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.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Korean Yuja Byungcha (yuzu stuffed with black tea)

I'm sure you've had tea with citrus flavors added in, but have you tried a citrus stuffed with black tea? I had many interesting kinds of Korean tea on my recent trip, and it was tough to pick which one I wanted to share with you first. Given the holidays and frigid temps, I think it's the perfect time of year to talk about Yuja Byungcha. A Yuzu stuffed with black tea.

Yuja Byungcha tea has an amazing natural citrus flavor and aroma. The steeped black tea with crushed bits of yuzu rind is a lovely warming tea for winter, and the flavor is quite festive for the holidays. I've been drinking this tea almost every day, I find it flavorful and invigorating. When I had a sore throat, drinking this with a bit of honey was incredibly soothing.

Please note, this tea is different from yuja cha, which if you search online usually brings back recipes for a delicious herbal recipe for yuzu, honey, lemon, and often ginger, to keep in the fridge all winter long. I actually have a jar in my fridge and have been drinking it in the evenings. Now, on to the byungcha...

Making Yuja Byungcha Korean Yuzu Stuffed Black Tea
This tea has two basic elements, yuzu and black tea. The yuzu are harvested at the end of November. They are washed, and the inside is scooped out and juiced. The juice is reserved and used to flavor the tea. The tea used is black tea (referred to as hong cha or balhyocha) harvested and processed in the spring. The processed leaves are sprayed with the yuzu juice, just enough to soften the leaves and filled inside the hollowed out yuzu. Byung means to bottle, which makes sense since the black tea is basically bottled inside the yuzu.

About 30-40 grams of tea fit inside one yuzu. Once filled, the top is put back on and the yuzu is tied with twine. After the yuzu are prepared with the tea, they go through a steaming and drying process 6 times, and each time the twine is tightened. Then they are left for a final drying outdoors in the breeze and sun. 

In my previous post. I mentioned how Korean tea is deeply tied to nature, and this is no exception. Drying the tea outside in the natural elements in a crucial step. The whole process takes about 2 months. This is a slow process that allows layers of flavor to build inside the tea. The finished product is about 1/2 the size of the original fresh yuzu!

crushed yuzu and black tea

Steeping the Yuja Byungcha
To prepare this tea, you need to crush up that beautiful tea-stuffed yuzu. Do not steep the whole thing in a pot! First, remove the twine from the yuzu and take off the top. Then place the yuzu on its side on a paper towel, and gently crush it. You shouldn't need too much force. The citrus will break into pieces, and the black tea will spill out. You can crush the yuzu into smaller pieces as well. 

Add 3-4 grams total of tea and small bits of yuzu in about 200ml of water that's just off the boil. I steep mine for about 3-5 minutes. This can be re-steeped about 5 times. Take the rest of your yuzu tea and put it in an opaque, air-tight canister for later. You can also age the yuzu whole, if you can avoid temptation and wait!

It's tough to find these teas for sale in the US. I have been able to purchase them at World Tea Expo, but an internet search doesn't come up with much. Right now Screen Tea is selling a few, she was on the Korea trip with us and she brought them back for sale. I'm waiting to hear from another source that may be selling these teas soon, and will update the post with a link when that happens.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Interview: Zhao and Ronald of Tea.L

Zhao and Ron (photo courtesy of Tea.L)

As I've gotten older, I've become picky about my skincare. I'm always looking for natural products that don't have any harsh ingredients. Recently the folks from Tea.L reached out to see if I'd like to try their tea-based skincare products. A company that sells natural products made with tea? And we're talking, real, loose leaf tea with minimal processing? I was all-in.

I've been using the eye cream, face lotion, and body lotion for a few weeks, and I've really enjoyed them. I love the texture and scent (they really smell like tea!), and my skin feels super-soft. Over these last few weeks questions about the products have popped into my head, so I thought it would be fun to do an interview with founders Zhao and Ron. Below you'll find out all about why they made tea-based skincare products, the importance of using real tea, and the beauty of tea and self care.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

A Tea Blogger In Korea- The People Of Korean Tea

Tea field in Boseong

As many of you know, I went on an incredible trip to South Korea led by Yoon Hee Kim, where I had the opportunity to meet tea farmers, spend time in tea fields, and even make my own tea! As an American tea blogger that has never traveled to Asia before, it was a life-changing trip.

