Friday, November 8, 2013

Yi Ho Yeong, Brother Anthony's Tea Friend: Part 2

Have you read Part 1?
Serving Tea
We had traveled thousands of miles by plane and private bus and walked what seemed like a hundred more until finally we were in the ‘holy’ mountain of Korean tea.  Tea is so compelling, the artisan producers each with their own story - each with their own reasons for being with tea.
It’s simply about tea - tea and fire and the amazing skills of knowledgeable artisan tea producers like Yi Ho Yeong and Lim Jeong Jin. 

The tender tea leaf picked by hand, joined with a thousand more, 

and processed over a wooden fire for hours – again by hand.  That is Korean tea.  In many ways Yi Ho Yeong embodies Korean tea as she and her friend Lim Jeong Jin continue this centuries old tea processing tradition. Watching them do so is mesmerizing.  The gentle warmth from her tea processing wood fire transports me to a time and place far from the busy crowd, far from the 21st century, into a time and place of peace and tranquility.  For me, that is one of the main reasons I personally ‘do tea‘ every day - simply to escape for a moment, wherever I am, to that place of peace and tranquility.  When you visit with Yi Ho Yeong you know you have arrived.  You are in that place of peace and tranquility.

Now Yi Ho Yeong has invited us into her home to sit for a moment and taste their newest production.  It is 2013.  The winter has been harsh on the leaves and the spring weather has been so cold it was difficult to pick.   They are about two weeks behind in this year’s production.  We didn’t arrive at the best time for our artisan producers.  But we are grateful that they allowed us to visit. That any of them allowed us to visit.  We enter her home.

If you didn’t know it before, stepping inside you become immediately aware that Tea is her passion and way of life.  The rooms are filled with tea ware.  These combined images may look disorganized but the opposite is true.  Still everywhere you look is a teapot, chawan, platter for food, a row of teacups, or a side handled teapot - a classic and traditional Korean style.  Please don’t give credit for side handled teapots to another country even if they want it.
The Tea Tour Korea group sits around the table in anticipation.  The table is prepared. 

Yi Ho Yeong joins us and sets her teacups before her.  They are pure white so that we observe the color of her delicate tea.  The side handled teapot and cooling bowl are at hand. 

Hot water is poured into the cooling bowl, then a moment later poured into the empty teapot.  Water from the teapot is poured into all the cups. 

That water warms the cups as she selects her bamboo scoop and scoops just the right amount of tealeaves into the now empty teapot.  Water, cooled to the perfect temperature, joins the leaves awakening them and drawing from them their essence.  

Less than a moment later she pours the tea through a strainer into the cooling bowl.  Yes the teapot has a strainer but these leaves are small, tiny actually and the strainer is needed to catch the errant leaf.

The cup warming water is discarded and the tea is served.  It is wonderfully fresh and delights my 'tea' palate.  Bret at the Tea Dork blog wrote this after he tasted this tea.  “The aroma from the dry leaf is pristine, clean and sweet. Notes of pine, grain and florals. Very pungent but not heavy. Why can’t all my green teas smell so gorgeous?”  We felt the same.
We savor the tea - delicious.  It is a tea she simply calls her ‘special tea’.  I'll do a post on it on our tea blog soon.

I pause to look more carefully at her tea ware and implements.  
In the background is a water bowl, then teapot, cooling bowl with large bamboo strainer, large bamboo scoop and wooden saucers for the cups.  Wood to reduce the sound.  A cloth is nearby.  It is a perfect grouping for a group tea.
We have had our first cup - delicious.  

Then with subsequent cups a delicious tealeaf pajun (pajeon) or Korean pancake is served.  Those green leaves are not scallions – they are tealeaves!  Again delicious.  The group liked it so much she made more.   

Yi Ho Yeong in 2011
Our visits with Yi Ho Yeong have always been memorable and this one was no exception - a remarkable moment and so Korean.  There is always a sense of peace in the air as Yi Ho Yeong is such a gentle and peaceful lady and a master of both tea and peaceful moments.

Even the walk from her home is peaceful.  I’m sure our tour members will remember the visit with Yi Ho Yeong for years to come.  
To learn how you can obtain her teas*, contact us.  Contact us also if you would like to learn more about our next Tea Tour Korea coming next May.  

Thank you Brother Anthony for introducing us to the remarkable tea producer Yi Ho Yeong.
*It is with a very heavy heart that I must announce that Yi Ho Yeong passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in January 2016.  Thankfully, her son has insured that her tea legacy will continue with her disciples, including Lim Jong Jin, making tea from her bushes at her facility in her manner.  To honor Yi Ho Yeong, we will visit them on our subsequent tea tours.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Yi Ho Yeong, Brother Anthony's Tea Friend: Part 1

