Thursday, March 26, 2020

Tea Activities To Do At Home

It's been a tough few weeks, and I know many people have it far worse. Living in the middle of a huge COVID-19 outbreak in NYC has been tough, but my family and I are trying to take it one day at a time. Sometimes one minute at a time when even a day becomes too much.

Blogging has been tough lately as I'm working from home while making sure my family is healthy and safe. But I thought it would be helpful to put together a few tea-related things to do if you are staying at home as much as possible.

Support Small Tea Vendors
Independent tea vendors need our help now more than ever. Brick and Mortar stores have had to close, but most places are doing online sales. Pick your favorite vendors and either purchase tea, teaware or gift cards if you don't need any products right now. There are so many places to choose from. I will work on a post highlighting a few vendors soon. If you have a favorite vendor, let me know in the comments of this post and I'll include it when I write about them.

Host A Virtual Tea Gathering
It's important to stay connected to our friends, and taking some time to raise a cup with a few is a great way to connect. You can use programs such as zoom, houseparty, google hangouts or facebook messenger hangouts to get together. I'd love to set up a few hangouts so let me know if you're interested.

Take Some Tea Outside
For those of us that are able to get out of the house and walk through a park or other outdoor space, try to take your tea outside. Or even just have tea on a fire escape, balcony, or by an open window. All you need is a thermos of hot water, a brewing vessel and a cup. I've been trying to do this as much as possible, and it has helped tremendously. Feeling the crisp fresh air, listening to birds, and sipping tea while staying socially distant.

Try A Tea Meditation
I recently wrote a post about doing your own tea meditation. Just take a few minutes for yourself and really focus on your tea. No matter how you do it, give yourself a little bit of time to completely unplug from the world. I promise it'll help.

Dig Deep Into Your Tea Stash
I'm sure most of us have a sizeable tea stash at home. This is the perfect time to go through it and try some teas you've forgotten about. Or maybe teas you were saving for a rainy day. Those expensive samples? Break them out! Why not treat yourself!

Share Your Tea Knowledge
If you live with family, teach them a little bit about tea. Host a little family tea tasting. Or host a zoom session with friends who may be curious about tea. Sharing what you know is a great way to interact.

Create Tea Pairings
You know I'm all about tea pairings. It's fun to get creative and see what flavors work together, and what doesn't. Get some snacks, maybe cook or bake a few things, and get pairing! You can read a little bit about tea pairing 101 here and here.

Use All Your Teaware
Let's admit it, we all collect teaware. If you're like me you've got your favorite pieces and those that usually get left behind. It's time to dust off the things haven't used in ages. You may just find you have a new favorite that's been lurking in your cabinet, waiting for its time to shine.

Create With Tea
Do something creative with your tea. I mentioned tea pairings earlier, but you can also take tasting notes, write a tea-inspired story, paint with tea, or take photos of your tea. I look forward to my Instagram sessions, and my Tween Tea Critic has been joining me most days. I love to see what my fellow Instagrammers are doing!

Find A New Tea Book
I have a library of tea-related books, and I haven't opened every single one. When I'm ready to focus I'll probably crack a new one open and get reading. There are endless tea books out there, and even tea-focused stories. In that future post I mentioned, I'll also be listing tea books to read. Feel free to suggest your own in the comments and I'll include them.

Accept That You Won't Be Productive
Finally, please note this post is a list of things you can do, but it's not a list of things you must do. Accept that these are difficult times, and we can't focus and accomplish things the way we did before. Yes, we're at home, but that doesn't mean it's easy to get things done. We're all stressed, anxious, and distracted. Let's find ways to try and make things enjoyable, but it's not important to write a novel, become a tea scholar, or even clean the whole house. Just do what you can to get through the day.

So what ideas have I missed? I'd love it if you shared some of your tea-themed stay-at-home entertainment tips!

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Novel Coronavirus and Chinese Tea Vendors

I've been reading articles about how the novel coronavirus has impacted the tea industry, and decided to find out how tea vendors have been faring. To start, I sent questions to various people selling Chinese tea to see how their business has (or hasn't) changed since the outbreak began in China.

