Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Korean Tea Texts, Classical and Modern [i]: An Overview


[[EDITOR'S NOTE: In a recent review of THE TRUE HISTORY OF TEA, DougH laments that book's almost total omission of information on Korean tea culture. This is surely an important lacuna in any truly comprehensive account of tea history and culture; and indeed it is about to be remedied, in part, by the publication (by Seoul Selection) of THREE KOREAN TEA CLASSICS, a translation project headed by Brother Anthony of Taize, whose elegant THE KOREAN WAY OF TEA is a treasure; a principal contributor to this forthcoming work is Steven D. Owyoung, an eminent regular contributor to CHA DAO. But in the meantime, our readers may want to know a bit about the premodern tradition of tea in Korean culture, the classical texts that this spawned, and where to go to read some modern material (in Korean or English) on tea. Even the aficionado fairly well-versed in the teas of Pacific Asia may not have tasted the delicate and delicious teas of Korea; and even those who have had this pleasure, would probably find it difficult to name one classical Korean treatise on tea, or their writers. In fact, this almost has the nature of a trick question, as Hangul (한글 'Great Script') , the native Korean writing system, was not developed until 1443 or 1444 CE. Before that time, in any case, literary texts in Korea were written in literary Chinese (wenyanwen 文言文 = 문언문); and even after the fifteenth century, this literary form of Chinese was long in use as the language of Korean literary texts. ¶ ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Warren Peltier (well known to readers of CHA DAO as Niisonge, but also in China as Xia Yun-Feng [夏雲峰]), is currently conducting research on Chinese tea classics, and is preparing a series of tea books about his findings. His first book, tentatively titled The Ancient Art of Chinese Tea, is under contract with Tuttle Publishing; we dare to hope that it will see the light of day very soon. Watch these pages for more news about Warren's forthcoming tea books. In the meantime, we offer here the first of several entries by Warren on Korean tea texts. For the second and third entries, click here and here.]]

~~~~~~~~~~ · ~~~~~~~~~~

Just as Latin was the literary language of Europe and used by so many, so literary Chinese remained a very important scholarly lingua franca -- not only for the Chinese themselves, but also for Koreans, Japanese, and many other ethnic peoples in China and Asia, including Vietnamese and Mongolians. What follows here is, first, a summary of the main authors and basic corpus of classical Korean tea books -- composed in literary Chinese -- and then a few resources, in modern Korean and English, on tea and tea culture.



Three principal Korean authors of classical works on tea are YI MOK, JEONG YAK-YONG, and CHO UI.

• Yi Mok 이목 (李穆) (1471-1498), also known as Hanjae Yi Mok 한재 이목 (寒齋李穆) -- Hanjae being his 字 ('zi' or refined name).

• Jeong Yak-Yong 정약용 (丁若鏞) (1732-1836) was also named Dasan 茶山 or Tea Mountain; he also had other nicknames, including Three Eyebrows 三眉, Thatched Waiting Hut 俟庵, Purple Sunset Clouds Daoist 紫霞道人, Moss Old Man 苔叟, Bamboo Sheath Elder 籜翁, and Iron Horse Mountain Man 鐵馬山人. He was a noted philosopher. He is reputed to have written Dongdagi or Eastern Tea Record (東茶記 , 1785), though some hold that it was actually written by Yi Dok-Ri 李德履 (1728-?).

• Seon (Zen) Monk Cho Ui 초의 (艸衣; also written 草衣 , literally meaning “grass clothes”) (1786-1886); he was a disciple of Dasan, and studied tea for 40 years, which slowly culminated for him in a realization of tea and Buddhism. He wrote two tea books: Dasinjeon (Introduction to Tea) 茶神傳 (1830), and Dongdasong (Praise for Eastern Tea) 東茶頌 (1837).


I. Cha Bu (Tea Poetic Prose) 차부 《茶賦》

The Cha Bu is a 1,200-word text written by Hanjae Yi Mok. It is written in the literary Chinese style of short prose known as fu 賦 (Korean bu 부). This work was composed during the Joseon Dynasty (contemporaneous with the Ming Dynasty in China). During this period, Confucianism in philosophy and religion was an important facet of daily life. This is also the case in the text of the Cha Bu; Hanjae takes a very philosophical view of tea. Much of the text includes commentary on the author's own viewpoint of tea. At the same time he extols the virtues of tea. The entire text is written in a very descriptive literary style. The original Korean text gives clear evidence that Hanjae thought deeply, not only about the ideas he wanted to convey, but also about how to craft his sentences in a very creative and highly refined way.

