Friday, November 21, 2014

Notes on Jeong Jae Yeun Hwang-Cha and Yejeon Blahyocha by "el muCHAcholo"

I was in the process of writing another post on the Korean tea term 'balhyocha' when I received the following descriptions of two of the balhyochas we offer.  We at Morning Crane Tea try to source Korea's best teas, as these notes suggest we are not an on-line tea shop.  However, we do have a few teas in stock includig almost always Jeong Jae Yeun's hwangcha and can source other teas by group buys that we believe are worth waiting for.  Essentially, Morning Crane Tea is an Educational Korean Tea Adventure. We hope you will join us.  AKJP

Jeong Jae Yeun (L)   Kim Yu Ja and her son Jeon Ju Hyun of Yejeon Tea (R)

Notes on Jeong Jae Yeun Hwang-Cha and Yejeon Blahyocha
by "el muCHAcholo"  November 21, 2014
I make no claims of the notes below being definitive. I just drink a lot of tea within a relatively narrow repertoire (Formosa kaoshan, baked TGY, Phoenix, and Wuyi oolongs; longjing, houkui, and Japanese greens; and mostly shou Puerhs.) I was introduced to commercial Korean green tea about a year ago with a small undated bag acquired from a friend in a tea trade. Since then, I’ve made contact with Morning Crane and have begun to learn of the delights of Korean artisan teas. The notes below are a journalistic description, not a connoisseur’s evaluation. My comments about Korean tea styles and production are based on conversations with Arthur Park, reading his blog posts, and Internet research over the last two months. I would be happy to have any errors or omissions addressed by persons who are better informed.
The question "What are balyocha and hwangcha? Green, white, yellow, oolong, red, or black?" is fraught with the impossibility of classifying Korean teas on the basis of the six traditional Chinese tea categories. It’s like asking “What kind of fish is a sparrow?” Also, any "folk" product that is indigenous to a national region will tend to have many (at times seemingly conflicting) names, because languages were not standardized across entire national territories until relatively recently.
As I understand it, "balhyocha" is the Korean term for oxidized tea made in a unique process that corresponds to Korea's culture, terrain, climate, and architecture (traditional heated floors are integral to the teas’ traditional method of production). Korean "hwangcha" is similar in name to Chinese yellow tea, but this is a linguistic coincidence. “Hwangcha” in Korea seems to be generally used for balhyocha with a lessor degree of oxidation.
Having no experience with balhyocha (or with Chinese hongcha, commonly called “black tea” outside of Asia, whose aroma is somewhat similar to balhyocha), I took a leap and treated both the Jeong Jae Yeun Hwang-Cha and the Yejeon Balhyocha like the teas I am familiar with that they most appear to resemble: Fenghuang dancong and Wuyi yancha oolongs. Unlike those oolongs, the Korean teas did not require rinsing.


Jeong Jae Yeun  "Halmonie Hwangcha" 

Jeong Je Yeun -- Jiri Mountain Hwang-Cha
Dry Tea: The dry tea is delicate, hairlike, crinkly. Looks like Phoenix or Wuyi in miniature. Smells of sweet grains and ripe fruit. Crumbles cleanly when pinched between fingertips.
Brewing Vessel: A 110cc thin white porcelain gaiwan corresponds to the very nice teacup Arthur included in the order.
Quantity: Weighed out 6 grams of the hwangcha, a ratio of about 2 grams of tea for each ounce of water per infusion.
Warming: Heated the gaiwan and cup with 195 F (95 C) water. Discarded water after a minute.
Warmed Aroma: Put tea in warmed gaiwan, covered it, shook it gently, waited, smelled. Aroma of heated tea is Darjeeling-like with a tart/sweet/green-ness.
First Infusion: I avoided pouring hot water directly on the delicate leaves; instead poured hot water around the edge of the gaiwan and a golden red-amber liquid appeared almost immediately. Quickly poured through strainer into warmed cup.
The first infusion was about 10-15 seconds (more or less standard for oolong in this gungfu style of brewing) but used color as guide (pouring out the liquor before the red-gold amber becomes red-brown).
Aroma: "Darjeeling-like" but not cloying or heavy. The aroma evolves with no sudden changes. Lightly sweet ripe fruit in the silky smooth mouth. No "corners" or "bumps." Constantly-evolving taste with a gentle dryness as an "anchor" amid whirling impressions.
Second Infusion: (again, using color as a guide) about 20 seconds.
"Darjeeling" notes 'blossom" as an undercurrent of strong orchid green tea emerges, contrasting and complementing the sweetness of the initial impression.
Third Infusion: About 30 seconds; color is my actual guide throughout. The Darjeeling aspect continues "widening" (not weakening as much as it is softening) while the "green" underneath becomes dominant.
Subsequent Infusions: "Green" becomes the main feature, growing more rounded with each new cup. Lost track of the number of infusions. Got at least ten --- probably more since my discarded water vessel had only 6-8 ounces of water in it out of the 50 ounces of water in my 1.5 liter insulated carafe. Only about an ounce of water in the bottom of the tea tray.
Spent Tea: Red-green/brown-yellow. There is a small amount of small fragments of the delicate leaves at the bottom of the gaiwan (a reason for the quick, but full, initial infusions). The many stems might seem odd to some, but persons familiar with high-grade Formosa oolong will appreciate the evidence of leaf-and-bud sets. There are many buds ("sprouts") with a few larger leaves amid the mostly small leaves and buds, country people don’t waste what’s good for cosmetic reasons. The intact edges of the leaves shows careful non-industrial production methods.
Comment: My strongest impression was "This gets better, deeper, more complex with each infusion." It never weakened to wateriness, but persisted delivering good tea until I hit five-minute infusions and could no longer keep the water in the gaiwan warm.
“Orchid” green vitality rises from underneath the showy initial aromas. I liked this tea more and more with each subsequent infusion.
Price: At $16 for 40 grams ($.40/gram, $11.20/oz), the seemingly extravagant 6 gram gaiwan-load cost $2.40, cheaper than a 12 oz. latte at Starbucks and it lasted for over an hour and a half of one-infusion-after-the-other drinking, a total of maybe 15 infusions. I lost count.
Over all impression: On the basis of freshness, complexity, persistence, aroma, lack of astringency, texture, flawlessness, and character, the Jiri Mountain Hwangcha by Jeong Jae Yeun is at least the equal of high-grade Dayulin (oolong, which this Korean tea is not): sweet, mild, complex, flawless, long-lasting, with multiple well-balanced infusions. In fact, I got twice the infusions from this hwangcha than I'd expect from that most prized of Formosa oolongs.