Before we get into what I learned, let me be clear: this isn't an article about COVID-19 with regards to health or safety issues. This is an article focusing on Chinese tea vendors and how they have been impacted by the virus. Of course other vendors around the world have been affected as well, but I decided to limit the interviews to keep the post within reason. The people I interviewed are just a few small examples of how this pandemic is affecting tea.

As I mentioned, I thought I would check in on a few Chinese tea vendors to see what their tea-selling experience has been like lately. I had the chance to correspond with 5 tea vendors, and ask them a few questions. Below I've shared some of the answers I received- please note some of these interviews were done 1-2 weeks ago so responses may already be a bit outdated:

Glen, from Crimson Lotus Tea:

Have you heard concerns from your customers regarding the coronavirus and buying tea/teaware?
We've heard concerns from a few customers, but not many. I think we were ahead of the curve in awareness and posted information to social media and our website early. ( There is little to no reason to be concerned about getting the virus from a package since the virus can't live for long outside of a biological host.

Have you noticed a change in sales since the onset of the coronavirus?
I think that we're starting to. Not so much from fear of contamination but because there is so much uncertainty and delay for orders shipping from China. Nearly all of our orders are fulfilled and shipped from our warehouse in Kunming, Yunnan, China. We have seen very few packages successfully delivered since quarantines started a few weeks ago. Many packages get returned and others are just stuck. Again we wanted to be open with our customers and have warned them as soon as we started to see issues. We've ramped up the ability to ship from our Seattle inventory to compensate.

What is your biggest concern about the effects of the coronavirus on your company?
Obviously our first concern is with the safety and well being of our associates in Yunnan and all the citizens of China. This is a scary time for everyone and if it is safer to wait a few more weeks for packages to be delivered then to try to rush deliveries and maybe increase infection we're all for delaying things. We have a really amazing group of customers and we feel that they understand and agree with our values. It's going to be a difficult year for anyone whose business has any tie to China. We'll do what we can and see where it goes.

Are you concerned that the virus will have an impact on your business in the long term?
We do have our concerns. It's not so much the virus itself but the long term economic effects for the whole world. The ripple effects of the impact to the Chinese economy could be long lasting and far reaching.

Paul, from white2tea:

Have you noticed a change in sales since the onset of the coronavirus?
It’s been more or less the same for us. Some customers have expressed concerns, but I think most people understand that a virus would not survive a week or more journey without a host, so it’s been pretty typical business for white2tea / other than the shipping delays.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about the Chinese tea industry related to the effects of the coronavirus?
One thing to consider is whether workers will be able to safely pick and process tea during the spring. With travel between provinces and countries hampered by the virus there is a possibility that workers will not be able to travel safely or have safe work environments. That being said, China has taken some aggressive measures to get the situation under control; hopefully that will help both China and the rest of the world keep the situation under control.


Jonah from Bitterleaf Teas:

Have you heard concerns from your customers regarding the coronavirus and buying tea/teaware?
We received a number of questions during the Coronavirus. It has died down a little more recently (end of February), but early on it was daily. The concerns ranged from whether there is risk of infection by buying products from China, to whether we are continuing to ship orders or whether China Post/Customs are still processing orders. We had the same response each time, which has been that there is 0 risk, we are operating (almost) as normal, shipping 1-2 times per week in order to minimize how much time we spend outside and that China Post and Customs are operating as normal. For us, we let our employees stay in their hometowns and my partner and I processed all orders ourselves. We also didn’t hear anything from China Post about delays, and haven’t experienced any yet, based on the packages that have been sent since late January.
Even with all of this, we’ve noticed misinformation and unnecessary concern still popping up online.

Have you noticed a change in sales since the onset of the coronavirus?
We have noted a significant drop in sales since the start of this scare. This is obviously not something we like to see, but it is to be expected. We have tried to stay positive and accept that it will be temporary, as well as consider ourselves lucky compared to the many other businesses in China that have had to fold during this period due to lack of revenue.
Being a small company can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on how you look at it. We don’t have the resources of large companies, but we also don’t have the same overhead and responsibilities. As a fairly small, independently operated company, we can be flexible and even make lifestyle adjustments to offset short terms setbacks. If we had high rent, a retail shop, a large payroll, etc, then we would be feeling the financial hit much more.

