Thursday, August 20, 2015

Preparing Tea - A Korean Way

I begin this post with a little apprehension knowing that this will be long explanation for what is for many a very simple and natural act.  Reading this then for some readers may be a little like reading the directions for tying ones shoes. That is why I'm including the video. It is better shown than discussed.  My video example comes from a tea master. Tea masters are wonderful and important tea culture icons that are known for ceremony.  But this demonstration is more an example of a thoughtful organized procedure than 'ceremony. They believe the process of preparing tea a Korean way, any Korean way, should be very natural and unpretentious. That naturalness also includes tea ceremonies - at least Korean ones.  
Since I am not a tea master, I undertake this post with the exact opposite feeling from that which should be present when preparing tea a Korean way.  A Korean tea preparation should/must be done with calm and ease.  This description is being written with neither.  Simply because I know that I don't know enough. So in hopes of strengthening my own tea preparation skills, and perhaps yours as well, I persist.  
A little background on this post may be interesting, if not that important. Sadly, Tea Tour Korea 2015 did not have enough participants to form a group*.  Therefore, we were not able to stay in Korea to experience the full range of Korean teas.  Even so, we discovered that 2015 was an extraordinary year for Korean tea since we were able to try a number of early picks from different producers.  In a word, delicious!
We were also able to enjoy some wonderful tea experiences that grew out of the Korean Ceramic Tour we did host.  One of these experiences came as a result of extending the ceramic tour for a small group to the province of Jollanamdo.  Jollanamdo, or Jeonnam as it is also called, is rich in both pottery and tea.  Over the years, we have developed a number of close friends who live and work in Gangjin, Haenam, Mokpo, Boseong and other areas of this historically rich province.
When our basic Korean Ceramic Tour 2015 ended, a few of us extended the tour and boarded an express bus to Gangjin.  On arrival, our friend the potter Kang Kwang Mugg drove us by private car to Mokpo.  Mokpo was having their annual ceramic fair.  The fair and visit in Jollanamdo resulted in a series of great experiences. We’ll share some of them in future posts but possibly on other blogs.
Our 2015 tour group was composed primarily of International ceramic artists who had just visited a number of ceramic artists throughout Korea, most of the Korean artists either specialized in or, in addition to their regular work, made tea ware. It is my experience that most international ceramic also make some tea ware.  But few know how to prepare tea the Korean way, so I had asked my Korean friends if it were possible to have one of the tea masters we were visiting at the fair to show our group how to prepare and serve tea the Korean way. I wasn’t asking for a full ceremony but simply some of the basic steps for preparing Korean tea.   
I want to thank Ju Hae-Seong from the Korean Tea Culture Association for graciously providing this presentation.  We met Master Ju through Master Jang Eun-Hui the wife of the internationally acclaimed celadon artist Jong Ki Bong.  All are from Haenam.  It is Jong Ki Bong's teaware she is using for this demonstration.

Although this presentation is by a Tea Master, and therefore can't escape a few of the formalities of a tea ceremony such a standing and bowing and then kneeling and bowing again, that are simply polite greetings, this presentation is not a tea ceremony.  The presentation does exactly what I had hoped it would do, show us a Korean way to prepare tea. Note that this is one of the natural and really simple ways Koreans prepare tea.  Those who are interested in learning a way to prepare tea as Koreans do can gain a great deal from studying this video.  Hopefully my notes, although cumbersome, will also be of some help.  Note the title is "A Korean Way" not "The Korean Way”.  There are many individual variations on the process you see here.  However the basic elements will be similar.  In this case the tea is nokcha or green tea.

