Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Zen of Tea

With permission of An Sonjae (Brother Anthony) from Panyaro: The Korean Way of Tea.  In Korean, Seon is Zen.  Korea has the purest form of Zen in the world.

The Zen of Tea
The ‘Way of Tea’ takes the simple, everyday gestures of making and drinking tea and makes of them a spiritual ‘way’.
The ‘Zen of Tea’ suggests that in drinking tea in such a manner, one touches the edge of an intuitive meditation.
Zen is a reality that can never be explained in words or writing.  Zen is a concentrating, a positive awareness.
Zen is above all free and creative, and subjective too.
Zen offers a short-cut by which to reach a limitless individuality.
Just like tea.
All you need to do is prepare tea and savor on the tip of your tongue its six tastes: bitter, tart, sour, salt, spicy-hot, and sweet.
Tea and Zen should constantly govern and guide both body and mind; only so can such a level be attained.
Therefore people have said, ‘tea and Zen have a single taste,’ and also, ‘tea and Zen are one.’

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Morning Crane Tea

I had been to Korea before on sabbatical when I worked as a potter in Icheon. This trip was different. It was the first time Mary, my wife, had been there. We were traveling in Chollanamdo following a slow moving river, when I saw several cranes soaring past a grove of bamboo. It was early and the morning light flashed on their wings. Just ahead, to the right across the river, we spotted a large tree, bare except for what seemed like a thousand cranes and a few heron adorning its branches. It was their nesting tree. Crossing a small very narrow wooden bridge, we approached the tree. There it stood in all its glory, a testimony to nature. I have a video somewhere of that tree and those cranes and heron. When I get a chance and learn how to create a movie and place it into this blog.

The Morning Cane Tea Symbol taken from our images.
Leap forward a dozen years and two dozen trips to Korea later and you find us just as fascinated by the wonderful country of my ancestors. In particular you find us fascinated by Korean tea and Korean tea ware. I have come to believe that Korean Tea and Tea ware are major links to understanding more fully Korea’s history and many aspects of its culture. There is something compelling about tea that goes far beyond the ordinary. Each morning I sit with a Korean tea cup, small, no handle, subtle in color and form, fitting my hand like no other. It is filled with Korean green tea - picked early in the spring - warm to both the hand and heart. Those moments take me away from the blur of daily life to peace and clarity. For me, that is ‘tea’.
I suppose each of us has their moment of ‘tea’ or we would not be interested in this blog. We have discovered the compelling nature of tea. For me that time comes from that perfect joining of Korean tea and Korean tea cup.
We just returned from a tour to Korea where we traveled into the mountains near Gangjin to Baekryeonsa and sat with a monk who served us an aged ‘red’ tea in cake form known as ttok-cha.  This ttokcha is made only at this temple - a rediscovery of the tea made there during the Goryeo Dynasty.

Koreans and Japanese have long known about Korean tea but Korean tea is little known in the Western world. Few books on tea contain any information on Korean tea. However, knowledgeable tea connoisseurs have reported that handpicked and processed Korean green teas are among the best green teas in the world. It is said of Korean green tea that it has both the taste of Luan tea and the healing-powers of Mengshan tea.
At the same time, knowledgeable tea ware connoisseurs have reported that hand formed Korean tea bowls are historically the finest tea bowls in the world. Even today, many tea ware connoisseurs from around the world, but principally from Japan, travel to Korea to find outstanding tea bowls. They have been known to pay enormous prices for new Korean tea bowls and present prestigious awards to Korean tea ware potters. Most books that include information on tea bowls include long descriptions of selected Korean examples. The famous book An Unknown Craftsman: a Japanese Insight Into Beauty by Japan’s famous aesthetician Soetsu Yanagi includes an entire chapter on one very humble Korean teabowl.* (see post on one of our other blogs)

Kizaemon Ido Chawan 

The discrepancy between the appreciation of Korean tea and Korean tea ware is enormous. We hope this blog, the web site and our tea tour will begin to pave the way toward a greater appreciation for Korean tea so that one day the two worlds of Korean tea, tea ware and tea, will both be greatly appreciated.
On my first trip to Korea, now more than thirty years ago, a friend took me to visit a potter. The potter’s work was very Korean, made of porcelain and at first glance simple, humble and plain - quiet in its subtle beauty. As we sat, the potter’s daughter, dressed in a simple white hanbok, walked slowly into the room carrying a tray on which were works by her father. Quietly she placed the tray on the low table and sat on the floor. It was fascinating to watch her first warm the bowl and cups with hot water and then with graceful fluid movements simply prepare tea. I had never experienced tea like that before. The flavor was so profound, the poetic moment unforgettable. It was not a ceremony, but it was the Korean way of tea.
In their 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?’
That too is the Korean way of tea.
Recently, we traveled high into the mountains near Gyeongju, the capitol of Silla at the time when tea was first introduced into Korea. There we visited a potter who had made his home and tea gallery from raw clay and from trees hewn from the mountain. With his simple natural tea ware, lightly glazed or just kissed by the now melted fly ash during the firing, we sat as he prepared tea. First powdered tea, using his tea bowls, was presented. Then, in another area, prepared by his wife, infused tea (possibly from hand picked and processed wild tea) was presented using his teapot, cooling bowl and cups. It was a tea ware spiritual awakening. That too is the Korean way of tea. (see post)
It is these experiences and more that have guided us to create this blog and web site with more information on Korean tea and tea ware and invite you to join us in experiencing the Korean way of tea on an unparalleled Korean tea tour.
It is not a commercial tea tour highlighting the Korean movies filmed at one of Bosong’s tea plantations. Your tea tour will be in-depth and will highlight both quality Korean tea and quality Korean tea ware. Please go to our blog site to learn more.
Please also don't be concerned that this blog is 'commercial'. This blog has not been created to advertise the tour, although I can see where you might believe that from this first post. It has been created to begin to introduce you to Korean tea and Korean tea ware. The tour was happening so I thought that you or your friends would like to know about it. In any case it is non-profit so it is not really 'commercial' in any case.
I have web sites that have more information than you will find here and am even developing a more commercial web site source where you may be able to try some Korean green tea and purchase a tea cup or other tea ware. But that is just to help support this effort to provide information on Korean arts and culture. This blog will simply try to provide information on Korean tea and tea ware. We hope you enjoy it and we hope to hear from you.