What is your biggest concern about the effects of the coronavirus on your company?
Our biggest concern right now is not for our immediate revenue (although reduced cash flow when heading into the biggest purchasing months is not ideal), but how it will affect those we work with and our ability to source new spring tea this year. So far it seems everything is improving, and just in time. But if our ability to travel to the tea mountains and source new teas is restricted, then it will make it difficult to find new teas, inspect gardens, liaise with farmers, etc. It wouldn’t “cancel” spring tea, but it could limit our buying, if trying to maintain our typical standards.
The other concern has been with teaware. We have not been able to restock very much teaware as the small studios and artists we buy from have not been back to work. Jingdezhen was blocking any non-locals (including those from other provinces who live and work there) from returning. Many artists and their workers couldn’t return, although I think this situation is improving as well. There may be a backlog of orders for them though, which we anticipate will cause delays for us to restock.
Other aspects were affected too. During this time we couldn’t even restock cardboard boxes for shipping. We barely made it through though, and found another supplier to send us some boxes just in time.
Again, I feel we’re in a fortunate position where we have been able to maintain, but there has definitely been disruption. We do anticipate things will be returning to normal soon though, so hopefully things like spring tea are unaffected.

Are you concerned that the virus will have an impact on your business in the long term?
To be honest, we’re not too concerned that this will affect us in the long term (1+ years). If it spreads outside of China and affects the global economy, then we can anticipate it impacting our business for several more months. Again, this is not something we want, not just for ourselves but for all the other businesses and people who will suffer. But if it does happen, it won’t be forever.
We’re optimistic that in a year from now this will be history. We can’t see into the future, but if the course of this is similar to SARS or other scares from the last 20 years, there is typically a good recovery period that follows shortly after. We’re also fortunate that our customer base is very supportive. Many of them have continued to support us during this time, even with the uncertainty and fear that’s all around. We’re quite lucky to be part of a community like this.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about the Chinese tea industry related to the effects of the coronavirus?
The one thing that we have stressed during this period is that there is no risk of being infected through tea or teaware purchased from China. I think most people are aware of this by now, but the question occasionally still pops up, and we want people to be informed. We also are not experiencing any shipping delays at this point, so if purchasing from a China based vendors that is still processing orders, it should arrive within a normal timeframe.
Otherwise, just try not to fall prey to the fear and media scare. That’s not to say dismiss the threat, but try not to get overrun by emotions. Do your best to stay safe if it’s spread to your country, and try to have compassion for those affected, whether they’re close or far. This has been a difficult time for many, and a lot of innocent people have been affected. We’re all in this together, on some level.

Angel from TeaVivre:

Have you heard concerns from your customers regarding the coronavirus and buying tea/teaware?
Yes, a small number of clients have the concerns and send us emails to cancel the orders. But many clients think the coronavirus have no effect on the wrapped and packed tea and teaware. Anyway, we totally understand these feelings and concerns and also we respect them and their choice.

Have you noticed a change in sales since the onset of the coronavirus?
Because the spread of coronavirus occurred during the traditional Chinese Spring Festival, my first reaction was that no matter what the circumstances, I must guarantee the safety of each colleague and each client, so we decided to extend the holidays for Xiamen warehouse and did not ship the packages. All staffs work online from home. We also sent emails to our clients who were still waiting for the delivery to explain the current situation. During the past 1 month, we only retained the US warehouse. Frankly speaking, our sales fell by more than 50% during this period, but I think the health of our staffs and clients is more important than sales. Health and life are always my first consideration.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about the Chinese tea industry related to the effects of the coronavirus?
I hope readers can know I have been in touch with our cooperated tea gardens and tea farmers. From their information, tea gardens are in good condition, like the town of Qiandao Lake tea garden, the Longjing producing area, the whole area even has no one case. Other areas may have sporadic cases, but they all occur in densely cities. The tea gardens are far away from cities, even among high mountains, so the tea gardens are not affected. At present many tea gardens are preparing for 2020 Spring teas. Thank you for your care and support. We have carefully read every emails and messages that you sent to us. During the difficult days, your kind words, understanding and support give me and my team great encouragement, comfort and confidence. At present, considering that Xiamen has no new cases for 18 days from Feb. 18 and all the 35 coronavirus patients have been cured on March 4, we consider gradually resuming the delivery of the Xiamen warehouse. We will continue to pay attention to the situation and provide good tea to you based on measures to guarantee safety. It is you who gave us the courage and confidence to go through the darkness. Thanks again for being with us.

