Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Short Visit to the Tea Plantations in the Foothills of Jiri-san. By Petr Novák

I have been so busy this year that I haven't had time to continue the story of our tea adventure last spring.  However as our trip began, we were able to help Petr Novák and Daniel Klásek, from the Czech Republic begin their private tea adventure.  Petr and his partner Miro had visited the Gangjin tea and celadon area with us in past years.  Peter's friend Daniel is a tea merchant so they wanted to experience Jirisan.  Following is the account of their tea adventure.  Cho Hak

A Short Visit to the Tea Plantations in the Foothills of Jiri-san
by Petr Novak

It was a short spring visit and a dream that became true. Maybe I should say it was too short.  But with so many experiences, when Cho Hak asked me to share our “adventures” with readers of his Morning Crane Blog I was aware that it would be hard to find where to start, what to say. …How can I share the impressions from the mountains?  How can I express the wind in a bamboo forest in which you can smell the hint of the sea, fragrances of tea or smiling people?

   Hwagye-dong Valley- tea valley on the border of Jiri-san National Park

I fell in love with Korean tea a few years ago and from the beginning I felt that as the Korean peninsula stretches between China and Japan so also Korean tea lies between Chinese and Japanese teas.  That it is related to both but unusual and distinctive.  When I enjoyed those ‘first’ experiences of NokCha I was really curious about what was behind it. I felt that there were not only different tastes and fragrances but also an energy in this tea; and that it grows from the difference in culture.
When we, my partner Miroslava Randová and I, were invited in 2008 to participate on Mungyeong Chassabal Festival I was happy. Happy, not only because of all the great things that Cho Hak had described in few of his posts but I also saw it as a natural opportunity to learn about the tea for which my love was growing all those years.  In 2008 after the festival we visited Boseong area and with help from Cho Hak we had the opportunity to not only see tea plantations but also to make tea by ourselves in small a family “tea workshop”.  In my mind I can still smell the freshness of that tea!

Fresh tea leaves in Boseong area

The visits of Korea in 2008 as well in 2009 were extraordinary but like all things, “The more you know and the more you see the more you don’t know and you would like to see”. ..
Many Korean teas I have drunk during years come from the Jiri-san area.  Very often those teas come with “nice stories” about wild trees, high mountains and the use of a traditional process.  Although I am always careful about accepting this kind of story as facts, I felt that the teas from this area are strong, full of energy.  So when I realized that I had three days after the festival until I had to leave Korea the decision where to spend those days was easy. 
This spring Miroslava was not able to go with me, so my friend Daniel Klásek joined me. He is a tea enthusiast and tea merchant in the Czech Republic so he was more than happy to be at the Teabowl Festival in Mungyeong as well as join me after the festival to see the tea gardens of Jiri-san.

 Daniel (on the left) and me on our way to the south of Korea

Before we left our country I asked Matthew from Mattchablog ( if he had some recommendations as to where to go, what to see- because our time was very limited. Here are his words and although at first it looks too simple but it was really enough and helpful. Thank you very much, Matt!
Matt’s words:
Use Hadong as your main base of exploration. Go to the Hadong Grean Tea Research Center and the Kind people there will likely set up some plantation visits.
Even just talking to the people in town will likely get you to a tea field.
You got to visit the 1000-year old tree.
And go to Ssangyaesa Temple.
This post about the tea area might help:  (chick here.)
Hadong, a small city in the foothill of Jiri-san mountain, is around two hours by bus from Pusan .  While traveling there, we began to see tea fields around thirty kilometers from Hadong and we felt that we are going to the right place. Mountains, wonderful river, rice fields, bamboo…we were happy. 

  Hadong and its wonderful natural surroundings

After our arrival we tried to find the Green Tea Research Center. After some initial difficulties we got lucky and the Korean people again showed their hospitality.  With unforeseen help of people from this institution we saw and enjoyed more than we expected.
In Hadong County there are many places where you can see tea plantation.  We visited Hwagye-dong valley.  In this valley, around 25km from Hadong, you can find Ssangyaesa temple.  Near this temple the first tea seeds were planted in the eighth century and were cared for by monks for centuries.

Entrance to Ssangyaesa temple

This tea season in Korea was late, because of a long winter, so we had the opportunity to see tea harvesting.  We could have been too late.

Hand-picking of tea. The hillside is steeper than it looks from the picture…

Some parts of these tea fields are under bamboo. Picking tea leaves in this “forest” is much harder but the tea has a different quality due to the shadows and micro-climate.