After this 8-day tea and culinary tour, I have so much to share but it's been tough to get my feelings into words. I've decided to break it down into a few posts. I recently read an article about Mr. Rogers, and in it he was quoted saying 'Point out the beauty when you can'. So I decided this first article will be about the beauty in everyone we met. The people that create Korean tea. I hope you can get a glimpse of what it felt like to meet such caring, dedicated tea people.

The Korean Tea Farmers and Producers
The people we met have a humble sense of pride. They all have a deep respect for tea, and take great pleasure in sharing what they do with others. Tea tastings that should have lasted for 30 minutes ended up going for multiple hours, as there was so much to tell us, and everyone wanted to share their beautiful teas. Here are just a few of the people we met:

I loved meeting the many people at the Borim Tea farm and research center in Boesong. A beautiful facility where we felt right at home, I had my first experience here walking through tea fields, and plucking leaves and flowers. We were given a lesson in the history of Korean tea, and I learned so much! I laughed when we learned about the 'bromance' between two ancient Korean tea scholars (more on that soon!).

steamed leaves ready to be pounded for ddoek cha

One of my favorite activities at Borim was learning how to make our own ddoek cha (cake style tea), where we pounded steamed leaves in a huge vessel that looked like an over-sized mortar and pestle, then shaped the leaves into cakes (mine weren't the most uniform, but I had so much fun!), and left them to dehydrate (I'll be writing a more in-depth post about Korean teas, including the ones we made).

MongJoongSan Dawon

We also had the opportunity to make our own tea flower liquor. We took the tea flowers we plucked in the fields and added them to a bottle with soju. In a few short weeks I'll have special liquor to make cocktails with! Throughout our time at Borim, everyone made sure we were comfortable, and well fed. One evening they even held an outdoor BBQ where everything was grilled: various seafood and meats, veggies, even rice cakes and chestnuts.

I'll never forget the cheerful folks at MongJoongSan Dawon, a large tea plantation in Boseong where the majestic fields are bathed not only in mist, but in sound. The farmers play music to their tea plants to keep them happy. It was surreal to be walking through the misty fields, listening to hauntingly beautiful music and feeling the energy of the plants. We were given a ride through the tea fields with a very jovial tea farmer, and we later had a lively tea tasting with him and a few of the other tea garden employees. Check out my pinned Instagram story about Korean Tea, you'll be able to hear the music played in this tea field.

korean dasik and a dasik mold

Another cherished memory is spending time with the tea grower who showed us how to make Korean tea sweets (dasik). She was patient as we took the time to roll out different types of dough and press them through traditional molds. We later had a lovely walk through her tea fields where she serenaded us with a beautiful opera performance while we sat by a creek. All the tea people we met have a connection to the arts, whether it's singing, playing an instrument, dance, or other visual arts. I love how they not only grow tea, but have a connection to it through the arts as well.

Hongcha at the top of a mountain

Then there is the tea farmer in Hadong that let us ride his monorail, a little vehicle (and I mean little!!) meant for hauling tea leaves from mountain (not humans!). Riding on a tiny platform scraping the sides of tea bushes up a mountain was definite a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We were laughing and cheering the entire time, while desperately holding on! Once we were at the top, he brewed cup after cup of hong cha for us, while we gazed at the sloping tea fields below us. Drinking tea in nature is a key part of the Korean tea experience. Korean culture is deeply connected to nature, and it is expressed in every way possible.

In Hadong, we met the owner of BuTea who introduced us to his family. After showing us his tea production area, his young son drew us pictures as we sipped tea. We also enjoyed treats and his wife and daughter had prepared for us to eat. Snacks kept appearing as we had more and more tea, and the little boy shyly sat near us while we all chatted. It was such a sweet afternoon.

here I am attempting to roll tea leaves

While in Hadong we also went to a tea farm and research and education center where we processed our own green tea! It was such fun to get our hands on the leaves, and learn how to pan fire and roll it. I knew making tea was a laborious process, but doing just a small bit of it really showed me how much time and effort it takes.

Before my trip, most people asked me if I was going on a 'green tea' tour, as Korea is mostly known for green tea. But my favorite teas of the trip turned out to be hwang cha (semi oxidized teas also referred to as balhyocha) and hong cha (black tea). We also tasted the ddoek cha I mentioned earlier, and fermented teas along with various green teas. I can't wait to talk about them further.