 Kim Yu Ja and her son Jeon Ju Hyun of Yejeon Tea
Yejeon Balhyocha 
Vessel: 110cc thin-walled white porcelain gaiwan.
Dry Tea: 6 grams. the tea is black, delicate, finely-rolled though wavy, hairlike. Strong Darjeeling-type scent in the bag.
Water Temp: 195f. (about 90C).
Warmed Aroma: Warmed gaiwan, put in tea, covered, gentle shake, wait. Fermenting sweet red grapes, thick and sharp. Bracing. Shiso-like, but with sugared camphor.
First Infusion: 10-15 seconds. Just enough time to pour in the water, poke at the wet tea once or twice with the gaiwan lid, cover it, open the top a bit, and pour it out. Huge vibrant “Darjeeling” nose in the gaiwan that "sharpens" into a shiso-like focus. It's like all of ripe stone fruit rolled into one, but with the mouth-watering tartness of green plums in the finish. And that's just the nose. The mouth was entirely unknown territory: huge stone fruit becoming essence of spice. There is a marked contrast between the nose and the mouth: a tea friend drinking this with me commented, “If the mouth were the same as the nose, the tea would be too overwhelming.”
Comment: This may be considered an abuse of Korean tea, but I'm just trying to get the most out of this tea under the same conditions I use with a new oolong: 110cc gaiwan, 6 grams of tea, water temperature as is best for the particular tea. Very short infusions: gungfu tea. Basically, I treated this tea as I would a good Wuyi Yancha (or a Fenghuang dancong), except that I gave the balyocha no preliminary rinse. Interestingly, there was virtually none of the bubbly foam (saponins) that one must skim from Wuyi and Phoenix to avoid excess bitterness.
Second Infusion: About 20 seconds, a hugely pleasing spicy mouth, but it seemed that many individual notes were "blurred" (15 seconds would’ve been better). A pleasant "metallic" but herbaceous quality rose from under the spicy ripe fruit. It was reminiscent of the "stone/mineral" quality of yancha.
Third and Subsequent Infusions: 20-30 seconds seemed right, going by color. After 6-8 infusions, times got longer, but increasing in perhaps 5-10 second increments. This is a very generous tea!
Comment: Rather than attempt to describe this tea in detail (a task better left to those more familiar with fully-oxidized teas than me, the semi-oxidized oolong nut), I didn't time the brewing beyond the 3rd or 4th infusion, preferring to use the liquor's color as a guide. The color is a brilliant deep reddish-copper hue, similar to the jewel-like liquor ruby/amber of a good shou Puerh. The “persistent generosity” of the tea is also similar to a good Puerh, though the tea is of a very different character entirely.
Comment: Around the 6th or 7th infusion, the aroma in the gaiwan matured into a essence of seacoast wild flowers and fresh kelp that had me thinking of florid tidal pools. This (with an undercurrent of shiso) was accompanied by a growing umami that persisted as the liquor offered "the taste of no taste" until I used up the entire 1.5 liter carafe.
The tea gave up perhaps 15 infusions, but the brew-time had lengthened in tiny increments: later infusions were well under five minutes. Like the Jeon Jae Yeun Hwang-Cha, this tea didn’t weaken after many infusions, it softened. Unlike oolong, these teas didn’t reach an “unbrewable” stage after which they were insipid and watery. Instead, they continued producing a well-balanced — if more subtle — liquor.
Price: The dry tea appeared to be even more “tippy” than the Jeong Jae Yeun Hwang-Cha, with few stems or larger leaves. At $20 for 40 grams ($.50/g, $14/oz troy), this tea is slightly more expensive than the hwangcha, a fact that is reflected in more “select” tips and small leaves. It’s important to note that grade and quality are not synonymous; “grade” is about conformation to a physical standard while “quality” is about the experience in the cup. Both of these teas are superb; their virtues (and lack of flaws) are at least equal to better-known (though of course very different) teas that cost twice the price.
Overall: I wish that Arthur had a teashop so that these teas would be readily available. But, since he doesn’t, we get the trade-off of re-experiencing what life was like before the infantile impulse for immediate gratification took the world by storm with the arrival of Internet shopping. After the fireworks-in-the-cup described above, I have to deal with the fact that there are only about a half-dozen similarly portioned servings in each of the 40 gram packages; future brewings will be more temperate with only one gram of tea per ounce and longer infusion times. 

