Korean Tea Culture

Historical Tea History and Customs

In ancient times humans considered tea to be an edible plant or medicine, but it gradually evolved into a beverage thanks to its merits-good taste, stimulating effect and easy preparation. Eventually, tea drinking developed into a cultural form.

“Tea culture” encompasses all the material paraphernalia involved in the process of preparing and serving tea-the tea leaves, the tea sets-as well as the various rituals that have developed along with this process. A nation’s established drinking habits do not change much; they are related to people’s customs, national characteristics, aesthetics and values. But cultural practices undergo natural transformations as a result of influences from neighboring cultures, political circumstances, and economic and social phenomena.
Korean character and philosophy. Because of its durability, this culture will continue to flourish in the future.

20Compared to those of other countries, Korea’s tea rites are highly developed. These rites differ from ordinary tea ceremonies and can be categorized as dedication rites for various deities and rituals for offering tea to people.The object of a dedication rite may be Buddha, an ancestral or family god, the god of a mountain, or even the silkworm god.

Tea is healthy, enjoyable and stimulating, all good qualities. That is why tea has long been offered to gods and guests alike to demonstrate the server’s respect and gladness. In the past, people believed that the stimulating effects of tea enabled mutual understanding between humans and gods, and the tea that was offered to a deity was drunk by those making the offering as a way to forge spiritual ties. In simple religious rites, tea was considered the most important form of offering as it was a means through which worshipers could convey their wishes.

The first historical record documenting the offering of tea to an ancestral god describes a rite tin the year 661 in which a tea offering was made to the spirit of Kong Suro, the founder of the Kaya Kingdom (A.D. 42-562). Records from the KoryÖ Dynasty (918-1392)show that tea offerings were made in Buddhist temples to the spirits of revered monks.

During the ChosÖn Dynasty (1392-1910), the royal family and the aristocracy used tea for simple rites, the “Day Tea Rite” was a common daytime ceremony, whereas the “Special Tea Rite” was reserved for specific occasions. These terms are not found in other countries, Toward the end of the ChosÖn Dynasty, commoners joined the trend and used tea for ancestral rites, following the Chinese example based on Zhu Xi’s text formalities of Family.

In Korea, from long ago, it has also been common to offer tea to the living Kings and members of the royal court drank tea with due formality during rites for native gods as well as grand court ceremonies including the New Year’s Day audience and mediation sessions prior to the announcement of harsh punishment. Tea played an important role in rituals announcing the principal queen or the crown prince and in commemorating a prince’s birthday. More recently, tea was offered with formality to a parent during his or her 60th birthday celebration.

Korea is blessed with good, fresh potable water, so tea has not been an absolute necessity as in China. Tea became a refreshment for dispelling muddled thoughts and inducing self-discipline for those who studied and meditated; not only is tea a stimulant, but its taste depends on a careful,focused preparing. In other words, the preparing and drinking of tea was a means to find the Way for Confucians, Buddhists and Taoists.

Early records show that tea was drunk to help develop mental discipline. SÖl ch’ong (692-746), a Shilla scholar, wrote that tea and wine purify the mind. Ch’oe Ch’i-Won (857-894), another Shilla official, said that tea was an appropriate gift for an old man who meditated as well as for a Taoist follower, adding that he could forget his worries whenever he was presented with tea. The first person to elaborate a Korean tea philosophy was Neo- Confucianist Yi Sack (1328-1396), a dedicated enthusiast who emphasized the tea ceremony as a self-disciplinary measure. He believed that achieving self-discipline began with preparing tea with one’s own hands. In other words, the tea ceremony was a practical means for seeking Confucian enlightenment. Chang Üi-sun (1786-1866), whose pen name was ch’o-Üi, asserted that steeping tea facilitated studying the philosophy of the Middle Way, and the calligrapher Kim ChÖ-hüi (1786-1866) likened the preparing of tea to understanding the substance of the Way.

sinsunFrom early on, Korean Buddhists recognized the tea ceremony as a form of meditation, as it was in China and Japan. The idea that the tea ceremony was a form of meditation was shared not only among Buddhist monks but also among Confucian scholars, who wrote that’s “a cup of tea is the beginning of Zen”. Some said that tea was the Buddha, and According to various historical records, poetry and folk songs, tea drinking was thought to induce the enlightenment that led to becoming a Buddha, as can be seen in the tea rite of the seventh-century Pochön Buddhist ceremony. The Chinese monk Zhaozhou’s expression “Have some tea before you go” was often used to mean “drink tea and reach enlightenment on your own.” monks considered regular tea ceremonies as a disciplinary measure to purify their minds.

Taoists believed that drinking tea led to the cultivation of the body and mind toward purification, meditation, and eventually enlightenment. Preparing precious tea with loving care was the process by which to find the Way. and after drinking, one became free and in harmony with nature, unconcerned with material possessions or oneself. Yi Kyu-bo (1168-1241), a Koryö scholar, made the declaration that the tea ceremony and Taoism are one and the same.

It was not only scholars and monks who considered tea drinking a means of achieving self-discipline. Commoners also believed that tea relieved loneliness and calmed one’s heart. a great comfort in everyday life, which in turn led to finding the Truth.