First, he says that in the pursuit of happiness, people overindulge themselves to their own detriment. Then he implies, on the contrary, that excessive love of tea need not be detrimental to one’s health. Tea has many benefits. He then lists Five Functions of Tea, such as quenching the thirst, and so forth. Here he echoes the sentiments of previous tea-book writers of ancient China. He continues his discourse on tea philosophy by stating there are six tea virtues: Longevity, Recovery, Calm, Leisure, Immortality, and Etiquette. In this seems to be inspired by the Ten Virtues of Drinking Tea (Yin Cha Shi De) 《飲茶十德》 written by Buddhist monk Liu Zhen Liang 劉貞亮 (also known as Liu Zhen De 劉貞德) in the Tang Dynasty. Hanjae's virtues of drinking tea however, are much different from those of Liu Zhen Liang.

Hanjae concludes his text by implying that since great tea masters such as Lu Yu himself dedicated their lives to tea without seeking material gain or benefit, the quest for tea is a noble path. Therefore, there is no need for pleasures in material things which are merely impermanent. The pleasures of tea are enough to last a lifetime.

II. Dongdagi (Eastern Tea Record) 동다기 《東茶記》

The book, attributed to Jeong Yak-Yong, is around 1,700 characters in length. It is the earliest tea book in Korea. The book describes tea-plant growth according to season, saying it flowers in autumn and that buds form in winter. The tender buds are called Sparrow’s Tongue and Bird Beak. Old leaves are said to be known by various Chinese characters; such as “ming,” “jia,” “she,” and “chuan.” It states that the names for tea depend on whether the leaves were picked Before the Rains or After the Rains. Tender buds of Sparrow’s Tongue, for example, are picked Before the Rains. Leaves are also distinguished based on the number of leaves in a pluck (such as one leaf and one bud, two leaves and a bud), the length of the leaf stem, etc. It explains the bitterness and sweetness in tea; the difference between dark and light leaves; the scent and taste of tea. The book compares the taste, aroma and color of Eastern Tea 東茶 with that of some of the famous teas of China, such as Liuan tea 六安茶 and Mengshan tea 蒙山茶. The text also mentions how tea can keep one awake and be a beneficial aid in study (scholars) and meditation (monks). It also describes the growing conditions for tea: stony soils, and growing among bamboos, which can filter the light. It also describes how tea should be picked, and states that the finest tea is Tribute Tea (tea reserved only for the royal family); inferior is Official Tea (tea given to government officials).

III. Dasinjeon (Introduction to Tea) 다신전 《茶神傳》

Written by Cho Ui; this book, like the other Korean tea classics, was written in literary Chinese. This short volume (1,500 characters) is divided into 22 sections including: Picking Tea, Making Tea, Tea Differentiation, Tea Storage, Fire, Boil, Use of Old or Tender Boiled Water, Brew Method, Placing Tea, Drinking Tea, Fragrance, Color, Taste, Adding Extraneous Materials to Tea Loses Purity, Tea Can’t Be Used When its Nature is Changed, Tasting and Evaluating Springs, Well Water Unsuited to Tea, Storing Water, Tea Utensils, Tea Bowls, Bowl Wiping Cloth, Dado (or Chadao -- Way of Tea).

The entirety of this book's 22 sections are a direct, word-for-word copy of Zhang Yuan’s Record of Tea, written in the Ming dynasty. Only a small, 98-character section is appended at the end, stating that it is a copy of earlier work on the Way of Tea, and giving reference to Buddhism. It was customary in ancient times to copy books/scrolls onto paper so as to preserve copies.

IV. Dongdasong (Praise for Eastern Tea) 동다송 《東茶頌》

Written by Cho Ui, this 2,300-word book is divided into 31 verses. Each chapter has a short “verse” or main point, perhaps to offer topics for the reader's contemplation. Annotations follow each verse, to elaborate on the material.

The book contains direct or paraphrased quotes from many Chinese texts including the Er Ya dictionary, Lu Yu’s Classic of Tea, Zhang Yuan's Record of Tea, and other tea texts and historical documents of the Tang, Song and Ming Dynasties. Jeong Yak-Yong’s Eastern Tea Record is also quoted.


The Philosophy of the Way of Tea 다도철학 《茶道의哲學》. By Jung-Young Sun 정영선 .

The Korean Way of Tea 한국의 다도 《韓國之茶道》1973. By Choi Beom Sul 최범술 (崔凡述 1904-1979); contains chapters 1-6 of the Classic of Tea, translated into modern Korean.

Korean Tea Culture 韓國의茶文化《韓國之茶文化》1981. By 김운학 Kim Un Hak (金雲學).

Bonus Link: More Bibliography of Modern Korean Tea Books: 茶文獻
Note: this list also contains some Chinese and Japanese tea books, but the majority are Korean.