Since some items in the above image are NOT necessary for simply preparing tea, I should point them out to reduce any confusion you may have.  In this image, those items NOT necessary include the small vase, often a bottle form, sitting on the far left on a natural stone stand.  On the same wooden tea table is a leafing vine or branch, two sets of jeotgarak or chopsticks with duck jeotgarak holders on mats and a covered dish for tea ceremony treats or tea desserts (perhaps tteok () or rice cakes).  Note that these are all on a naturally formed wooden tea table.  The stone stand for the small vase, the vine or leafy branch and naturally formed wooden tea table all point to the underlying theme of Korean tea including the tea ceremony – it must be natural. Again these items are NOT part of the simple serving of tea that this post and video intend to illustrate.  So set them aside in your mind for now and concentrate on those that to varying degrees are necessary.
Let's look at the tea ware she will be using.  This is rather formal tea ware set. Again, it was made by the famous celadon artist Jong Ki Bong, the items include from left to right: (our view)
1. A source for hot water. In this case a thermos since electricity is not available and wood or gas would be impractical in this outdoor festival setting.
2. Behind it on the right of the server (our left) is a waste water bowl.  In less formal settings a bucket hidden from view might be used.
On the slightly higher table in front of her are:
3. A stack of ceramic saucers, also to her right.  Sometimes wooden or cloth cup stands are used or none at all.
4. Behind the saucers (her view) is a cooling teapot. Note this teapot was made without a lid.  Often a small pitcher or historically a cooling bowl would be used.
5. Slightly to the left of the saucers (her view) and closer to the server is a simple white cloth.
6. Next, directly in front of the server, is the infusing teapot.
7. Behind the infusing teapot (server's view) is the teapot lid stand.
8. Behind the teapot lid stand (server's view) is a small tea caddy.  More informal tea servings might simply have the bag of loose leaf tea or a box with the bag of tea in it.  This tea caddy is a ceremonial tea caddy and not one for storing tea.
9. To the right (our view) are 5 cups.  Typically a Korea tea set has 3 or 5 cups. 
Notice there are not 4 cups.  There are at least three reasons for avoiding the number 4. The first reason is that the sound for the number 4 is the same as the sound for the word for “death” in Chinese and those languages that have similar roots like Korean.  Often hotels in Korea and China use the letter F instead of the number 4 for the fourth floor.  So it could be bad luck to use 4 cups. The second reason, and for me the more interesting one, comes from Buddhism.  If you were to serve tea to a single guest you would use 3 cups.  If you were serving tea to three guests you would use 5 cups.  Therefore, you would have a cup for each of your guests and a cup for yourself.  The remaining cup is for Buddha. The third reason is that if you are serving tea you often have 2 or 4 guests and the remaining cup is for you.  If you talk with tea connoisseurs you will likely get one or more of these answers for why Korean tea sets have either 3 or 5 cups. 
Lets watch the video:

The video in summary:
1. Hot water is poured into the ‘cooling teapot’.
2. The lid of the infusing teapot is removed and placed on the teapot lid stand.
3. Hot water is poured from the cooling teapot into the infusing teapot.
4. The lid is replaced onto the infusing teapot and hot water from the infusing teapot is poured into each of the cups until the hot water fills about ¾ of the cup.
This process is heating of the “cooling pot”, teapot and teacups is a very important step in preparing Korean tea.  The continuing flow of the tea’s preparation was interrupted when a Korean watching the process suggested that someone should explain in English what was happening. 
5. Hot water for the tea is poured into the cooling teapot.
6. As that water cools to the proper temperature, the server removes the lid from the infusing teapot and places it on the teapot lid stand. For nokcha or green tea, this water temperature is usually between 60C-70C or 140F-158F.  We often round 158F to 160F but my preference is 158F.
7. Then she took the tea caddy that contains the loose leaf tea into her hand, removed the lid and with a teaspoon placed two scoops of tea into the infusion teapot.  She replaced the lid on the tea caddy and returned it to its spot.
8. Now she takes the cooling teapot containing the hot water and pours it into the infusing teapot. Returns the cooling teapot and places the lid on the infusing teapot.
9. Grasping the white cloth in her hand she methodically empties the hot water from each of the now heated teacups into the waste water bowl. She wiped the drip of water from each cup in turn. The emptying of the water from each cup in turn provides infusion time for the tea.
A tea master knows precisely the amount of tea in relation to the size of the teapot and how long the tea should be infused.  In this case the teapot is relatively large, the amount of loose-leaf tea is not great for the size of the teapot.  My guess is there are about 3g possibly 4g of tea in the infusing teapot.  The length of time it took to empty the five cups was approximately 1 min.  That is proper for this larger teapot with that amount of water and that amount of tealeaves for nokcha.  Notice I didn’t say it was “correct” or “exactly right”.  The infusion of tea is an art not a science.  The relationship between this particular tea, the amount of tealeaves to volume of water, water temperature and infusion time are subjective and developed according to the taste and experience of the one preparing and serving the tea. Some guidelines for infusing tea are appropriate such as don’t use boiling water for green teas, keep the temperature for green teas lower than oxidized teas etc.  But many factors are at play including of course the selection of water itself.  How can I tell you precisely how to brew the perfect cup of generic green tea on a blog post?  There are simply too many variables.
10. Now the tea is infused.  The tea preparer begins to pour tea from the infusing teapot.  Notice that about 1/3 of the tea for each cup is poured into each cup.  This is repeated three times to insure that the contents of each participants cup is the same.
We have seen the use of a cooling vessel, infusing teapot and cups.  Each was heated with hot water that was discarded. For me the warming of these items is essential for good tea.  
In my mind, whatever part you think of as ceremony or ritual is simply the efficient use of time in preparing this tea properly.  Tea masters consider this the Everyday Tea Ceremony.   In any case, the timing of this presentation was such as to efficiently cool the water for nokcha and brew the tea using organized efficient steps. This is the way I brew tea for guests but I am not a tea master, just a potter that enjoys a well brewed cup of tea.    
The great Korean Buddhist tea master Cho Ui once said simply, "Make tea and drink it."  When preparing tea a Korean way, keep these things in mind.
We are forming a group now for Tea Tour Korea 2016 contact us to learn more and to reserve your spot.