 A Very Quick Note on These Tea Producers 
from Morning Crane Tea:
When we spoke with Jeon Ju Hyun of Yejeon Tea we asked him how he became interested in tea.  His answer was, "From my grandmother."  His mother also learned from her mother and generation after generation continues to produce excellent teas.  Yejeon tea is truly a "stand out of the crowd" tea company.  With the deserved reputation of being one of the best in Hwaegae Valley.  The 'holy valley' for Korean teas.  These are large bush organically grown leaves found almost wild in the mountains near their home and production facility.
Jeong Jae Yeun is the essence of that grandmother.  That is why we have given her the name  'Halmonie Hwangcha' or 'Grandmother Hwangcha'.  She dedicates her entire production to hwangcha.  Jeong Jae Yeun does not live in Hwagae Valley but does live in Jeri Mountain the 'holy mountain' for Korean teas. These leaves are from older semi wild organically grown bushes picked and processed by hand.  Her tea is a favorite tea of the monks that live nearby.  We learned of her tea from someone who was told of this tea by one of the monks.  We think this tea is superb and that is why we keep it in stock for quicker delivery to you.  
Thanks to "el MuCHAcholo" for writing his though anonymous  very insightful impressions of these teas.
Contact us if you would like to try them or learn more about Korean teas.  Also like us on Facebook.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The 25th Anniversary of the Opening of the Berlin Wall


This is a genuine piece of the Berlin wall.

Painted on one side with graffiti, that perhaps protested the wall’s existence, this piece of the wall continues to remind me of the strength of the will of a people to be free.  This piece of concrete is the most dense piece of concrete I have ever touched.  Do you remember the effort it took to tear down that wall?
Do you remember why that wall went up? (click here)

You may be wondering why a tea blog  that focuses on Korean tea and tea ware would even consider writing a post on the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall.
I had personally visited both East and West Berlin as a student before the wall went up.  The Berlin Wall has always intrigued me.  It symbolized the great political divide within one country.  Its destruction personifies both freedom and unification. 
The Berlin Wall was opened by the will of the people.  Its collapse also signaled the end of the Soviet Bloc and their control of Eastern Europe.  The collapse of the Berlin Wall began a process equal in scale to the collapse of the Roman Empire.
Interestingly, the opening of the wall was triggered by a mistake.  The Politburo member Guenther Schabowski was speaking on TV and in error said permits would be issued for East Berlin citizens to visit West Berlin.  He should have said something like, “permits to selected East Berlin citizens would be issued”.  When Schabowski was asked when this would happen he answered, ”immediately”.  Guenther Schabowski was a member of the ruling Socialist Unity Party in East Germany who helped force East German leader Erich Honecker from power a month earlier because of mounting public pressure across the Soviet Bloc for reforms.
Harald Jaeger, an East German lieutenant colonel in charge of passport control at Bornholmer Street, saw this announcement and wondered why he had not been told of this policy change so he called his superiors who told him it was wrong and not to open the gate.  But when lieutenant colonel Jaeger arrived at his post at the gate a number of East Berlin citizens were waiting to go through the gate to go to West Berlin.  That number continued to grow and grow until there were thousands (He estimates that more than 20,000 East Berliners on foot and by car crossed into the West at Bornholmer Street. Some curious West Berliners even entered the east.)
Essentially to prevent people getting hurt lieutenant colonel Harald Jaeger defied his superiors' orders and let thousands of East Berliners pour across his checkpoint into the West.  Of this act today he will answer "I didn't open the wall. The people who stood here, they did it.”  This video from Tymachos shows what lieutenant colonel Harald Jaeger was facing that night.  This link is to NPR’s All Things Considered story on this event, and this link is to the rest of the story