Tea Chefs and Artisans
While in a Southern province, we met a master baker of Korean sweets who owns a tea house with her husband. She creates all of the food, and he built the entire place and maintains the gardens. She welcomed us with a tour, explaining every little detail of the tea house, and kept bringing us added extra treats. We learned about the art of Korean tea snacks. This tea house was such a special place, tucked in a remote rural area that I never would have found on my own. Every little brick and stone was brought in by her husband, and meaningfully placed. The tea house is a true marvel.

beautiful Korean tea house

We met a well known potter that invited us to his studio and insisted on making us endless cups of tea while talking about the history of Korean pottery. He taught us the importance of nature in Korean art and culture, and throughout the trip I was able to see how nature reflected in every person we met.

Later in the trip we met a potter and his wife in Gwangju that not only spent hours chatting and pouring us tea, but when we had to rush off to the train station, they took the long drive with us, helped carry our bags, and made sure we were all safely on the train. They didn't leave until the train departed, waving to us as we pulled out.

I can't forget to mention the kindness of our guide Yoon Hee, who went above and beyond to make sure we had a stellar experience. She drove us all throughout the country, translated every word, made sure we were happy and comfortable. She gave us tea experiences we will never forget!

Korean teas can be difficult to find in the US, and I feel fortunate to have tasted teas on the farms where they are grown and processed. Whether it was a large plantation or a small scale garden, every tea farmer we met welcomed us with open arms, eager to tell us about their teas and give us many tastes. When I sip tea I often think about how many people were involved in bringing these leaves to me. It's even more special now that I have met the people behind my Korean teas. In the coming weeks I will dive deeper into the Korean tea experience.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Interview: Tatjana and Tom of Teapro UK

Tatjana and Tom, photo courtesy of Teapro UK

Instagram is by far my favorite way to connect with tea people, I love looking at all the creative tea photos! One account that always entertains and amuses is Teapro UK. Founders Tatjana and Tom are incredibly whimsical and artistic. They do a great job of illustrating the joys of tea. Teapro UK is a virtual tea shop where you can browse tea and teaware, or order tea subscription boxes. Our interview below gives you a peek into the life of two tea-entrepreneurs, and how they keep the creative juices flowing.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

How To Grow Tea Pt. 3- Getting Camellia Sinensis Ready For Winter

One Of My Happy Tea Plants

It's been over a year since I've started my tea seeds and they are growing quite happily! I started them indoors, and once the summer hit I brought most of them outside for the season. They really shot up during the summer, and grew lots of hardy green leaves. The crisp autumn weather is starting to creep in, so it's time to start thinking about how to care for the plants during winter.

I decided to put several of my plants directly in the ground on my Brooklyn patio, but a few are outside in pots. It gets quite cold in NYC, and the Farmers' Almanac apparently is predicting a tough winter. I need to ready the tea plants!

Getting Tea Plants Ready For Winter
To figure out how to get the tea plants ready for the winter, I contacted Jason McDonald, co-founder of The Great Mississippi Tea Company, and founding member of the United States League of Tea Growers. He and his partner Timmy sent me my tea seeds, and he's been super patient with all of my tea growing questions.

Jason recommended letting the tea plants adapt to the weather. He said that even though NYC gets very cold, it should be fine for the plants, and it's important for them to adjust to the climate they are living in. If it gets cold and stays that way, the plants will adapt. But, the one thing he said I needed to worry about was a sudden drop in extreme temperature, and freezing winds.

The plant in the large pot grew much bigger than the one in the small pot!

Getting Tea Plants Ready For Winter- What To Do Outside
To combat an extreme temperature change and also frigid winds, Jason suggested I use horticultural fleece. Horticultural fleece is lightweight material used to cover the plants. It's basically a plant blanket to keep out the extreme wind. The wind is the real problem, as combined with frigid weather it can cause the leaves to freezer burn, which in turn can kill the plants.

Getting Tea Plants Ready For Winter- What To Do Inside
For my potted tea plants, I had to decide if I would bring them inside or leave them out for the season. I decided to bring two large and one small pot indoors, to compare the indoor and outdoor plant progress. I may bring one large more pot inside if I can find a good spot for it. I have huge radiators right by my best windows, so there isn't much prime plant space. I want to make sure the plants are as far away from the radiators as possible so they don't get too dry and overheated.