Daniel of Tea Baby:
Have you noticed a change in sales since the onset of the coronavirus?
Yes, a lot. People are encouraged to stay in home, no one go to tea shop; Luckily online sales still available but some people can not enter their warehouse and shipping speed is much slower. The good is we drink more tea at home.

What is your biggest concern about the effects of the coronavirus on your company?
The post affection worries me more than what happing now, people will be cautious to gather together, and try to stay in home as long as they can. When the tea harvesting begins, the shortage of labors will be a big problem. Last year, the salary for the labor was about 30USD/DAY per people, right now it’s about 60USD, and workers come from other region needs to be quarantined for 14 days before start work.

I think these answers give some perspective to the tea vending situation, and I hope to speak with more people around the world as things develop. I do know that since these interviews took place, many companies have been able rectify shipping issues they've had. Thank you to Glen, Paul, Jonah, Angel, and Daniel for taking the time out to answer my questions!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

How To Do Your Own Tea Meditation Any Time Of Day

It's tough to find mindfulness in our busy lives. I try to set aside a few minutes for tea and quiet every day, but often there is only time for a few sips. Taking just a short few moments from the day to pause, make tea and breathe will help the day improve. Here are a few tips on how to create your own form of tea meditation no matter where you are, or what you have with you.

Tea Meditation- Stay In The Moment
First, it's important to point out that no matter what you do, staying in the moment is key. I personally look at it as a moment for myself, and nothing else. It doesn't need to be anything greater than this!

I've been slowly reading the book Every Day a Good Day by Noriko Morishita which is about the author's 25 year journey of learning chanoyu (the Japanese way of tea), and how it has shaped her life. One of the main things she learned is to always stay in the moment, and fully experience.
Morishita is constantly reminded by her sensei "When you sit in front of the kettle you have to be in front of the kettle...pour your heart and soul into each and every movement". We can bring this concept to our own tea meditation, no matter how casual. If you're having tea, even if it's just pouring hot water into a mug with a teabag, you can slow down, and be present while it steeps.

Tea Meditation- The Setup
As I mentioned before, you don't need any special tools. Whether you have a full gongfu set up or just a mug and some hot water, go with it. The main thing is to pause your day and try to focus on your moment. This isn't time to multitask, or take tasting notes. Just be with your tea!

If you can find a quiet place, great! If not, go with what you've got. Maybe you're in a cubicle in a large office or a similarly noisy environment. If you have headphones, I'd suggest using them. If not, just try to be in the moment and breathe (and try to ignore Janet from accounting).

A Sample Tea Meditation
As I mentioned, it's important to go with what you've got. Maybe you don't even have a few minutes for a full tea meditation. I often pause in the middle of a workday for just enough time to grab some hot water and steep my tea. I'll use the precious seconds while my tea is steeping to breathe, enjoy the tea's aroma, and clear my mind. Even if it's brief, give it a try.

If you can spare a few more moments, here is a sample tea meditation that you can use as a guide and tailor to you own needs. The key is to do everything mindfully. Be aware, focus, and try to clear your mind of everything else (if you can- and if you can't, just acknowledge how you are feeling).

If you have a hot water kettle, let's start there. While you are heating the water, take a listen. What do you hear around you? Can you focus on the different sounds the water makes as it starts to get warmer? Can you slow your breathing while you wait for the kettle to boil?

If you are near a window, maybe take a few moments to observe. What's the weather like? How does it make you feel? Can you hear anything outside? If you're in a crowded area, it's important to still stay in the present. Focus on where you are, and the act of making tea.

When you add your leaves (or tea bag) to your vessel, take a moment to observe. How do the leaves look? Smell? Feel? You can take your time with this, or simply give it a quick glance, whatever time allows.

Add your water to the leaves and observe with all your senses. Enjoy the aromas and warmth of the vessel. Observe the tea and how the colors and aroma change while it steeps.