It is too easy to say North and South Korea share a similar divide and point out possible hopes for unification in Korea.  Too many things are different and I don’t want to make this a political post more than it already is.
This really is a tea blog and this is a tea post.  While I have not been to Germany since that pre-Berlin Wall visit, I have several friends in Germany and a few tea customers.
One friend is also a customer.  His name is Frank Benjowski owner of Teehandelshaus Benjowski.  Frank, originally from East Berlin, established his tea house in Berlin just 2 years after the wall went down.  So this post is both a celebration of the anniversary of the end of the Berlin Wall and a celebration of the creation of the 23rd anniversary of a great tea company by our friend Frank Benjowski.  This link is to a page at Teehandelshaus Benjowski.  In the upper right corner you can select German or English.
Frank Benjowski has been on two of our Tea Tour Korea tours and has inspired several others from Germany to join us.  You may be interested in joining us too.
Frank Benjowski has a lot to be thankful for and perhaps the biggest thing is the collapse of the Berlin Wall.  Congratulations Frank, congratulations Germany.  Thank you for showing the world even a great wall and the Soviet Bloc cannot deter the will of people to be free.  The world should not forget this historic day.


For those who want to see more videos on the collapse of the Berlin Wall, here is another link on the History Channel.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Norwegian Cup: John Skognes

I know the title of this post sounds like the award from some international sailing event or golf tournament, but it really is the title I have given to some remarkable Norwegian teacups.
I also know you come to Morning Crane Tea for Korean Tea and Teaware but just like the old hymn, “A Song of Peace” says,
My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
but other lands have sunlight too, and clover, 
  and skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
There are just a few non Korean ceramic artists that I will introduce here at Morning Crane Tea.  Each brings to us what I believe to be truly exceptional examples of the type of work they produce. In this case, I’d like to introduce some extraordinary tea cups by the internationally respected Norwegian potter John Skognes.
An aside: With nokcha (green tea) I truly enjoy the small traditional teapot, 3 teacups and a cooling vessel. They connect me in a near ceremonial way to the freshness of the tea and its vitality.  Those nokcha moments are memorable.
However, anytime the temperature goes below 50˚F or 10˚C I reach for my Norwegian cup and and a bag of Korean balhyocha (oxidized tea) and approach Tea another way.  The Norwegian cup will accept the entire teapot’s infused contents, possibly two, and allows me to sit for a longer time relaxed by the fire slowly sipping my tea.  It both warms my hands and heart.  The drinking of nokcha and balhyocha in these respective ways both bring meditative moments but different in feel and style.


This is John Skognes, a master potter and as a gifted guitarist and singer is, in my mind at least, also Norway’s Willie Nelson. (working on a video to upload here)
John is truly one of Norway’s master potters.  He has been salt firing with wood for more than 30 years and has mastered the craft.
For those of you unfamiliar with salt firing, it is a process developed originally in Germany and interestingly also in Korea in which rock salt crystals are introduced into the hot kiln.  Sodium from the salt crystals reacts with the silica in the clay body to form a glassy coating of sodium silicate.  The colors change because of various minerals in the clay body and fly ash from the wood that is in itself also a glaze.  The process is simple and at the same time also very complex.  Imagine all the variables of clay, wood type, quantity and type of salt, placement in the kiln combined with the fluctuation of temperature and condition throughout the kiln.  Of this process John simply says, "I have been doing salt glaze for thirty years, it suits my temperament and I find that it goes especially well with shapes made on the wheel. . . and the very fact that it is such a simple technique makes it so difficult."    
His cups and chawan receive both great praise and great price in Europe.  Because John and I have been friends for some time he has agreed to offer some of his cups through Morning Crane Tea.
Let’s look at a few of his cups.

click images to enlarge
A: Dark clay. Stamped star pattern. Wood fired salt glaze.   9 x 12 cm or 3.54 X 4.72 in.
B: Dark, high alumina clay with chips of feldspar. Iron glaze, china clay slip inside. Very hard fire.   11 x 11 cm or 4.33 X 4.33 in.


C: Dark clay. Rope pattern. China clay slip, iron glaze inside. Fired inside saggar.  8 x 10.5 cm or 3.15 X 4.13 in.
D: Dark clay. Thin china clay slip all over. 9.5 x 12 cm or 3.74 X 4.72 in.


E: White clay. Stamped wave pattern. China clay slip all over. Fired inside saggar filled with grass. 9.2 x 12 cm or 3.62 X 4.72 in.
F: Dark clay. Stamped pattern. Iron glaze all over.  8 x 12.5 cm or 3.15 X 4.92 in.


G: White clay. Rope pattern. China clay slip all over. 8.7 x 11.3 cm or 3.42 X 4.44 in.
H: Dark clay. Stamped wave pattern. China clay slip all over. 8 x 12.3 cm or 3.15 X 4.84 in.


