Tea in Korea (Cha, 차, 茶)

By Ásfríðr Ulfvíðardóttir/ Rebecca Lucas.



In the clear dawn I draw
tingling cold spring water.
I brew at my leisure the golden
"Dewdrop Leaf" in a stoneware pot.
....
The brazier burns itself out,
the tea bubbles.
A perfect time for a hermit
to unroll a painting.
~ Brewing Tea While Sick
Sŏ Kŏ-jŏng (1420-1488)  

'Common' tea, is the prepared and cured leaves from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. The same name also refers to the hot or cold beverage, prepared by mixing the cured leaves, and hot water. (In the case of iced, or cold, tea it is then left to cool down again.) Unlike the black, oxidised teas of Europe and America the common type of tea drunk in Korea is green.

By the 6th century, in Goryeo Dynasty Korea (918-1392) at latest, the practice of processing and drinking tea reached the peninsula. (Heiss and Heiss,2007; 187 and Yoo, 2007; 57) In the "History of the Three Kingdoms" (Samguk sagi), the preparation and drinking of ground, compressed, tea was described. Called jeonta (磚茶, 전다)(Choi, 1997), this compressed tea is created by crushing or powdering tea, before setting it into a moulded shape. This makes tea easier to store and transport, and would have been consumed similar to Japanese whisked green tea, instead of a modern, strained tea (An and Hong, 2007; 53-55). Jeonta tea is closely assocated in Korea with tea drinking during the Three Kingdoms period. (Yoo, 2007; 41).
In the chronicles Samguk-yusa and Samguk-sagi, it is recorded that Queen Sondeok of Silla (r. 632-47) drank tea, while King Sinmun (r.681-92) considered tea to be beneficial for clearing the mind. (An and Hong, 2007; 90)

The Hwarang, knightly class (花郞) of the 6-10th century Shilla Kingdom 'often drank tea when they disciplined themselves while on pilgrimages to great mountains and rivers.' (Suk, 1997) It appears that small, stone stoves called sŏkchijo (석지조) were taken with them in order to boil water for this purpose. It is believed that the most popular tea types at this time were 'ball' tea (noewonta, 腦原茶, 뇌원다), a powdered tea steamed and pressed into a round shape (녹차연구소, 2009), and leaf tea (taeta, ipcha, 잎차) (Suk, 1997), persumably akin to modern leaf teas.


A knight with two ladies, believed to be drinking tea. From a 6th century, Goguryeo-era mural in Gakjeochong. Image from Wikipedia.
Click on image to enlarge.  

Soon after tea's introduction to Korea, a formal and ritualised way of preparing and serving tea drinks was developed, along with specialised teaware. For more information, please visit the links on the left-hand side of the page.

Bibliography

  • Anonymous Korean Tea Culture
    Website last accessed: 10th February, 2009
  • Amore Museum 차문화전시실 [Tea Culture Exhibition]
    Website last accessed: 10th February, 2009
  • An Sonjae (Brother Anthony of Taize) and Venerable Jinwol Korean Tea Poems
    Website last accessed: 10th February, 2009
  • An Sonjae (Brother Anthony of Taize) and Hong Kyeong-hae The Korean Way of Tea: An Introductory Guide (Seoul: Seoul Selection, 2007) ISBN: 978-89-91913-17-2
  • Choi Ha-Rim "Tea Ceremony and Implements" Koreana (11)4 1997 pp.22-27
  • Heiss, Mary Lou and Heiss, Robert J. The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide (Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2007)
  • 녹차연구소 [Tea Research Institute] "차역사및효능: 고려시대" [Tea History and Effiacy (sic): Goryo Dynasty]
    Website last accessed 23rd November 2009.
  • Kang, Don-ku "Traditional Religions and Christianity in Korea Korea Journal (Autumn, 1998) pp.96-127
  • Min, Chung "The Poetry of Tea" Koreana (11)4 1997 pp.18-21
  • Suk Yong-un "History and Philosophy of Korean Tea Art" Koreana (11)4 1997
  • Yoo, Yang-Seok The Book of Korean Tea (Seoul: The Myung Won Cultural Foundation, 2007)