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Visit With Park Jeom Ja: Artisan Tea Producer and Tea Master

Have you seen Tea Tour Korea 2015?

Over the years of traveling through Korea by ourselves or with tours, we have met and become friends with many artisan tea producers and artists.  Sometimes they truly surprise us by planning adventures for us that we could not have planned on our own.  It is these types of experiences that make our tours personal and unique.  
Tea Tour Korea 2014 was no exception and it brought a number of interesting and often surprising events planned within the tour by friends.  Park Jeom Ja, an artisan tea producer and tea master living in Gangjin is one of those friends and each time we visit her we are in for a surprise.
In 2011 she met us at an all female temple where we shares tea served by the Abbot.
In 2013 she invited us to a serene setting and carefully explained her green tea, hwangcha and ttokcha. 
This year I simply asked her to allow us to us taste her teas.  This is what happened.
 Park Jeom Ja

We had a very long day with ceramic workshops and were delayed in arriving to meet Park Jeom Ja thinking of course we were meeting only her.  But no; we had no idea that she had invited the entire Chollanamdo Myung Won Cultural Foundation from as far away as Gwangju to the East and Mokpo to the West spanning the entire Provence to meet us.  
Who knew that she was the current president of this group famous for promoting the Korean tea ceremony? 
We met in the mist of the O’Sulloc Tea fields near beautiful Mount Wolchulsan in Gangjin.  The bushes are covered, preparing the next pick for powdered tea.  This powdered tea will not be used for matcha but rather for cosmetics and other green tea products produced by O’Sulloc’s parent company AmorePacific. 

 The Chollanamdo Mung Won Cultural Foundation Greets Us
Next, we drove to the countryside near Gangjin, where we attended briefly a small local and quiet tea event with a chef who spoke excellent English and had worked as a chef in France as well as other countries.  

They hosts explained that they had planned a much larger event but plans were altered after the ferry tragedy that took place very near to where we were.  (As a quick and ironic side note of that tragedy, the captain of that ferry was found hiding on a Boseong tea plantation trying to avoid prosecution - but not a plantation that we visited.) 

On leaving the tea event, we passed a very interesting outhouse.

Then we walked 100 yards or so to a courtyard where a group was making ttokcha by hand.  It was a true community affair and quite an experience.

Mary and I and our guide MiNa had made ttokcha ourselves on a previous tea tour so it was great to see it being made by the community in this way. 

Finally, we were invited to a local gallery that was exhibiting some pretty significant Chollanamdo teaware.  

Two of our guests bought full sets.  The quality was so high I found myself wondering if a 9 day Chollanamdo only tea experience could gather enough quests.  Certainly it would be an exciting adventure and there are plenty of exceptional tea, famous tea temples with wild tea, tea history, tea artisans and teaware artists to make such a tour a memorable one - even without visiting O’Sulloc.
One of the highlights of the exhibit was the serving of tea by a couple of . . . salt enthusiasts.  Those who were on the tour will understand this statement and might embellish that thought in the comments below.  All in all these combined experiences, provided by the artisan tea producer and tea master Park Jeom Ja, were indeed memorable and I can’t thank her enough.  Unfortunately, she provided so many other memorable tea experiences that the one experience I had hoped for - having the group taste her tea - never happened.