I: Dark clay. Partly hidden wave pattern. Silky touch. Very hard fire.  8.5 x 12 cm or 3.34 X 4.72 in.
J: Buff clay. Scratched and stamped. Low fire.   9.3 x 10.5 cm or 3.66 X 4.13 in.


K: Dark, high alumina clay with chips of feldspar. Wax resist. China clay slip.  10.5 x 11.5 cm or 4.13 X 4.52 in.
M: Dark clay. Stamped pattern. Iron glaze all over. 9.7 x 13 cm or 3.81 X 5.11 in.


L: Chawan: Dark clay. Rope pattern, trailed white slip. Fell into fire box during firing.  8.5 x 15.5 cm or 3.34 X 6.10 in.


N: Buff clay. Incised.  9.3 x 11.5 cm or 3.66 X 4.52 in.
O: Dark clay. Stamped wave pattern.   9.3 x 11.5 cm or 3.66 X 4.52 in.


P: Dark clay. Partly hidden wave pattern. Very hard fire. 9.5 x 11.5 cm or 3.74 X 4.52 in.
R: Dark, high alumina clay with chips of feldspar. Beaten pattern. Low fire.  9.7 x 11.5 cm or 3.81 X 4.52 in.


Q: Chawan: Dark clay. Rope pattern. Five running drops of white slip inside and outside.  8.5 x 15 cm or 3.34 X 5.90 in.
I personally use my Norwegian cup primarily for infused balhyochas but their size and form makes them suitable for any tea including whipped matcha.  They are priced like a low to moderately priced chawan at $195.00 USD a cost that is far less than the price in European galleries. 
Each of John’s Norwegian cups has its own personality, no two are alike and like a chawan each brings to the participant a unique contemplative peaceful moment.  What more can we ask of a cup?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Kettles of Kim Jong Hun: Teaware Artist

   Sometimes, not often, you discover the work of an artist that you just have to meet.  Such is the case with Kim Jong Hun from Yeoju.  On Tea Tour Korea 2011 we took the group to meet one of our favorite ceramic artists the renowned porcelain carver Jeon Seong-Keun.  Jeon's porcelain work is astounding and we will feature one of his teapots here on our next post.  But for now I want to tell you the story of how we met Kim Jong Hun.  Afterwards, think you will understand why we are introducing Kim Jong Hun as a tea ware artist first.  
   During the many years of researching and visiting Korean ceramic artists Jeon Seong-Keun has become a good friend.  When we visit him he always wants to take us somewhere special or be with us when we visit one of our usual stops.  Seong-Keun came with the tea tour group when we visited the Yeoju World Ceramic Exposition Foundation (WOCEF) complexes.  Instead of going straight to the museum area, that has wonderful year round exhibits, Seong-Keun led us to the Yeoju Ceramic Retail Shop where local ceramic artists have work on display.  Immediately we saw some great water kettles.  Frank Benjowski who owns what may be one of the finest Tea Shops in the world or at least in Berlin, Germany.  Immediately called me over to look at them.

 Kim Jong Hun's Kettles

   "These are wonderful kettles. Please try to find the artist. I want to buy them." Frank said.  Of course Frank wanted them for his shop and didn't want to pay the retail price.  
I like a challenge and the chance to meet another good teaware artist always intrigues me.  But we were not staying in Korea after the tea tour so the chance to meet the tea kettle artist, Mr. Kim, would have to wait and with it the possible loss of these specific kettles if they were sold.
   In August 2011, we returned to Korea to host the group of ceramic artists, who had been selected from around the world, to participate in the International Gangjin Celadon Festival.  As part of that tour we also visited our friend the porcelain carver Jeon Seong-Keun but our time in Yeoju where he lives was so short we didn't have time to also search out Kim Jong Hun.  We made arrangements with Mr. Jeon and his wife to return to Yeoju after the tour so that we could make that connection.
   Traveling to Yeoju or anywhere in Korea by bus is always inexpensive and usually as quick as driving.  The trip to Yeoju should only take a couple of hours.   This one took 4 hours as there had been a major accident closing the freeway that diverted us to the back roads.  I had worked and lived with the potter Lee Jun Hee in Icheon, the city next to Yeoju, years earlier and this 'back roads' trip brought memories of the trips I took from Seoul to his studio so many years ago.  Both Icheon and Yeoju are "potter's" villages and two of the cities that host the World Ceramic Exposition every other year as mentioned above.  Incidentally, we are already accepting applications now for a "World Ceramic Exposition Tour" to Korea to take place during their famous exposition.  That is next year - Oct 2015 (unless they change the month).  We are looking for 12+ participants (no more than 16) at non-profit prices for a 9-15 day ceramics tour.  Contact us if you are interested.  But I digress - my apologies. 
   We finally arrived in Yeoju where we were met by Jeon Seong-Keun and his wife Choi To-Me and taken by car to meet Kim Jong Hun.
 click on images to enlarge
Kim Jong Hun lives with his wife Moon Ji Young in a traditional Korean home off the beaten path.  Their studio is on the left.  Moon Ji Young is nationally known for her beautiful and very Korean ceramic dinnerware.