The Korean Way of Tea. By Brother Anthony of Taize and Hong Kyeong-hee. Seoul: Seoul Selection 2007.

The Book of Korean Tea. By Yang-Seok (Fred) Yoo. Seoul: Myung Won Cultural Foundation 2007. (Includes English translations of Dasinjeon and Dongdasong.)

Green Life with Tea. By Kim Eui-Jung. [In English and Korean.] Seoul: Design House, 2007.

Bonus Link: The AmorePacific Museum of Art's permanent display on Korean tea culture.

Bonus Link: Arthur Park of MORNING EARTH POTTERY is organizing a very special TEA TOUR OF KOREA for later this year. Sign up now to reserve your place.


Jason Walker said...

Korea often comes out as the ignored middle child between Chinese and Japanese teas.

I have yet to receive a strong, persuasive picture of Korea's significant contributions to tea and tea culture. Other than some interesting historical footnotes, perhaps Korean tea culture is the middle ground between traditional Chinese and Japanese tea philosophies.

Warren said...

Korea made siginificant and important contributions to world tea culture. Although "borrowed" or influenced from Chinese tea tradtions, that did not stop Koreans from evolving their own distinct styles of tea ceremony, tea types, tea utensils, and so on.

We could argue that English tea traditions evolved from the Chinese - yet they are totally different in many respects. It is the same for Korean tea traditions.

The purpose of this article was to shed light and emphasize that though little-known, there is a body of Korean tea texts that are worthy of our study and appreciation.

Matt said...

There are many reasons why there are few writings on tea in Korea compared with that of its tea superpower neighbours Japan and China.

Firstly, it must be said that Korea doesn't have as much of its history preserved in writing as its neighbours. China has many more documents that stood the test of time and although Japan has very little early written history it became meticulous at recording historical details over the last thousand years.

Secondly, much of Koreas history has been lost as a result of the fighting that took place. The occupation of its territory and attempts at suppressing its culture took its toll. When one is at war, less time is focused on the aesthetic of drinking tea and simple survival takes precedence.

Thirdly, history is written by those in power and until quite recently Korea has not been able to keep up with its strong neighbours. For the entire Joson Dynasty of Korea, the nation wished to be left alone and pursued an isolationist agenda not that unlike the modern day hermit state of North Korea. Therefore most of the tea knowledge the west has came from China and Japan.

Fourthly, tea drinking never managed to take root in the everyday lives and daily routines of Koreans like it did in China and Japan. So naturally less is written about tea in Korea. Tea in Korea, always seemed to suffer from being attached to a certain Dynasty and the religion with which it held power.

Thank you Warren for taking the time to tell Korea's tea story.


the five o'clock teaspoon :: said...

I really enjoyed this interesting and well written summary of some Korean tea texts and look forward to more posts on Korean classical tea treatises. Indeed, these writings are not as well known in the West but nevertheless reflect the rich and developed tea traditions of Korea. In response to earlier comments I'd like to add that if the extant historical Korean tea wares (such as tea bowls and tea accessories) are anything to go by, it is clear that tea drinking and tea culture was just as pervasive and evolved in Korea as it was in China and Japan. One must remember that Japanese chanoyu masters were inspired by the ceramics of Korea- A famous example is the "Kizaemon Teabowl", a Korean everyday rice bowl that was repurposed as a teabowl when brought to Japan in the Muromachi era. It seems to me that Korean tea traditions existed neither independently (in an isolated vacuum) nor tangentially (as an less developed replica of Chinese and Japanese traditions). The reality of cultural convergence is much too complex to allow for simple cause and effect relationships.

Arthur K. J. Park said...

I want to thank Warren for mentioning our tea tour and Corax for providing a link to our web site at I would also like to invite you to tea in Korea. The tour is an in-depth tour of both Korean Tea Ware and Korean tea. It begins in Seoul with a tea discussion led by Brother Anthony An Sonjae co-author of The Korean Way of Tea with Hong Kyeong-Hee. They helped to design this tour and they will host and guide the tea portion of the tour. You will not want to miss this rare opportunity. Although I won’t mention their names, some members of the tour are also noted tea authors. The tour needs just a few more couples to become a reality. When registering for the tour, mention this comment and you will not only receive a discount on the price but also a signed copy of a rare out of print book on Korean Ceramics that discusses Korean tea ware. I look forward to meeting you in Korea and to sharing Korean tea. Arthur Park, Morning Earth

corax said...

arthur, you are more than welcome. we for our part thank you for the good work you're doing to make korean tea culture better known. i urge all the readers of CHA DAO to consider joining arthur on this upcoming tour.