When it's time to taste, observe the flavors and aromas and how they make you feel. Enjoy the warmth (or refreshing cold, if you have an icy brew). Do the flavors remind you of anything? Particular foods or past experiences?

All of this can take a few seconds, or much longer, depending on what you can spare.

Tea Meditation- Take a moment to reflect
Once I've taken a few sips, observed, and perhaps taken a few slow breaths, I like to focus a moment on gratitude for the tea. Thankfulness to all aspects of tea- from the plant, to the earth, to the people growing, plucking, processing, shipping, etc. You can of course show gratitude for whatever you like. Or don't... like I said, do whatever works for you in your tea moment.

Tea Meditation-Go Easy On Yourself
To be honest, I'm awful at meditation. I have a hard time clearing my mind and sitting still. But I find that through a tea meditation I can briefly calm my nerves, stop the world, and focus on mindfulness. I don't approach it as zen meditation or connecting with a higher universe. It's just to give time back to myself. And fully enjoy a good cup of tea. It's a time to be with yourself, and push the world out of your mind for a few moments.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The History Of English Breakfast Tea

English Breakfast Tea, no milk or sugar for me

Chances are you've had English Breakfast tea before. Its a staple in many restaurants and often the only black tea choice on the menu. But have you ever wondered why it's called English Breakfast tea? Is it because it came from England?

Tea didn't become a breakfast beverage until sometime in the mid eighteenth century. Up until this point tea was a pricey beverage, reserved for afternoon tea affairs. But when prices lowered it became more of an 'all day' drink. Also, it's recorded that around this time Queen Anne started taking tea instead of ale as her morning drink, which started the fashion of tea at breakfast.

If you think about it, if English Breakfast tea was named in England they probably would have called it 'Breakfast tea', not 'English', right? So maybe it makes sense that the name for this blend was actually coined elsewhere, perhaps in the United States. But was the actual black tea blend itself created here, or elsewhere? Well, various sources seem to have differing opinions.

English Breakfast: NYC, or Scotland?
Many sources point to tea merchant Richard Davies having invented 'English Breakfast' in New York City in 1843. Davies was a British immigrant working in NYC and supposedly combined Chinese teas to create the famous blend. Later, in 1884, American Robert M. Walsh published A Cup of Tea, and mentions breakfast teas:
They are a distinct variety, differing in color, liquor, and flavor from the Oolong species, and known to trade in this country as “English Breakfast” tea, from its forming the staple shipment to England. They are produced in the province of Woo-e-shan, and derive their name from the Bow-ui (bohea) Mountains, where they are grown...bohea teas comprise Capers, Pekoes, Souchongs, Pouchong and Congous.
This quote indicates Chinese black and oolong teas were often enjoyed for breakfast at this time, but it doesn't really help us figure out if Davies coined the phrase. It's important to note green tea was also widely consumed during this time, but it seems that 'breakfast' teas were mostly black or oolong. A typical English breakfast during this time period was savory and meaty, so black teas would have worked well to balance out the richness.

Some sources say 'English Breakfast' was actually a Scottish invention by Scottish tea merchant Robert Drysdale in 1892 (which would also make sense, since it's called English Breakfast and not just Breakfast tea). From Breakfast: A History by Heather Arndt Anderson
Most credit the invention of so-called English Breakfast Tea goes to one Scottish tea master called Drysdale, who purportedly developed the blend of  Ceylon, Keemun, and Assam leaves to market as "Breakfast Tea" in the late 1800s.
Sources say Queen Victoria sampled this blend during her stay at Balmoral (the Scottish royal residence), and she returned to England with a large supply. Thus it was renamed as 'English Breakfast Tea'.

Irish Breakfast Tea, no milk or sugar for me

English, Irish, and Scottish Breakfast
If you look around for breakfast teas you'll see English, Irish, and Scottish breakfast blends. They all vary in flavor and strength (with Scottish supposedly being strongest). Even though English Breakfast started out as a Chinese tea blend, all three blends may contain teas from China, India, Sri Lanka and Africa (and sometimes other areas). Since there isn't a standard formula out there, it's tough to know what you're going to get.

No matter where the name comes from breakfast teas are created to stand up to milk and sugar, so they're often heavy on strength and lacking in nuanced flavor. But that's not always the case. I've found a few breakfast blends that I really enjoy and often brew them up in the morning.