 Moon Ji Young

Because she does very little teaware, we will post on the work of Moon Ji Young at another time and on a different blog.  Contact us if you are interested in her beautiful work.  Note that Korean wives maintain their family name as in the example of Choi To Me, the wife of Jeon Seong Keun and Moon Ji Young, the wife of Kim Jong Hun.  Note also that there are many fine female teaware artists in Korea and we will be posting on some of them as this blog develops.
   We had little idea what to expect when we visited Kim Jong Hun and Moon Ji Young.   We knew he fired with wood, achieving some great surfaces, but having only seen a few pieces we couldn't guess the range of his work.  

Two Kim Jong Hun Kettles 

These are the kettles we found at the shop but when we arrived, he had just received a call that some of his teaware had been sold that day so he had no idea if these tea kettles were still available.  (It took us nearly a month of emails and calls after returning home to finally learn that they were.)  Let's look a little closer at his work.


   The main feature of the lid is a very unusual knob.  It is loose and held in place by an internal support.  The lid itself fired separate from the kettle simply has a flange protruding into the vessel.


Much of not most of the teaware produced in Korea is fired at between 1200˚C and 1250˚C.  That's approximately between pyrometric cones 5 and 8 or low by USA standards.  These kettles have considerable natural ash melting so one can presume that these kettles were fired somewhat higher since most wood ash doesn't melt much before cone 9 or 10.  

 
The handles of most of his kettles are made of copper tubing formed and carefully soldered into place.   This is at once a beautiful, effective and unusual handle solution.  The various aspects of Kim Jong Hun's water kettles make them both wonderful kettles and unique.  It is no wonder that he has won top awards in Korea for them.  Wait until you see his teapots and chawan.  Can't wait?  Ask.
Interested in learning more about this artist?  A longer post on him will be coming soon to our teaware blog.

We are Morning Crane Tea are working to find and introduce both excellent teas and exceptional teaware artists like Kim Jong Hun and his wife Moon Ji Young to the Western world.  As mentioned, I will be posting more about Kim Jong Hun on our teaware blog.  Join that blog to learn when that post will be available.  If you have an interest in learning more about the work of Kim Jong Hun or his wife Moon Ji Young now contact us.
P. S.
I can't leave this post that began with the porcelain carver Jeon Seong-Keun and his help finding these artists without showing at least one of his pieces.  I'll be posting on his teapots soon.

 Double-Walled Bottle Jeon Seong-Keun

This piece is completely hand carved.  Can you imagine what his teapots are like? 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Choson Potter's Studio and Kiln


I first wrote and published this post in February 2010.  It was posted on my teabowl blog where I simply try to make sense of and gain a better understanding of teabowls.  I’m about to introduce a Korean teabowl artist and want you to have this background before I do so.   
Some. perhaps all of you may have already read this post but It has been a while since I first posted it and I thought it was worth repeating.   
There is some debate emerging today in Korean and Japan about the bowls that became so cherished in Japan as chawan.  Historians have long suggested that these bowls were originally Korean rice bowls.  Others are now suggesting that they were Korean chawan from the beginning.  Some, particularly the Japanese, are suggesting that the bowls were designed in Japan as chawan and ordered to be made in Korea for export to Japan.  It is a debate that is difficult to prove one way of the other.  For this article I came down on the rice bowl side of this issue but in reality can see the point of each argument, although being Korean I prefer the first two theories.  I may address these views on the teabowl site one day.  But for now, I would simply like to introduce you to the Choson Dynasty Korean potter.          
Choson: Potter,  Studio and Kiln

To begin to understand what went into the creation of the Korean rice bowls, that became Japan’s most desired tea bowls we have to look at the potter and the conditions that helped to create them.
There are basically two conditions that influence the creation of any work of art:  1.  the “inner” conditions including the  skills, eye, hand and creative spirit and even life-style of the potter and 2. the “outer” conditions that lie beyond the potter.  These include: not only the clay, wheel, tools, kiln and firing conditions but also the process of preparing the clay, the studio as well as the environment and atmosphere under which the potter works. 
The potter brings to his work a working attitude.  The old Korean potter had “han” a universal Korean spirit that I will leave to others to explain.  He was most likely “jang-in” a master and/or he was “janggi” a free spirit.  He just made the work.  (In those days most likely the one forming the work was “he” a man [1]).  He wasn’t encumbered by any attempt to be creative – just make the work -- as many of the same pieces as one can make in a morning.  
Today there are Korean tea ware potters who can form on a wheel 400 tea bowls in the morning and trim them in the afternoon.  So certainly a similar number was possible 600 years ago.  But even if they only made 200 pieces, a lot of work was produced and not much time was spent on any of them. 
Having worked with a very disciplined Japanese potter Inoue Manji, I have some sense of what is needed to produce a lot of the same pieces one after another in a short period of time.  But I don’t think the Korean potter approached his work in the same manner as the Arita porcelain Intangible Teasure Inoue.  The Korean potter was relaxed, unassuming and approached his work with little or no thought.  Those of us who have ever been “production potters” know that when you get “into the grove” of production work, your mind empties and your "body knowledge" simply take over.  If we don’t care if they are perfect matches to one another the work produced is relaxed and natural.  This process sounds very easy – just do it – but the reality of it is much different.   We contemporary potters or "ceramic artists" have so many things that influence us that it is difficult if not impossible to adopt a “no mind”, or in Korean a “mot shim” approach.  Hamada once told us, “It is nearly impossible to create loose work in a tight society.”  We in the West have that problem.  Hamada said that Japan suffers from the same problem – potters in a tight society attempting to create loose work.   
For the Korean Choson dynasty potter, making the “loose” bowl was natural, a result of the life and conditions under which he worked. 
As in the studio above, the space for the studio might have been dug out of a hillside.  This provided additional insulation for the studio.  The walls of the studio might have been made of stones and raw clay and it probably had a rice straw thatched roof.  

