would form.  Then, for various reasons, some guests suddenly dropped out.  Most were fortunately replaced so once again the tour was on and off and on again several times.  In some ways I understand the reluctance to join a tour such as this.  After all, who are these people who want to take you on a tea tour?  There are so many scams out there.  Can you trust them?  What do they really know about tea or tea ware or even Korea?  To the courageous guests on our final international group we owe a great deal of gratitude for simply joining this tour.  It really was a leap of faith for these guests.  Better yet we could not have hand picked a finer group to travel with.  So if you were one of those guests, thank you again for your trust.
Once on the tour, what would these guests experience – especially if there was no tea! 
After beginning Tea Tour Korea 2011 by taking the group to experience some great tea ware, to which we will return in other posts, our small group of dedicated tea connoisseurs began the tea portion of our travels near Hadong in Hwagae Valley. 
Hwagae Valley is the most important area in the ‘holy mountain’ of Korean tea - Jirisan.  Our first view of Jirisan mountain looked promising even welcoming but I was shocked at what we found. 

 Weeds Survive Between Dead Tea Bushes

Sure, we know South Korea is a little north of the best growing zones for tea.  But I have heard that tea areas of China were also hit hard by the weather this year.  In Hwagae Valley we found thousands of dead bushes.  Some areas lost field after field.  When we stopped at The Okro-nokcha (Jade Dew Green Tea) Company, the oldest tea producer in Hwagae Valley, we were told that they lost nearly 80% of their bushes.  Oh Young Soon, a new tea friend and teashop owner in Insadong, who produces some wonderful Hwagae Valley hand picked and hand processed wild juk-no-cha 竹露茶 “bamboo dew” teas [1], said that nearly every one of her bushes were damaged. 
Members of Our Tea our View Dong Cheon Bushes w Br. Anthony

Dong Cheon Tea's bushes faired a little better but some fields were also destroyed.

 Still at Dong Cheon a Line is Drawn Between Good and Dead Bushes

By contrast, Ha Gu of Yosandang, a tea master who also produces superb wild juk-no-cha 竹露茶 “bamboo dew” Korean teas, was only slightly affected.

 Some of Ha Gu's Wild Tea Bushes
As was Jeon Ju Hyeon of the Yejeoncha Teashop whose Ujeon was very light and smooth.  Gwan-hyang Dawan a producer of extraordinary tea who is highlighted in the book The Korean Way of Tea also escaped great loss.  We will report on these stops in more depth later.

 Gwan-hyang Dawon Was Processing Tea Over a Wood Fire

To be honest I wanted to take photos of the lost bushes but as we drove up Hwagae Valley most of the bushes where we could find a place to stop were fine.

Overall in Hwagae Valley the cold winter was devastating yes but a catastrophic disaster no.  Never the less, the winter of 2011 will go down in history as a very bad winters for Korean tea.  Several artisan tea producers said it was their worst winter ever. 
Later in Bosong we also found considerable loss.  

 Two Images Taken of the Same Bosong Tea Area 2006 and 2011

These two di’s above compare images at one of my favorite tea spots. The bottom image taken a few years ago and the top image taken this spring show the damage there.  A total loss in that area.  Ironically the bottom photo was in my ads for the tea tour.  But all was not lost in Bosong.  Some bushes yes but in the distance, if you look closely, pickers are still busy picking and new bushes will eventually replace those that were lost.

 Bosong Pickers in The Distance Provide Hope for Korean Tea

As for what we found at the Gu-Chung-am Hermitage at Hwaeom-sa, stay tuned.  This is just an introductory report on the effect of the cold weather on the tea bushes in Korea.  There is much more to come as we present a series of posts on Tea Tour Korea 2011.

Added June 14, 2011:  I have to end this report on a good note.  Dong Cheong Tea, perhaps the largest organic tea company in Hwagae Valley, just told me by phone that in spite of their losses the prices for their teas this year will be the same as last year.  Thank you Mr. Ha!  Let's buy some Dong Cheong tea.  Incidentally, Morning Crane Tea sells Dong Cheong tea to retailers.    

[1] Juk-no-cha 竹露茶 “bamboo dew” tea is true wild tea growing in the mountains among the bamboo.  The plants are typically shaded and watered gently by drippings from the bamboo.  It is tea of the highest quality.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Tea Tour Korea Itinerary May 5-20, 2011

Tea Tour Korea seeks to introduce our guests to a Korea steeped in the traditions of Tea and Tea Ware and at the same time touch on the importance of the master traditions of several other aspects of Korean arts and culture through personal introductions to some of Korean Intangible Cultural Assets from other fields.  The logistics in developing this journey have been complex and will continue, but the bones are here and as we get closer to the tour they will be fleshed out to reveal what we hope will be an exceptional journey into the heart of Korean culture through Tea and ceramics. 
This post reveals the structure of the tour.  Each week, I hope to add a little more to the story and expand on the brief commentary you will find below.  We hope that you will join us on this very special adventure.
What to do and where to go will follow by personal email to each guest once the Tea Tour participants have made definite commitments.   It is time to make those commitments so email us soon.  This is a non-profit tour the final price will depend on the final number of guests.

Tea Tour Korea Tentative Itinerary.

May 05  Leave for Korea (Depending on your time zone)
Most of you will be crossing the IDL (International Dateline Line).  If you are in that group, you leave on May 5, 2011

F May 06 Seoul (provide your own meals)
Guests will arrive at the Seoul/Incheon Airport (ICN).  We will attempt to arrange meeting groups to gather at the airport and travel to the Hotel together.  