Tea field under bamboo…

Gee Dae Nah- our new friend from the Green Tea Research Institute who helped us translate.  Language is one the biggest complications while traveling in Korea alone. So thank you Dae Nah.  
Probably only in this small, nice restaurant near Ssangyaesa temple can you try “tea kimchi”- pickled fresh tealeaves.

Tasty and stylish: pickled tea leaves in a restaurant surrounded by tea fields

We were surprised at how steep the incline is where the oldest tea tree in Korea grows.  It is a 1000-year-old tree.  Because of the tea variety and climate in Korea this tree is still quite small compared to, for example, the tea trees in Yunnan.  

Tea bushes near the oldest tea tree…

Korean people, Working, smiling, singing…

So another shard to the mosaic of understanding the background of Korean tea’s exceptional energy, taste and fragrance grows from these mountains and is given to it by the people who live here.  Inspirational.
. . . . .
Peter and Daniels trip must have been an inspirational journey through Korean tea.  The folks at the research center have always been helpful to us as well.  Thank you Petr for writing and providing this post.  We were glad to be able to help you get started on this journey.
There are many amazing tea journeys possible in Korea.  We are looking forward to a slightly more extensive one with a very small group of guest next May when we will meet with Brother Anthony and Hong Kyeong-Hee, co-authors of The Korean Way of Tea and translators of Korean Tea Classics as we experience both some amazing tea as well as some wonderful tea ware.  Join us and follow our blog at Tea Tour Korea.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Tea Tour Korea 2010 Part 2 (Gangjin)

Sitting around a festival waiting for someone to come to view your work is not very exciting.  I did have groups of monks and a big collector (who bought several good teabowls) come by knowing exactly what they wanted, but that type of sale didn't happen every day and since I had not been with the Heiss’s and Mary visiting the Mungyeong Artists in their studios, for me, the most excitement came during the adventures after the festival.
The Heiss’s along with international artists from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Latvia and Russia accompanied us to Gangjin - at Gangjin’s invitation.  Being able to introduce these artists to the Gangjin area made our adventure very special.
The afternoon of our arrival, we visited Muwisa an ancient temple founded originally in 617 CE and last rebuilt in 1555.  One of the only remaining paintings from the Goryeo Dynasty can be found at this temple.  Nearly all paintings above ground were destroyed during the Japanese invasions particularly the Imjin War - The Pottery War.  Battles for that war were fought in Gangjin's harbor and surrounding areas while a replica of a turtle ship is docked in Yosu a port not far away.

 I believe this is Guan-eum Buddha of Compassion

We were there at a very historic time in the life of this old temple - Muwisa.  They were rebuilding large sections of it using ancient methods handed down for many generations.  Throughout its future the year 2010 will be listed as a year of major renovation at Muwisa - and we were there.  

 Each log is hand planed and fashioned to fit without nails.

Not far from Muwisa is an O’Sulloc tea plantation.  O'Sulloc is a rising star in Korean tea.  Watch for it to be sold in your country in a few years.   This O'Sulloc plantation is just over 20 years old.  Their larger plantation and beautiful tea museum are on the island of Jejudo.  The tea in Gangjin is machine picked in this beautiful setting and the tea drinks quite well. 

The beautiful Mount Wolchulsan frames O'Sulloc tea

 The Gangjin O'Sulloc Tea Plant

That evening we visited Sanghwa College where Kang Kwang Mugg, our host and chair of the ceramics department, demonstrated the making of ceramic carving tools and we toured the facilities.

 Gangjin makes their carving tools from umbrella ribs.

The next morning we experienced the beautifully inlaid celadon at the Gangjin Celadon factory where we met our old friend Yoon Jae Jin who is now the head artist at the factory.  The complex, just for celadon, is huge a testimony to the respect Gangjin has for celadon.   Historically, work produced in Gangjin was considered the finest celadon in the world and 80% of the Goryo Dynasty celadon found in museums throughout the world was made in Gangjin.  Today, they work to maintain that tradition of excellence.

 A 12th century Gangjin Celadon Tea Pot

In the early afternoon, we went to the studio of the onggi potter Jeoung Yoon Suk now a Human Cultural Asset in onggi

 Chollanamdo uses the flopped slab method to form their onggi.

After the onggi visit, we went to Gangjin’s great tea temple of Baekryeonsa, home of the famous tea master Yo Yeon and one of the former homes of the historic Korean tea master Cho-Ui.  There, we had ujeon, fresh first picked green tea and also bought some of the unique ddokcha they make.  The Ujeon was presented in individual cups allowing each participant to watch their tea expand from tiny dried curls to small leaves.  The smooth, sweet taste of good Korean ujeon like this is amazing.  