The preparation of the clay was a lengthy process.  Clay dug nearby was first dried completely then an elaborate lever system was used.   Pushing down of the handle (A) raised the huge mallet (B).  Releasing the handle, the mallet then smashed down on the dry clay below.  Repeat many times until only small coarse pieces remained.  Then the pulverized dry clay was placed into a water-filled shallow pit to be dissolved into s slurry.  The slurry was ladled into a large deep cone shaped pit containing additional water.  This allowed the stones to settle while the pure clay remained on the top.



From there the clay slip was ladled again onto a large flat drying area to allow the excess water to evaporate.  (The above photo is from another studio.) Then the blocks of plastic clay were carried to the studio for foot kneading and spiral hand kneading before being placed on the wheel for forming from the mound.  The Korean process for forming from a mound on the wheel is slightly different from the Japanese method.  Having studied both methods with masters from Japan and in Korea I can simply say the Korean methods are are simpler and more direct but they are best shown rather than discussed.  Sorry I can't explain the differences in a post.  Between 5 and 8 kilograms would be centered from which 10-12 sabbal (bowls) would be formed, each with sufficiently large feet.  Note: The large thick foot is important.


With no electricity available for lights, there was a window next to the wheel providing light during the forming process.
There are many clay bodies in Korea and each has its own personality.  Some seem to have a mind of their own and stretch or move if the potter works too quickly.  Others might have a lot of sand and/or fine mountain stone and must be formed very dry.  Some clays even slump or twist slightly during the firing.  Every clay has a great voice in the finished work.
The wheel was a simple kick wheel with very little "carry" or centrifugal force.  It might wobble slightly, a condition the potter thought nothing of.  Forming on such a wheel, even one that does not wobble, is a challenge for Western potters who are comfortable with their electric wheels.  But it was easy for the Korean potter who knew nothing else.  A wobbly pot stops wobbling when the wheel stops  - so it doesn't matter. 
Note: that some contemporary Korean teabowl potters choose to work with this type wheel today because of the special quality it gives to their work.    


Behind the potter or nearby there was a raised ondol floor under which charcoal or wood was burned.  This provided some heat to the studio but more importantly was where the freshly formed work was placed for quicker drying so that they could be trimmed in the afternoon, with a heat bent bamboo gub suay kal.[2]  The larger thick foot would remain leather hard for trimming even with the use of the ondol-heated floor while the body of the bowl became a little stiffer.  The ondol floor photo above was taken after a recent refurbishing of the studio.  You can see the same area before refurbishing in the prior two potos.
This old studio and its kiln could have been made at least 600 years ago and may be very similar to the studio used by the potter who made the Kizaemon Ido tea bowl.  
This studio is the family studio of the Kim family and is one of the only historically preserved studios in Korea.  The father, grandfather and earlier generations of the Kim family used this studio.  Kim Jong Ok, Korea’s National Intangible Treasure in ceramics, his son Kim Kyeong Sik and his nephew the potter Kim Young Sik are members of that family.  The studio and kiln are in the care of Kim Young Sik.  Their studios are in Mungyeong, Korea's 1000 year old tea bowl village.  

The chambered kiln, commonly used in many parts of Korea for this type of work is called an orum gama or mangdaengi gama "망댕이 가마" – the latter from the name of the hand formed raw clay columns or  “bricks” used to form the dome of the kiln.  This particular kiln is the oldest still functioning kiln remaining in Korea.  As stated earlier, it is the old Kim Family kiln in Mungyeong and was built in 1843 during the reign of King Hyeonjong during the Choson Dynasty.  It is kept repaired, as you can see below, and on occasion is fired.  For a number of years I was the USA representative to this festival and return each year often with a tour group.  