S May 07: Move to Mungyeong
This is a “6, 7, 8, 9 day”.  This means you rise at 6 AM, have breakfast at 7 AM, meet with Brother Anthony at 8 AM then board the bus at 9 AM for Mungyeong At 8 AM Brother  Anthony AnSonjae will present a discussion on Korean Green tea.  Brother Anthony of Taize is co-author of The Korean Way of Tea and a translator of Korean Tea Classics.  We are honored that he will be joining us.  
Move to Mungyeong.  Spend the afternoon at the Mungyeong Tea Bowl Festival. Some of the best tea ware artists in Korea live in Mungyeong including the only National ICA in Choson style ceramic ware - Kim Jong Ok.

S May 08 : Mungyeong 
This is a 6,7 8 day.  Rise at 6, breakfast at 7 depart for Mungyeong at 8. 
Spend the day and evening visiting the studios of selected Mungyeong artists.  This is the last day of the festival so there may be a ‘mixture’ between these two days in Mungyeong.

M May 09 : Icheon/Yeoju
This is another 6,7 8 day.  We go to Yeoju and Icheon
Icheon and Yeoju WOCEF Museums, visit important ceramic artists
including the Hae Gang Celadon Museum a tribute to the famous celadon artist Haegang (Yoo Kun-hyung).  Some of the most important and most interesting ceramic artists live in these cities we will visit a few of them and other outstanding artists. 

T May 10 : Gyeongju  (Buddha’s Birthday)
Gyeongju is one of the most important historic cities of Korea.  It was the capitol of the Silla Kingdom (57 BC – 935 AD) and as such is important to both Tea (tea was first planted in Korea during this period) and tea ware (the ceramics from this period is historically significant and in my opinion stunning.  We have several interesting events planned for this stop.

W May 11 : Gyeongju – Gimhae – Jinju

Early morning visit Seokkur-am and Bulgoksa move to Ulsan onggi village  Visit Gimhae National Museum. Move to Sancheong. We are now in tea country where wild tea flourishes in the mountains.

T May 12 : Sancheong - Hadong (B/D)
Visit Min Young Ki internationally renowned tea ware artist considered by some Japanese tea ware connoisseurs as "the best in Asia".  We then Move to Hadong visiting the tea area along the way.

F May 13 : Hadong – Hadong-Hwaeomsa Temple
Brother Anthony and Hong Kyeong-hee join tour.  Visit Private tea producers near Hadong, visit tea museum; drive to Hwagye valley.   View tea-fields.  Visit Ssanggye-sa temple. Arrive at Hwaeom-sa Temple, our Tea Temple  Over night at Hwaemsa-Temple stay or nearby Motel

S May 14 : Hwaemsa Temple
The morning chanting in the temple begins at about 3:30AM after the ringing of the bell etc.  Attendance is optional though encouraged (unique experience!).  Morning spent picking tea Afternoon spent drying and rolling freshly picked leaves. Over night at Hwaemsa-Temple stay.

S May 15 : Hwaemsa Temple – Boseong – Gangjin
Starts as yesterday. Receive completely dried, packed tea in the morning. Drive to Boseong. Visit Lee Hak Soo onggi (ICA) potter and Bosong Tea Plantation. Drive to Gangjin; visit the home of Dasan and Baekryeon-sa Temple.  Visit Ven Yo Yeon.  Visit the great celadon tea ware artist Jung Ki-bong.

M May 16 : Gangjin
Visit Gangjin Celadon Museum.  Drive to Daeheung-sa temple. Tour temple. Visit Tea ware artists

T May 17 : Gangjin – Chungwon-Seoul
Move to Chung Won-gun visit ceramic artist Lee Kang Hyo and Lee Tae Ho move to Seoul.

W May 18 : Seoul
Move to Bucheon Intangible Cultural Assets site,  meet Ha Il Nam Evening Tea 
Over night at Sunbee Hotel

T May 19 : Seoul
Free day in Seoul.   Evening Chongdong Theater, Traditional Korean Music and Dance

F May 20
Leave for Home

Friday, January 7, 2011

Waiting for the Price and a Firm Itinerary


I am sure you are wondering why we haven’t posted the itinerary, precise dates or exact price of this tea tour.  To get you started, tentatively, the dates are May 5 – 20, 2011 and the price will be approximately $200 per day.  We always try to keep our prices under $200 per day.  The price will depend on how many are traveling with us. This price should be compared to tours that cost $350 per day because we stay at very good comfortable hotels and travel with our own private bus.  But this doesn’t explain the delay.  Essentially, I have made proposals to some government agencies in an attempt to secure small grants to subsidize part of your tour.  I have been waiting for responses to these proposals.  So the price could be a little lower.  The essence of the tour can be found on our welcome post.  Click here to go there.

 King Sejong Awaits as carved by ICA Park Chan Soo
Morning Earth is not like your standard tour company.  Actually we don’t think of ourselves as a tour company at all but rather as promoters of Korean arts and culture.   As part of our work we design and often host unique tours to Korea.  Our goal is to provide a better tour at a lower price as we introduce our guests to aspects of Korean arts and culture seldom attempted by others.  We want to introduce you to a Korea beyond the well-worn travel trails.  We want to introduce you to the heart of Korean arts and culture – to the people whose combined efforts provide the glue that sustain and enhance Korea’s rich culture, to the significant events that shine a spotlight on a particular part of Korean culture and to certain little known aspects of Korean culture like Korean Tea.  We also like to take you to those places where Korean culture is alive and thriving, to the temples, museums and even Saturday markets, to the out of the way nooks and crannies of Korea where you can just stand in awe of what is happening in this beautiful land we call Korea.  That is why we designed Tea Tour Korea.  Some knowledgeable travel professionals who have seen the proposed itinerary have called this tour, “The most culturally rich tour to Korea ever planned.”   I know you are waiting to see it too.  Thank you for your patience.
It is coming soon.  As we wait, please email me with your comments and suggestions.