When I first sprouted my seedlings I kept them in a little greenhouse to trap in some humidity. But I'm not going to seek out a larger greenhouse for the indoor plants this time. Hopefully they'll adapt to the slightly dryer environment and I'll just give them an occasional misting (but I won't keep them too wet as that can lead to fungus gnats). It will be interesting to compare the progress of the indoor and outdoor plants. I'll post an update sometime midwinter.

A quick note on the potted plants- if you look at the above photo, you'll see the plant in the larger pot grew much taller than the one in the little pot! Something to keep in mind if you're thinking of growing tea for yourself.

If you keep tea plants, let me know what you do over the winter. Do you protect them outside? If they are inside, do you do anything special? For more tips on growing your own tea, check out my original post and my follow-up post!

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Teaware History: The Mote Spoon

(not a mote spoon)

I love sharing the random tidbits of teaware history that I pick up in my reading, and today's post is on the mote spoon. The mote spoon is a tea accessory with an influential history. In fact, authentic mote spoons are so coveted that it's tough to find a real one.

not a mote spoon- but used like one

History Of The Mote Spoon
This little spoon was actually a very handy tool! Originally called a 'tea strainer spoon', mote spoons were used in the 17th and 18th centuries.  A 'mote' is a speck or tiny piece of something, and in this case a bit of tea leaf. As with many tea accessories, there is a bit of a debate on how it was originally used. 

Mote spoons were in use before tea-caddy spoons were created. They may have been used to lift the tea leaves out of the canister and into the pot. This would sift the tea dust away from the leaves, keeping the tiniest bits out of the teapot. The mote spoon had another important feature, a tapered pointy end, which was used to dislodge leaves from the teapot's spout. 

The second reported use was to scoop out errant tea leaves floating in the cup (the 'motes', if you will). In the 17th century, tea leaves were added to the pot and the brew poured directly into cups. Leaves were always escaping into the tea cups, causing the tea to continue steeping and taste bitter. The pierced mote spoons could easily scoop up the little rogue floaters, saving that delicious cup of tea. The tea was 'demoted', but in the best way possible.

It's tough to say if mote spoons were used to sift the dry tea leaves from the caddy, as the piercings could be quite small and wouldn't sift much of the tiny leaves out. But it would have been well suited to skim the leaves off of the poured tea.

How The Mote Spoon Evolved
According to master teaware historian Bruce Richardson, the mote spoon paved the way for the victorian tea strainer, which we still use today. In an interesting video, Mr. Richardson mentions:
...and they did away with the mote spoon because as you know you just put the strainer on top of your teacup and then pour your tea through the strainer and all those wonderful holes catch the any errant tea leaves or motes and demote your tea easily and then you place it back into this wonderful little catch basin that catches any errant drips and keeps your table nice and tidy

possibly a tea strainer

Collecting Mote Spoons- Beware Of Fakes!
Mote spoons can be difficult to find if you're interested in collecting them. Because of this, they have a high price attached and are often faked. Real mote spoons start at well over $100, and can be quite a bit more depending on rarity and decoration.

Looking through online auctions and antique sites, I found many mote spoons that ranged from possibly real, to definitely not. There are a few important things to look for if you are interested in collecting them.

(from top to bottom) spoon, fake mote spoon, genuine mote spoon (photo from ASCAS online)

Fakes are easily made by taking an 18th century silver spoon and piercing decorations into the bowl and re-shaping the handle to a point. The photo above gives a good example of a spoon, a faked spoon, and a real mote spoon. Faked spoons are (obviously) the size and length of a teaspoon. Mote spoons are generally longer, and the bowl of the spoon is also longer and more narrow than a typical teaspoon. The piercing on the spoon can also sometimes help determine if it's fake or not. But again, all of this is very difficult to authenticate.

I'm not sure if the spoon I have (and use in all the photos) is a tea strainer (it doesn't really fit over the cup at all), or more likely a fruit or bonbon spoon. It's definitely not a mote spoon as the bowl is rounded, and the end is flat, not tapered to fit into a teapot's spout. Whatever it is, I enjoy the way it looks.

So if you see something you like, just go for it. You should enjoy your collection, not just stress about authenticity. But if you're looking for the real thing, now you know what to look out for. Do you have an authentic mote spoon? I'd love to hear more about them!