The monk prepares small sample cups for us to experience

 The expanded leaves make a very smooth and sweet tea

While we were experiencing this tea, Yo Yeon brought in a bag full of freshly picked tea leaves.

 Yo Yeon Picked Tea.  Is this pick sejak or jungjak?  Is it for green tea or ddokcha?

 Yo Yeon's ddokcha rediscovers an old temple tradition. Delicious

The next morning we went to the studio of Jeong Ki-bong one of Korea’s premiere celadon artists as was his father before him and is his son as well. His tea ware is quite varied and beautiful and his carving skills are superb.  We definitely will return to this artist later.

 Let Jeong Ki Bong serve tea to you. 

A Jeong Ki-Bong Double walled vessel. Even the interior vessel is carved!

 Our trip to the Yeongam Pottery Museum (where we saw an outstanding exhibit), brought us some interesting Yeongam green tea served by the director Kim Kyu-Hwa.  “It tastes like mint.” one of the quests exclaimed at first sip.  But it was just the freshness of another amazing green tea.

 Kim Kyu-Hwa serves us tea.

A trip to the very interesting Maritime Museum in Mokpo finished our day.
That last evening we visited the home of our host Kang Kwang-Mugg and met his wife Her Yoon-Jeung and daughter Kang Ga-Hyen in their lovely home.  Mary and I knew Kwang-Mugg and Yoon-Jeung before Ga-Hyen was born and have watched her grow over the years.  This visit was a was a real treat for us and for those who had not been in a Korean home before.  Ga-Hyen played the piano beautifully to entertain us.

What a beautiful way to end our stay in Gangjin


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Tea Tour Korea 2010 - Part 1

(click images to enlarge)
What an adventure we had in Korea before, during and after the Mungyeong Chassabal Festival.  I don’t really know where to begin.  
We arrived at our hotel in the heart of Insadong, walked out the door to explore the area and around the corner where we discovered a small gallery exhibiting the work of a tea ware artist.  I had to walk in.  To my surprise, the artist looked familiar.  He knew me too.  After a while we realized that we had exhibited together a couple of years earlier in Gyeongju, the ancient capital of the Silla Dynasty that eventually united all of Korea.  Mary, my wife, and I, along with some other international artists on one of our tours, had been invited to exhibit with the Korean Wood-fire Association in Gyeongju.  Jeong Song-hoon, the exhibiting artist, is a member of that association.   

Jeong Song-hoon Bo-yi Tea Caddy

Jeong makes an interesting tea caddie for 'bo-yi'  tea (not to be confused with bori or bodi cha i.e. barley tea).  'Bo-yi' is the Korean term for 'pu-ehr' tea also known in China as bo-ee similar to Korean. Jeong’s small teapots, in particular, are quite nice and we had to add one to our collection.  Rediscovering this artist set the tone for what would become a great Korean tea and tea ware adventure. 

 Jeong Song-hoon Bo-yi Teapot

I had been corresponding with David Mason and scheduled a meeting the day after we arrived in Korea.  If you have never heard of David Mason, an expert on Korean tea, Korean travel and Korea’s mountain spirits, you really owe it to yourself to follow my links.  We met him to discuss our mutual interests.

David Mason at his Neighborhood Restaurant

In the process I became very interested in the Baekdu-daegan, Korea’s mountain spine, that really involves travel, tea and much more.  The Baekdu-daegan makes a major turn at Mungyeong thus putting Mungyeong at the center of any adventures that might take place there.  
The next day we also met briefly with Brother Anthony, co-author of The Korean Way of Tea who by chance was having a meeting with Jeff Novick, an antique dealer from Thailand, who has also corresponded with me about my tea ware.  David and his wife and Jeff and his wife would eventually meet us again at the Mungyeong festival, although separately.
There were 30 international artists from 26 countries that participated in the 2010 Mungyeong Chassabal Festival.  These, in Mungyeong’s order, included:
America - Myself / Australia - Sue McFarland / Belgium - Linda De Nil / Canada - Barbara Balfour / China - Wang Guoxiang / Czech Republic - Petr Novak / Denmark - Anne Mette Hjorthöj / England - Lisa Hammond / France -  Claire Linard / Germany - Ute Dreist / Ireland - Peter Fulop / Japan - Yoshiro Kimura and Kim Kyung-Duk / Latvia - Dainis Punderus / Malaysia - Mohad Roslan Ahmad / Netherlands - Niek Hoogland and Pim van Huisseling / New Zealand - Elena Renker / Norway - John Skognes and Tora Haabet / Pakistan - Raania Azam Khan Durrani / Poland - Monika Patuszynska / Russia - Natalia Vilvovskaja / Singapore - Ahmad Abu Bakar and Gita Winata / Sweden - Steven Jones / Switzerland - Valentine Burkhalter / Taiwan - Shan- Shu Lin / Thailand - Somluk Pantiboom and / Vietnam - Nguyen Bao Toan.  It was like the United Nations of ceramics and we made lasting friendships. 