Many kilns like this one were covered with a structure that had a rice straw thatched roof.  Occasionally these would burn only to be replaced.  Rice straw was a stable building material for many generations.  It was used as thatch, woven into blankets, braided into rope and even made into brooms to quickly add clay slurry to the cracking dome of the kiln during the firing to seal the cracks. 
 
This kiln is quite large having six chambers and a large fire box.   Many such kilns had just three chambers.  Each chamber also had its own “fire box”.  The kiln was/is fired beginning with the primary firebox and working up the hill to fire each of the chambers in turn.  The interior is seen below.


Some potters bisque fired before glazing but many did not.  In such cases it took several days of slowly heating the kiln until the ware was dry before  carefully raising the temperature to melt the glaze.  If fired too quickly some or all of the work would be ruined.  No commercial cones were used but some potters created “cones” from small dried coils of the glaze pushed into wads of clay much like we might use a commercial cone today.  Sometimes clay 'draw rings' dipped in glaze were also used.  The ware was stacked directly on the floor or often on short ceramic stands as no shelves were available.  In the case of bowls, small wads of clay, sometimes mixed with rice flour, were placed between the foot and the inside of the bowl.  Usually 5 wads were used.  These might be stacked five bowls high.  In separating the bowls after the firing some of the bowls would be ruined.  The glaze was very simple, often composed of a mixture of locally dug and pulverized feldspar and ash - nearly any combination would work.  Occasionally a little clay was added to this mix.  A number of great glazes can be composed of feldspar, ash [usually from wood, rice straw or rice husk or a combination] and sometimes clay. 
If the clay body was too dark (as in the case of the Kizaemon) the bowl was dipped into a whitish slip composed of a porcelain type clay and feldspar or ash.  If that didn’t adhere well or the clay absorbed too much water from the slip and collapsed, the slip was brushed on using a rough brush (wait for a future post on buncheong).  Everything was very natural and direct.  After all of this, it was not uncommon for the potter to lose 50% or more of the work produced.  Many potters today keep even less than this percentage of their work for exhibit and sale.
To fully understand this Choson Dynasty Korean potter, we have to also identify with his life style.  Such a description would take too long for this blog, but a quote from Hamada Shoji begins to explain it:
I think there are hardly any pots in the world through which a people’s life breathes more directly as Korean ones, especially Yi dynasty wares.  Between pots and life, Japanese ones have “taste”, Toft wares have “enjoyment”, even the Sung pots have “beauty”, and so on.  But the Yi dynasty pots have nothing in between; peoples’ lives are directly behind the pots.[3]  (From Hamada Potter by Bernard Leach, Kodansha International.) 
The early Korean potter lived a life close to nature and his work reflected this natural connection.  

Morning Crane Tea is part of our larger effort to promote Korean arts and culture.  Our pottery Morning Earth has expanded to become Morning Earth Korea.  We continue to organize both tea and ceramic tours to Korea.  In addition after several years of work we are now able to offer new Korean experiences.  These include 1. Individual or small group ceramic workshop experiences with significant Korean ceramic artists covering nearly any aspect of ceramics. 2. Individual or any sized group tour experiences around your arts or culture interest.  Those who have already participated in these experiences have given them rave reviews.  We have a Tea tour in May 2014 and a ceramics tour in August 2014.  Contact us if you are interested.    
  
Footnotes:
[1] During the Chosun or Yi dynasty, women and children also worked in the pottery preparing clay and decorating.  Today there are many well-established women ceramic artists in Korea and in modern Korea it was Ewah Woman’s University that first offered a class in ceramics.
[2] If the clay did not support such treatment, as trimming, the bottom would be beaten to compress it and if a foot were needed it would be wheel formed.  This was a rare practice but potters adapted naturally to the type of clay they had.  I may look at their tools in a later post.
[3] The term Yi dynasty was often used by the Japanese in reference to the Choson or Joseon Dynasty.  The Yi family ruled Korea throughout the length of the dynasty.  Yi is sometimes also Anglicized as Lee, Rhee or Ri.  Hamada was not referring to the “greatness” of the work in this statement but to the connection between a people and their work.  However, it is evident from his many comments about Korean ceramics that it was greatly admired.  It is well known that Korean work influenced Hamada Shoji's work.  In the first World Ceramic Exposition held in Icheon, South Korea in 2001 a special display showing the influence of Korean ceramics on the work of Hamada Shoji was featured.  That exposition is held in three cities including also Yeoju and Kwangju.  We continue to organize both tea and ceramic tours to Korea. Please contact us if you are interested.



Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Podcast Reviews of Morning Crane Teas

Podcast Reviews
We at Morning Crane Tea are happy to get any review or mention we can for our teas.  Check out what they are saying about our teas on these podcasts.  
By the way I've extended the Cyber Monday sale to be a Cyber week sale so you have until Dec.8, 2013.  Don't miss it.

Monday, December 2, 2013



 A Yeohanggi Teacup
 
Are you about to miss the Cyber Monday Sale because you are not watching all my blogs?  Click here to check it out.  Happy Holidays.