Tea Culture and Tea Traditions of Korea
Tea Culture of
Koreans regard tea as a beverage with valuable health benefits. For them tea is not just a drink but a part of a spiritual experience. There is a unique taste to their tea which appeals to the senses. China introduced tea to Korea by means of seeds as far back as 57 BC. Today Koreans consume tea from Camellia sinensis as well as a tea made by roasting rice known as barley tea. Their approach to tea is less formal, natural and allows more space to relax and feel free.
Tea History of Korea
During the Chinese Silla dynasty (57 BC -668 AD) tea seeds were brought to Korea that started the tea drinking ritual for the Korean people.
In the course of Goryeo dynasty between 10th and 14th centuries, this delicious beverage was mentioned and respected in drama, songs, poetry, and art. A ceremony known as “cha'rye” which means “tea ritual” existed in this time. Korean Buddhist ceremonies are centered on spiritual awakening, and meditation gained by the preparation and consuming of tea.
A Buddhist disciple contributed significantly to the development of the tea culture in Korea between 1762 and 1836. According to historical records he and his friends grew tea, and the plantation is still existing in the Kangjin area. He is referred to as the “Tea Mountain” or Tasan reminiscing the role he played in the development of tea in Korea.
Types of Tea consumed in Korea
As Korean tea was influenced by China, the first type used by the Koreans was the pressed black tea from China. This was popular and it had a presence in the royal court as well. Nevertheless traveling Buddhist monks brought over plants of tea to Korea and they were grown to give a more delicate taste as opposed to the dark, strong tea from China.
Koreans love green tea known as "chugno" or "chaksol" and it is often served after meals, and in general at home.
Other types include Sejak or Jakseol meaning “sparrow tongue” tea, which is so referred because the tender leaves are plucked when they are of the size of a sparrow's tongue. Named for areas it is grown sometimes, names worth mentioning are Jookro, Chunhachoon, Okcheon, and Woojeon.
Koreans also enjoy types of herbal and spiced teas, for e.g. chrysanthemum tea, mugwort tea and persimmon leaf tea.
Korean teas are categorized into five tastes; bitterness of the tea, astringency, sourness, sweetness and saltiness. They prefer fresh tea to aged tea. Various areas according to the climate and soil situations produce tea with different characteristics referring to the five taste elements. For e.g. in Jeju Island, tea is salty due to the ocean being closer to them.
Tea Customs of Korea
At the very beginning Koreans considered tea as a medicine and an edible plant, rather than a beverage. With time this view has evolved and today tea is a drink as well as a social custom.
Koreans dedicate tea to Lord Buddha or sometimes to their ancestral gods. They also offer tea to god of silkworms and god of certain mountains. These offerings are done because tea is supposed to be stimulating and healthy, representing all the positive qualities, and it is suitable to be offered to higher beings; another reason why Koreans offer tea to any guests who are invited into their homes. It was believed in the ancient times that this stimulating characteristic of tea was actually formed as an understanding between the gods and the humans. Tea was considered the most important religious offering.
Many historical records show how during each King’s reign, tea was offered to various gods and spirits. Kings and members of the royal family conducted various tea ceremonies where they honoured native gods and spirits of monks. It has always played a pivotal role during many special occurrences such as birthdays, meditation sessions or when the name of the queen or the crown prince is announced. Tea was so bound to Buddhism that there is a “meditation tea” (Myeong-san cha) which is considered a meditation itself.
Koreans pair “Yakgwa” a sweet meat made with honey, as an accompaniment with green tea especially during celebrations; related confections are Yugwa and Hungwa. Tiny tea cookies are often combined with tea, such as Dasik, Lotus Flower and Margaret cookies. Haitai is a sort of a pastry or a French pie specialty.
Tea ceremonies in Korea
Korea is well known for their tea ceremonies. There are at least 15 main rites.
The Day Tea rite was a ceremony that took place in the daytime during the Joseon dynasty between 1392 and 1897. The Special Tea Rite was performed when foreign diplomats, dignitaries, and tradesmen were welcomed, as well as during royal weddings. There was a special tea ceremony known as the Queen Tea Ceremony, which was performed at the onset of royal dramas, allowed for only females, and the crown prince.
These first ceremonies were conducted by and for the royal family, however towards the end of the Joseon dynasty fellow countrymen also joined the trend.
Buddhists in Korea attributed a spiritual characteristic to their tea and considered it as a type of meditation, similar to how it was treated in Japan and China. It was not only limited to the Buddhists but also Confucian followers believed this idea and it was them that wrote “a cup of tea is the beginning of Zen”. In the 7th century tea rites it was considered that tea led to one's enlightenment.
Tea ceremonies were also thought of as a disciplinary course of actions to purify the mind. In addition to the Zen followers Taoists also considered tea to be strongly related to their religious beliefs. A scholar named To Kyu-bo declared that Taoism and the tea ceremony is actually one.
Teaware of Korea
Sharing a like-minded spirit with the regional neighbours China and Japan, Korea also has quite a long history of how tea items are respected and admired. History holds that in year 661 the first record was made of tea being offered to an ancestral god.
Korean teaware are mostly handmade. Their practicality and texture are much adored. They are also known as Zen tea and Zen teaware.
During the history at one point, Korean teaware gained so much popularity that people who were forced to work in Japan produced beautiful items for Japanese tea ceremonies. Today tea bowls, tea cups, and various other tea-making items are valued at very high prices representing many reigns of Korean royal lineage.
Korean teaware are mostly made of porcelain. Once tea is brewed and steeped, it is poured into cups which then are placed on saucers. A cup and a saucer will be placed before each guest, ideally sitting on the floor. Guests are supposed to hold the cups using both their hands and enjoy the color and then the aroma of the tea.
Due to the wider freedom attributed to Korean tea ceremonies, the teahouse structure, entrance to the tea garden, production and usage of teaware, chosen snacks, and other aspects of a ceremony have a broader variance.