Exhibiting Artists Mungyeong Chassabal Festival 2010
The "Queen" joined our group as were were using her quarters for our exhibit space.

Mungyeong sponsors just one ceramic artist per country.  Where there are more than one, the other artist is a close friend, husband or wife.  One does not apply to be included as artists are selected and invited and to do so would be rude.  Obviously I can’t, in this post, highlight all of these potters but I’ll make an attempt at a few at a time, from time to time, during the next year between other postings on tea or at the dawan-chawan blog where it might be more appropriate.  
I selected three artists to introduce and admittedly there is some bias.  

 Smile Ute - Your usually smiling

 One of Ute's Excellent Teabowls

Ute Dreist was traveling internationally visiting potters in many countries when Mungyeong found her and invited her to participate. In addition, many of the European invited artists owe Ute for their invitation to participate in the Myngyeong Chassabal Festival.  She is a outstanding Germa ceramic artist and participates in many festivals in Europe.  
Sue McFarland came to Korea with us on a tour several years ago.  When the opportunity opened for more artists at the festival, she was invited by Mungyeong to participate.

Mungyeong is famous for their apples, maybe Sue will become famous for hers.

This work has a radiant quality I'm not capturing.

Sue is an excellent ceramic artist and won a prestigious award for her teabowls in Australia.  She is very active in her ceramic association as well - past president.  We've become friends and SKYPE often.
Petr Novak was found by me when I answered a question his partner, Miro Randova, posted on a ceramic site I happened to visit.  “My partner does tea ware.”, she wrote. 

Petr does superb tea ware as some of you following this site know. 

Miro should have said, "Petr does great tea ware.".  He is beginning to gain a following in Asia from the contacts he is making in Mungyeong.  The Czech Republic has a very strong tea culture and Petr seems to be a central part of it. 

A graceful teapot and some small bowls by Petr Novak

I will eventually introduce you to all of the international artists and some of the Korean artists who participated in the Mungyeong Chassabal Festival on this blog and on the dawan-chawan-chassabal blog.  
One of the highlights of the festival is its setting.  The Mungyeong Chassabal Festival is set in a beautiful comprehensive movie set.  A great place to experience both tea and tea ware. 

      Mountain mist greets us when we arrive at our booth.

Our booths are behind the palace gate

Straw thatched roofs remind us of old Korea

Many festival goers enjoy the scenic grounds of the movie set as much as the ceramic art.  That wasn't the case with David Mason.  When David Mason arrived he was with Roger Shepard who is now sitting at a temple high in the mountains near Mungyeong writing a book with David about hiking the Baekdu-daegan.  Roger and his friend Andrew Douch, both from New Zealand, are probably the only Caucasians to do so.  The adventure is like walking the heart of the culture of Korea with its many temples, mountain people, mountain spirits and tea.  We’re working on some tour possibilities that will combine some of their adventure with visits to the many artists whose homes and studios are in or near these beautiful mountains.  What experiences those tours will be! 

Roger, David and Andrew

Osaek scenic-gorge

On Saturday Mary Lou and Robert Heiss, authors of The Story of Tea arrived at the festival.  They are writing a book on international tea ware and contacted us to help them meet some Korean artists.  The festival was also a great place to meet tea ware artists from many other countries.  Mary, my wife (not to be confused with Mary Lou), with our translator Dr. Charlie Youn, escorted the Heiss’ to the studios of some of the best tea ware artists in Mungyeong.
Mary Lou (L) and Robert Heiss (R) with Kim Jong Ok Korea's National Intangible Asset in ceramics 

These artists included both Cheon Han Bong and Kim Jong Ok, Intangible Cultural Assets in ceramics.  While I stayed behind attending my booth, they had quite an adventure with these wonderful artists.