I look for blends that are full loose leaf tea, with a nice balance of flavors. When you get a good one, milk and sugar isn't necessary. Since you never know how a breakfast blend is going to taste, it's best to try as many as possible!

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Interview: Nazanin Yousefnejad of Tea Thoughts

Nazanin Yousefnejad, Photo Courtesy of Tea Thoughts

Tea people are the nicest people I've come across, and today's interviewee is no exception. You may have seen Nanzanin of Tea Thoughts on Instagram posting her beautiful tea photos, or perhaps you've visited her adorable online store (I love her pins!!) or ordered her Steep It Real box. I'm so pleased to present our interview!

I had the pleasure of receiving January's Steep It Real box, and I've been enjoying it all month long. I love that the tea themed products are all useful, fun, and high quality. She even includes hand-made items. There was only one tea included in the box, but it's a full-size package and very high quality. I much prefer this over boxes that give you many sample sizes of lower quality teas and blends, many you don't really want.

Learn all about Nazanin and her passion for tea, her wonderful creative side, and her personal tea rituals in the interview below.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Review: Tea: A Nerd's Eye View

There are tea nerds, and then there are Tea Nerds. The folks that get into the details of the leaf and then go deeper into the science of tea. The new book Tea: A Nerd's Eye View by Virginia Utermohlen Lovelace brings together information for Tea Nerds of every kind. Everything from tea chemistry and plant biology, to how our senses perceive the flavors in tea. Below is a little bit about the book, and what I thought while reading it.

Who Is The Book Really For?
This book is for anyone curious about the science behind tea, from leaf to cup. It may seem daunting to open this book and see so many chemical diagrams and charts, but Virginia does a great job of taking her wealth of knowledge and break it down for readers to understand. This is a book for anyone interested in getting deeper into tea. And it's enjoyable to read!

Flavor And Perception- Personal and Botanical
Flavor is of course key to enjoying tea. As tea drinkers we talk endlessly about flavor and aroma, what we like and don't like. The book goes into depth on flavor- how we as humans perceive it, and how it's created both within the plants and through processing. Virginia touches on how taste perception is super personal, and genetics plays a huge role.

I may perceive something as bitter but enjoyable, but someone else may find it repulsive. I may notice something as sweet, but someone else may find it pungent. I love how she discusses the perception of flavors, and how our personal memory and knowledge will change how we taste a tea.

The book also focuses on how flavors in tea are manipulated from the grower but also the tea brewer. When we brew at home, our parameters have an effect on the flavor we taste in the cup. This is all quite logical, but not something I normally sit and deeply think about. Virginia gets into the science behind all of this, and she keeps easy to follow.

Plant Biology
The book really gets down to the tea leaf on the cellular level. The plant biology is fascinating and even though I didn't understand every concept, I gained an understanding of how the plant's survival influences the development of flavors.

Virginia examines the different flavor compounds in tea plants, and how they present differently in each type of tea. She discusses basic chemistry properties in tea leaves, and I think it really helps in understanding the flavors we taste in our tea.

Caffeine content in tea is such a misunderstood thing and I'm glad Virginia covers both how it's produced, and how it may change during processing. And if anyone tells you delicate green and white teas have less caffeine than other teas, just tell them this:
Caffeine is a poison for many insects that would otherwise consume tea leaves. The younger more tender leaves are easier for herbivores and insects to attack, so younger leaves produce a greater quantity of caffeine. Older leaves are stiff and hard, thanks in particular to their greater content of woody compounds such as lignin. They are much less inviting to insects so they don't need as much caffeine to defend themselves.
Processing And Brewing
The book goes through the chemistry involved in each step of tea processing, and how it changes the flavors and aroma. It then examines how the brewing process changes the flavors as well. Virginia says that out of all the ways to brew tea, there is really only one main thing you need to have...
What is fascinating to me now is how many acceptable ways there are to brew tea, and how few true imperatives there are- in fact there is really only one absolute imperative: you must use good water. Or modify your approach if you have poor water.
Traditional brewing techniques are discussed such as tea ceremonies around the world, and how everything from the vessel, to the cup shape, to the brewing parameters will change the flavors in the tea prepared. She also writes about water temperature at length (for both hot and cold brews) and even touches on the tea serving temperature.