Will we taste her delicious teas on Tea Tour 2015? 
It is not too late to join us.  Contact us now.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Tea Tour Korea 2015

 Click Image to Enlarge
 Sadly this tour was cancelled due to lack of participants.  Although our tours are exceptional and truly unique they are not advertised broadly - essentially only on our posts and by word of mouth. Please contact me to be on the list for Tea Tour Korea to take place in May 2016.  

The above image illustrates both wild and semi-wild tea growing side by side on the mountain slopes of Jerisan the 'holy mountain' of Korean tea.  These tea bushes are descendants of tea seeds from China planted in 828 CE.  But were these the first teas to be planted in Korea?
This year's tea tour is a very exciting one.  In addition to being a fascinating adventure into Korean tea and tea ware, its history and practice, Tea Tour Korean 2015 may finally solve a Korean tea mystery.      
Korean tea is both humble and captivating.  Korea is home of some of the best green teas in the world and wonderful balhyochas that are receiving rave reviews. At the same time Korean tea ware artists are extraordinary.  They create tea ware that truly serve. 
Our tour record is strong, we have hosted a number of very knowledgeable tea connoisseurs from several countries on previous tours - some more than once.  That our tours exist at all is a testament to the quality of our tours.  Nearly all participants learn of our tours from those who have been with us on previous tours.      
Because of truly unprecedented changes in their schedules, Tea Tour Korea 2015 will visit not one (1) but three (3) amazing festivals. What are the three festivals?  We will visit the International Mungyeong Teabowl Festival, experience the exciting and greatly anticipated Hadong Tea Festival in the heart of Jerisan the ‘holy mountain’ for Korean tea and attend Korea’s internationally renowned World Ceramic Exposition GOCEF.  As on all our tea tours participants will enjoy personal meetings with some of the best artisan tea producers and tea ware artists in Korea.  This year in particular will be a truly exciting adventure.  
Will you be one of the 6-9 participants?  If so, you will be visiting with some of the most important artisan tea producers in four (Jejudo would make it five) of Korea's most important tea producing regions. 
In past tea tours, because of unusual weather conditions, we arrived in Korea a little too early, unfortunately interrupting their most important early picking and processing.  This year we will arrive a little later in the ‘pick’ which means more of their first picks will be available and you will have early choice of a broader range of their finest teas.  The balhyochas should also be available.  Their delicious and unusual ttokchas may still be in production.  They will still be picking and processing their teas, and you will pick and process your own.  Will it be at a famous tea temple or with a highly respected artisan tea producer?
The beautiful Korean tea ceremony will be presented to you by one of Korea's most renown tea masters.  You will discuss Korea's tea history with Brother Anthony co-author of both The Korean Way of Tea and Korean Tea Classics - perhaps the two most important books on Korean tea. (Bring your copies and have them signed).  In addition, David Mason another authority on Korean tea and many other aspects of Korean culture may join us.  He was one of the first to introduce Korean tea to the Western world and knows Korean Buddhism like few others.

 Yi Ho Yeong, Artisan Tea Producer

Among the tea ware artists we will visit are 3 Human Intangible Cultural Treasures and some of the more interesting and important tea ware masters in Korea.  The tea artisans include Yi Ho Yeong who is featured in the book The Korean Way of Tea by Brother Anthony and Hong Kyeong Hee.  You will also visit ‘Halmone Hwangcha’ or ‘Grandmother Hwangcha’, Jeong Jae Yeun, who epitomizes the Korean Tea Grandmothers who for generations have made wonderful teas.  Jeong Jae Yeun's delicious balhyocha was discovered by monks who told one of our friends . . . and a tea legend began.

