2014 Korean Green Tea

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New teas continue to arrive almost daily as the time has come for us to start receiving seasonal spring teas from Japan and Korea.

Yes… I just said KOREA…..as in SOUTH KOREA!

It as been 4 years since we first introduced these wonderful and unique green tea from Hadong County and the environ of Mt.Jiri, South Korea. For lovers of fine green teas, these teas are distinctively different from both Chinese and Japanese green teas. And, Hadong County tea is available in very limited quantities comparative to spring green teas from China and Japan and other tea producing regions of South Korea.

These are the same teas from the same producer ( 2014 crop ) at virtually the same prices as we sold these teas for in 2010 and 2011, the last two years when we featured these Korean green teas. While these teas are pricey ( they are pricey in South Korea, too) this is a great opportunity for our tea enthusiast customers to experience FRESH, FRESH, FRESH versions of these delicious teas at a fair price.

Read more here:  http://www.teatrekker.com/teas/other-countries/korea/green-tea

Additionally, we have also received the first of our 2014 Japanese green teas, along with some exciting new teas, one of which has been created just for Tea Trekker. We are unpacking these teas now and will feature them in a post and on the website in the next few days.

LIfe is good !

 

Korean Celadon Teacups


When we visited Korea in 2010, the food, culture and tea production delighted and astonished us. Ceramics and pottery production, too, was distinctive and impressive, and we returned home with many treasured tea cups and tea bowls.

For years we have been familiar with modest but lovely Korean green tea infuser cups such as the one pictured here. We sell these tea cups in our store, and hoped to learn more about Korean celadon during our visit. As with much about Korea, we were not disappointed.

We learned that the Gangjin area in the southern region of Korea is where 90% of Korean celadon wares are made. In fact, there are 9 or 10 areas in Korea that are dedicated to the production of regional ceramics. Celadon has been made in Gangjin from the 9th century to the present day, and as many as 180 old kiln sites are claimed to be scattered throughout this area. Today, approximately 16 operative kilns produce celadon wares in several different styles. While other sites in Korea made celadon wares in the past, Gangjin was always considered to produce the finest celadon, and was the most widely exported.

So we were overjoyed when our friends Arthur and Mary Park invited us to join them for a visit to Gangjin to learn about the artistry and methodology behind the production of these gleaming, jade-green pieces.

First we toured the Goryeo Celadon Museum, where visitors learn the history of celadon and view displays of historic pieces. Just a short walk from the museum – but within the museum complex -visitors are welcomed into the museum-run celadon workshops. Here, artisans create masterpiece works that are sold at auctions throughout the year to raise funds for the museum. (No worry, there is a gift shop, too, where celadon items can be purchased!)

We stayed in the workshops for a long time, absorbed in watching these skilled artisans at work, and marveling at the extraordinary detail and precise, intricate steps involved in the crafting of these fine pieces.

This gentleman is beginning to carve a design in a large vase with a sharp metal tool. Vases of different shapes are made and some of them are quite large in size. The shapes of Korean celadon vases bear some similarity to the traditional shapes of Chinese porcelain vases, but over time Korean potters have tweaked the details of the shapes so that today these pieces are uniquely Korean.

Not only are the carvers required to be skilled in their technique, but their designs must flow gracefully with the curvature and complement the form of the piece.

After each piece in carved, the incisions are carefully filled in with colored clay slip that will change to the final colors during the firing. If you look closely at the photographs above and below, you can see where the colored slip has been added. All of these pieces are awaiting the final glazing and firing steps.

Some pieces are hand-painted, too, which adds to the sophistication, beauty and value of the piece.

Here is a magnificent piece in all its glory on display in the museum.

We learned that Korean celadon is made in three colors: blue, green and yellow (a tone that is more grey-blue than actual yellow). The pieces are given a translucent glaze, while Chinese celadons receive an opaque glaze. There are 6 steps in the process from potters wheel ( or mold ) to finished piece, but the three most crucial steps in celadon production are: throwing, carving and glazing. The carving and inlay process was developed in Korea during the 12th century, which is considered the pinnacle of celadon development.

After we visited the museum we were invited to visit the Department of Ceramic Crafts at Munkyung College. After a tour of the facility, Professor Yoo Tae Keun showed us how to make a carving tool out of an old metal umbrella rib.

Celadon carvers make their own tools and use three variations of tip for cutting and incising. Afterwards, he showed us how to incise a piece of copper, which, unbeknownst to us, was going to be used as a clapper for the celadon bells that his students had made for us to take home.

Such a thoughtful remembrance of our visit!! Our bells are hanging in our sun room where we can enjoy them everyday.

For those visiting Korea, Gangjin holds a Gangjin Celadon Festival each August which celebrates all things celadon.