Cheon Han Bong, Intangible Cultural Asset


Thursday, April 29, 2010

NEWS on Korean Green Tea 4/29/2010

We are in Korea waiting to go to Mungyeong as the USA representative in the Mungyeong Chassabal Festival.  It is cold in Korea, much colder than it has been in the last five years we have been here at this time. 
The other day we met with Brother Anthony, co-author of The Korean Way of Tea who had just returned from Jirisan and Jollanamdo, two of Korean more important tea areas.  Tea is coming in late this year, a result of the cold winter.  This will drive the price of the first pick up.  This doesn't mean that all Korean teas will be expensive, but tea will be coming in late and we will have to wait for the prices.  In a couple of weeks we will be traveling to the Bosong tea area where we will be able to get a better idea about what is actually happening.  
With us now are Sue McFarland from Australia and Elena Renker from New Zealand tea ware artists and representatives for their countries in the Mungyeong festival.  We'll be meeting with Petr Novak from the Czech Republic, whom some of you know, and the other artists on Saturday.  When I get a chance,  I'll be posting on the Mungyeong teaware event and this year's Korean green tea.  

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Tea Caddies are Waiting

We are reviewing some tea caddies on our Morning Crane Tea Ware blog site.  This group is from Gangjin and some of these or possibly all will be part of our Gangjin collection.  Your input is important to us.  Follow that site to receive discounts on tea ware.  Post the best comment and you may even win something.  

All tea caddies are hand formed on a wheel and hand decorated with double lids to help preserve the tea.


We hope to add to the general wholesale market with this new work and hope that you will consider these offerings in the right direction.
Please join us on the Morning Crane Tea Ware blog.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Family

Although we had met Park Jong Il some years before and even sponsored his visit to America we first met his family in their home in 2005.  Their daughter had just been born and their home, studio and kiln sat alone nearly at the top of the mountain.
When I began writing about Park Jong Il, I simply thought that you might be interested in the addition of his tea gallery and how he built it.  Then I remembered that he had some interesting ways he handled water for tea – particularly his tea tower.  That led to posts on tea sets, tea cups and tea bowls and my most recent post on his kiln. These were not pre-conceived posts but just seemed to flow one into the other.  Somewhere along this process it was obvious that I was presenting a rather full picture of a tea ware artist and what it takes to provide the hand formed tea ware we use everyday.
Two things were missing: the forming process and his family. When we visit Park Jong Il he is busy presenting tea and is seldom creating work.  

He always greets us with a ready smile.

This photo of him trimming the foot on one of his tea bowls is our single forming photo. 

Trimming is as important to the forming process for most Korean ceramic works as ‘turning’ or ‘throwing’. To a chawan connoisseur each part of the bowl is very important - the line of the form, the depth of the bowl, the quality and color of the glaze, but perhaps none more so than the foot.
The very best bowls can command great prices but in spite of the stories of simple tea bowls demanding great sums, clearly the motivation is not great wealth. While that is possible for a few tea ware artists, it is not the case with the hundreds if not thousands of tea ware artists who live very simple lives just so we, who consume tea, can enjoy a cup of tea while holding one of their cups in our hand.
Even those tea ware artists who have achieved considerable fame and financial fortune did not begin with a financial motivation. For the vast majority, the motivation to create tea ware is not wealth in monetary terms - but it may be wealth in more spiritual terms. There is something compelling and spiritual about the combination of the physical, psychological and philosophical aspects of ones being that must come together to create Tea ware. That combination inspires one to work, and dedicate ones life to it.
More rare is he/she who has a companion who understands that motivation and with whom he/she can share that experience. Park Jong Il has such a companion in his wife Shin In-suk*. 

Shin In-suk is herself an artist with considerable talent. Her drawings, paintings and occasional sculpture sometimes whimsical, like many Korean artists before her, often capture poetic life moments. 

Shin In-suk designs and sews most of Jong Il’s clothing - as seen in the photos of Jong Il serving tea above.  She is a superb chef*, a wonderful and loving mother and supports her husband in many other ways.
Their daughter Park Seo-Ryeon is growing in the footsteps of her parents showing early signs of considerable artistic skill. 

 This is Seo-Ryeon's work at the Western ages of 3 and 5.  It is obvious that the gift of artistic ability did not pass her.

Presenting this tea ware artist and the family has been more than a pleasure. From the humble building of his tea gallery and home to his work, kiln and family we have been able to look a little closer than usual at what it takes to bring us a hand formed cup, bowl or tea pot for our daily tea.
As the Morning Crane Tea blog grows we want to share the work of many other tea ware artists.   Most posts will be on Korean tea ware artists and aspects of Korean tea but other countries will be represented. We hope that you join us. Your comments and suggestions are welcome.

Please visit our other blog as we explore the tea bowl.
Go To Next Park Jong Il Post

*Korean wives most often keep their family name.
*Shin In-suk prepared a feast for our group during our visit in October 2009 that was the best meal we had during the tour.

*The website currently has a presentation on the preparation of Korean green tea.  We are unable to update that site due to ongoing technical difficulties.