I think Tea: A Nerd's Eye View is a fascinating read for the tea lover looking to learn more about the science of the leaf. This book does get quite scientific with everything covered, but it's all very digestible. And, if you're not really interested in the nitty gritty of the science, it's easy to skip paragraphs and jump around the chapters. It's a great book to have on hand as a reference, and for learning more about flavor and chemistry.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

A Little Bit About Korean Teaware History

Cup and Teapot by GiJin Song

Teaware is an integral part of the tea experience. I love learning about teaware and teaware history. When I went on my Korea tea adventure this fall, we learned a little bit about Korean pottery and had the pleasure of meeting some incredible potters.

Korean pottery has a long, very interesting history which has influenced Korean's modern teaware artisans.

A Little Bit About Korean Pottery History
Philosophy, spirituality, and geography shaped Korean teaware history. When you think about Korean teaware, you may imagine something made with a celadon glaze with its distinctive jade-green color. Celadon (Cheong-Ja) is an important part of Korean pottery, and is one of the earliest glazes used. Celadon was originally inspired by Chinese Yue-ware in the early 900s and artisans worked to create a new, specifically Korean style. From Korean Arts:
    The Koryo Dynasty, which lasted from 918 to 1392 AD had a strong Buddhist influence which shaped many of it's cultural achievements.  Buddhist temples flourished during the Koryo period, and with them grew a need for fine vessels to be used during the many ritual ceremonies. In the middle of the 10th century Korean artists, some who had been schooled in China, began creating celadon by using inlay and copper glazing techniques which were developed first in China but only fully developed and perfected by Korean artisans. 
Celadon Ewer, photo from The Metropolitan Museum Of Art

Delicate celadon creations were originally used by Buddhist monks, royalty, and wealthy aristocrats. By the 15th century artists started creating 'brown porcelain' (Bun-Cheong) which was rougher than celadon and made for daily use for everyone, not just the monks and higher classes. White porcelain (Baek-Ja), was developed in the 16th century, also for the masses and not just the upper class. Confucianism was the popular philosophy of this time and artists used austere, simple lines and forms to reflect this.

Japanese pottery was influenced by Korea
History has also played a role in shaping Korean pottery. In 1592 during the Japanese invasion of Korea, entire villages of Korean potters were forced out of the country and relocated to Japan. The Korean artisan pottery industry took a huge hit at this point, as all of the masters were sent to Japan.

Pitcher, Cup, and Teapot by Chi Heon Lee

The Korean masters worked in Japan and influenced the Japanese styles of pottery. In fact, Japanese tea master Sen no Rikyū used Korean style pottery as he perfected his style for the Japanese tea ceremony. Not only did the Korean styles influence Japanese pottery, but the kilns were used as well. From
The noborigama (chambered climbing kiln) was introduced from Korea to Japan -- via Karatsu -- in the 17th century and forever changed the ceramic landscape. It allowed various glazed wares such as madara-garatsu (speckled straw-ash glaze), chosen-garatsu (Korean-style, two-tone glazing), e-garatsu (painted) or kuro-garatsu (black) to be created on these shores.
If you'd like to learn more about the Korean influence on Japanese pottery, you can search for info on Hagi ware, Satsuma ware, and Arita ware.

Teapots and tea boat by Chi Heon Lee

Back to Nature
As I've mentioned in previous posts, nature plays a huge role in Korean culture and is reflected through pottery. Form, shape, and color are all borrowed from nature. Before the 17th century, Korean potters looked for perfection in their creations. But then the style became to cherish the imperfect, as it is found in nature. 

Potters I met on our trip used traditional ideas and forms, with a modern twist. If you look at the first photo above, you can see how ceramic artisan GiJin Song uses organic elements in his work. And right above you can see the delicate, gentle lines with traditional forms and interesting glazes found in Chi Heon Lee's work.

Do you own any Korean teaware? Before my trip I didn't know anything at all about how diverse Korean teaware styles can be. This post only scratched the surface on the history and artistry. I can't wait to learn even more about it, and keep my collection growing.