Park Jong Il, Teaware Artist

Among the teaware artists we will visit is Chan Han Bong, one of the 'grandfathers' of Korean teaware.  He recently opened a museum on Korean teaware.  We will visit the studio of Park Jong Il the very spiritual teaware artist who built his home and studio of raw clay and trees he cut in the mountains - thus continuing this ancient potter's tradition.  
This tea tour will also visit Gimhae, and attempt to uncover a unique Korean tea mystery.  Gimhae is famous in Korea for their Janguncha.  Last year the question was, "Is Janguncha a real tea or one of Korea's many 'flower' teas?  Ans: It is definitely a camellia sinensis tea. This year the tea mystery is, "Is Janguncha really made from Assamica tea leaves growing in Korea?" There are those Korean authorities who deny this claim.  Think of the ramifications if it is Assamica tea!  If so, are these tea leaves from bushes originating in India?  If so, did the first of these bushes come over in 48CE with an Indian princess who married the first Gaya King?  Think of the ramifications of that!  Did camellia sinensis tea arrive in Korea hundreds of years before tea arrived in Japan?
This is truly a unique Korean tea tour. Consider this:  Tea Tour Korea 2015 will visit not one but three amazing festivals, have personal meetings with some of best artisan tea producers and teaware artists in Korea, experience the Korean tea ceremony hosted by one of Korea’s masters, you will pick and produce your own tea plus possibly solve a Korean tea mystery.  It will be an exciting adventure.  Will you be one of the 6-9 participants?  If so, you will be visiting with some of the most important artisan tea producers in four (perhaps 5) of Korea's most important tea producing regions and will also be visiting with some of the most interesting and important teaware artists and tea masters in Korea.

 The Korean Tea Ceremony
It is always difficult to know exactly when to hold our tea tour.  One year large numbers of tea bushes had been damages due to the harsh winter.  Another year the weather was very mild and they picked early.  We have also hosted Tea Tour Korea a little too early, unfortunately interrupting their most important early picking and processing.  This year, as stated earlier, our timing should be perfect. Although the first picks will be complete, you will witness the picking and processing of their teas, as well as pick and process your own tea.

Brother Anthony - An Sonjae

The beautiful Korean tea ceremony will be presented to you by one of Korea's most renown tea masters.  You will discuss Korea's tea history with Brother Anthony co-author of both The Korean Way of Tea and Korean Tea Classics - perhaps the two most important books on Korean tea. (Bring your copies and have them signed).  Among the teaware artists we will visit are 3 Human Intangible Cultural Treasures and some of the more interesting and important teaware masters in Korea.  The tea artisans include Yi Ho Yeong who is featured in the book The Korean Way of Tea by Brother Anthony and Hong Kyeong Hee.  You will also visit ‘Halmone Hwangcha’ or ‘Grandmother Hwangcha’ Jeong Jae Yeun, who epitomizes all the Korean Tea Grandmothers who for generations have made wonderful teas.  Jeong Jae Yeun was discovered by monks who told one of our friends . . . and a tea legend began.
After visiting Gangjin/Haenam where we will be immersed in both their tea history and tea we travel to Boseong considered the most beautiful area for Korean teas then to Jerisan the holy mountain for Korean teas and will visit Gimhae, to attempt to solve a Korean tea mystery.  Gimhae is famous in Korea for their Janguncha.  The mystery to us in the West? Is Janguncha Assamica tea?  If so did it originate in India?  If so did it really come over in 48CE with an Indian princess who married the first Gaya King?

This is truly a unique Korean tea tour and possibly the last tea tour we will host.
The price is based on very low or no profit and will depend on the actual number of participants.  Normally we take 4-8 participants.  The itinerary is available for serious inquiries.  
Included in the price of our tours are our own bus with a knowledgeable English speaking guide/translator, good to outstanding accommodations, most meals and all entry fees.  Air to Korea is not included as guests arrive from several continents.  The content of our tours is unique.  We have established a personal relationships with artists and artisan tea producers throughout Korea.  Thank you for your understanding and patience.
Please contact us to be placed on our list to receive information.
We will not be hosting any tour in 2016 but will continue to plan various types of tours to Korea.  This may be your last opportunity to travel with us but we will continue our work.  Watch for the revision of our Morning Earth Korea website coming very soon.  Please consider liking us on Facebook?
Arthur K. J. Park
Morning Crane Tea

See Below

 Some of the famous cultivated tea bushes found in Boseong.

Tentative Dates Tea Tour Korea 2015
May 2015 
0. 5. T Arrive In Korea
 This is now a 14 day tour
It is open for 6-9 possibly 10 guests.  
Guests will have input into some of the events. 
14. 19. F  Leave for Home
These are still tentative dates.  A more complete schedule and price will be provided those interested.  Contact us.
I no longer post full itineraries as on two occasions others have used my itinerary and tried to duplicate my tours.