A Visit With Yi Ho Yeong Part 1: Tea Production
I want to begin a series of posts on several artisan tea producers whose tea we can acquire for you by introducing you first to Yi Ho Yeong. I have selected her for my first artisan tea producer post for several reasons.  I’m sure that you can guess what they are after reading the posts. 
In the book The Korean Way of Tea Brother Anthony of Taize and Hong Kyeong-Hee write:
‘Sitting in a traditional Korean house, with doors and windows open to the early morning sunshine, the taste of the first cup of tea, made with water that is far below boiling point, on a palate freshly awakened, is so intense, so indescribably fragrant, that from that day on the only question can be: ‘When shall I be able to go back and drink that tea again?’
Brother Anthony and Hong Kyeong-Hee must have been referring to the tea made by their good friend Yi Ho Yeong one of the finest artisan tea producers in Hwagae Valley or should I say in all of Korea.  It was Brother Anthony who introduced us and led us to Yi Ho Yeong's beautiful home. A home seemingly dedicated totally to tea.  That was on our first Tea Tour Korea in 2011. We went again on Tea Tour Korea 2013, 2014 and 2015 and hope to continue on any other tea tours we may develop.  Brother Anthony and his co-author Kyeong-hee had been there when Mr. Hong made tea with Yi Ho Yeong in 2006. Brother Anthony photographed and wrote about that experience.  They have been friends with Yi Ho Yeong for many years.  Brother Anthony’s website gives a very good explanation of the way Yi Ho Yeong makes her tea.  With Brother Anthony’s permission, I am borrowing from that post including several images.
That post cemented our desire to host Korean Tea tours and to meet these tea producers and authors on tea.  Over the last several years, Brother Anthony has been very gracious with his time and energy helping us as we continue to navigate the world of Korean Tea.

The Path to Her Home and Tea Area
To get to Yi Ho Yeong’s home, you really have to know where you are going.   Her house seems hidden from the road with a gentle path that leads us to this remarkable tea master.   That path also seems to take us back in time to a time and place when the making of tea was not a business but rather simply a way of life.  The garden behind this beautiful home is dedicated to the production of tea. However, before we explore that area, lets first briefly meet Yi Ho Yeong.

Yi Ho Yeong
What can I say about Yi Ho Yeong?  She is a very gracious host, gentle and dedicated to tea in a very peaceful way.  Dare I say in a Seon or Zen way?  She invites us to view her garden and tea production facilities while she enters her home for last minute preparations to receive our small tea group.  We’ll go with her inside on our next post.

 Brother Anthony Near Chongja
The tea production area is integrated into her garden and is a natural part of it.  It includes several large structures.  Here Brother Anthony, who joined us on our first visit in 2011, stands beside a chongja or pavilion.  The chongja is covered with a thatched roof as are all of her tea buildings.  Behind Brother Anthony is her Korean style home.

Tea Area View
The above combined image shows the area from both directions.  (A) is looking toward the home beyond where Brother Anthony was standing in the first image.  Turn around.  (B) Now you are facing the tea production buildings.  The garden is on the right, (on left in image A)the tea production buildings are on the left in image B.
Quickly Parched Tealeaves
There we find a basket with clumps of fresh quickly parched and hand rolled tea leaves.  

Lim Jeong Jin
The juices have been awakened and Lim Jeong Jin is hand separating the now very sticky green tea leaves.  The leaves must be carefully and delicately separated by hand so that no leaf is broken. 

Tealeaves on Trays
Then they are placed on trays to allow the moisture to evaporate freely.  This process of parching and carefully rolling the leaves by hand is repeated several times - traditionally nine times.  Each time the leaves are separated and allowed to rest while another batch is being dried.  This process is repeated until the final roasting. 
Obviously it is difficult to look at a production area without discussing the production process.

Leaf Drying and Processing Area
This is the leaf drying and processing area. On the right is a metal cauldron that sits over a wood fire.  On the left are winnowing baskets used to both transport and winnow the leaves. On the far left is a door leading into a room with an ondol heated floor.  We will see how each of these plays a part in the production of the tea.

Final Roasting First Stage Over Wood Fire (BA)
Here Mr. Hong and Ms Lim (behind Mr. Hong) are completing the final roasting of the first stage.
After the last roasting of leaves in the first stage of production, the leaves are separated again and allowed to rest indoors for several hours or often over night on the heated ondol floor.  In the morning the leaves are returned once again to the caldron over low heat and stirred and pressed until the leaves are completely dry.

Mat-Naegi or Hyang-Olligi
Here Lim Jeong Jin (L) and Yi Ho Yeong (R) are completing the process known as mat-naegi or hyang-olligi.  This is Korea’s taste and fragrance enhancing process.  During this process, that can last two or more hours, the tea leaves turn from green to dark gray.  

Lim Jeong Jin Winnowing the Tealeaves (BA)
Then the completely dried leaves are winnowed to pick out stems or broken leaves.  The leaves are separated once more and allowed to cool before packing.     
All of Yi Ho Yeong and Lim Jeong Jin teas are completely hand made from the picking of the leaves on steep hills to their final mat-naegi or hyang-olligi process over a wood fire.  Just as it has been done for hundreds of years.  It is rare to visit such a production area as this.  It is more rare to witness any aspect of this process today in Korea or in any part of the tea world where each country has developed their own ways of making green tea as most have gone, at least in part, to machines.             
We are honored to be able to share this experience and Yi Ho Yeong’s
and Lim Jeong Jin's teas with our customers.  Contact us to learn more about her teas and how you may be able to get some.
Please continue to Part 2.

Hong Kyeong-Hee and Brother Anthony  
Note: It took two visits and some borrowed images from Brother Anthony to be able to present this post. Thank you Brother Anthony and Hong Kyeong-Hee. Brother Anthony’s images are noted (BA).
Join us on our next Tea Tour Korea when you will meet Yi Ho Yeong and many other exceptional artisan tea producers and tea ware artists.  Contact us to learn more.

It is with a very heavy heart that I must announce that Yi Ho Yeong passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in January 2016.  Thankfully, her son has insured that her tea legacy will continue with her disciples making tea from her bushes at her facility in her manner.  To honor her, we will visit them on our tea tours.
Please continue to Part 2