The only sour note to this story is that we were just informed that the Korean celadon tea infuser mugs pictured at the top of this post have been discontinued. We are saddened by this news as they have always been popular. For those interested in owning one of these cups, we only have 12 pieces left. Click here to find them on our website

Enchanted by South Korea, Part 1

This spring Bob and I had the pleasure of beginning our 2010 Asian tea sourcing trip in South Korea. We were keen on sourcing some lovely Korean green tea for our tea enthusiast customers ( we did, and it will be arriving SOON ), visiting with Korean potters, drinking tea and learning about Korea’s unique tea culture.

Happily, we experienced all of this and more. We feasted on delicious, regional foods, both spicy and not so spicy. We encountered warm welcomes and genuine hospitality and were awed by the serene beauty of mountains and valleys that came and went from our sight as we traveled from Seoul to places that took us east then south. All we met who were connected to tea or tea ceramics were gracious and welcoming of our questions and desire to learn about their tea and tea culture. We lusted over beautiful teawares and other ceramics such an ongi potsand vowed to return next year.

In Seoul we had the opportunity to spend time with Brother Anthony of Taize. For those who are not familiar with him, this gentleman has done much to advance knowledge of Korean tea and has written extensively in English about Korean tea production, harvesting, production techniques, etc. When we were writing our book, The Story of Tea ( and found it difficult at that time to locate information in English about Korean tea and tea culture ) we found Brother Anthony.

We  developed a correspondence with him that was helpful to our research and also piqued our interest in visiting Korea. He was exactly as we imagined him to be – with a warm nature and a kind heart. He made it feel as if we were visiting with an old friend whom we had not seen for some years rather than someone we were meeting for the first time. We shared food, visited temples together, and of course, drank and talked ‘tea’.

From Seoul we traveled to Mungyeong for the Mungyeong Traditional Tea Bowl Festival. This is an invitation-only event for potters who specialize in tea bowls to come and sell their wares at the festival.  The invitation is not just for Korean potters but is extended to tea bowl potters worldwide to represent their country at the festival. We met potters from Australia, the Czech Republic, England, France, Iceland, Japan, the Netherlands, and Sweden, and still there were many we did not meet. It was a wonderful show and we saw some fine, distinctive work, but we had come to Korea to see and touch traditional Korean-made tea bowls.

With the help and guidance of Arthur Park and his wife Mary, we had an opportunity to visit with potters who were not exhibiting at the festival.  Arthur and Mary are very interesting folks who have  been leading ceramic and cultural trips to Korea for close to 30 years.  Arthur is Korean and also a tea bowl potter, so his interest in Korea runs deep and true. Arthur and Mary are wonderful embassadors for Korea – spending time with them makes it clear how much they love Korea. It is their mission to introduce others to the Korea that they cherish.

During our few days in Mungyeong we had the chance to meet several famous Korean potters and visit with them in their studios.  These artisans are highly respected for crafting tea bowls, tea cups and tea pots that are traditionally Korean. Each of these potters is a unique personality and their work reflects their outgoing or reflective nature. Despite the differences in their work, all of their pieces all command high prices. Traditional Korean pottery is especially prized by discriminating Japanese collectors and a broad range of  international ceramics collectors, museums and galleries. While pieces such as the ones we saw ( and acquired ! )  are not easily obtainable in the USA, it is Arthur’s hope to introduce these artisans and their work to American tea enthusiasts.

Here are some examples of the pieces we brought home with us and pictures of the artists who made them. We will highlight more Korean potters that we met and their tea wares ( and feature celadon ware, too )  in Part 2 of this post in the near future.

detail of footring

tea cups by Chon Han-bong

tea container by Chon Han-bong

tea cups by Arthur Park and a ddok cha from the Baeknyeon-sa Temple

a distinguished cast of characters

Clockwise from top center:  Sul Young Jin, Oh Soon Teak, Kim Jeong Ok ( National Important Intangible Cultural Property no. 105 in Sagijang The Art of Ceramics), Chon Han-bong ( Intangible Cultural Asset No. 32-B of the Province of Gyeongsangbuk-do )

We are appreciative of the opportunities that Brother Anthony and Arthur and Mary provided us with in Korea. They opened doors and made things happen for us that would have been difficult otherwise.

While this was our 5th tea sourcing trip to Asia, the sad fact is that not many in the tea business in America travel to other countries to learn about tea or tea culture first hand. Reading about tea is one thing; actually visiting remote tea gardens and watching tea being manufactured in the tea factories, or listening to an artisan tea bowl potter explain how his pieces relate to the cultural tea traditions of his or her country is something that we find essential.  This type of travel is difficult and not without pitfalls or problems, but nothing of value, especially knowledge, is ever obtained easily.

Traveling to the sources of  tea production is something that, for us, is essential to selling premium tea and to educating others. Learning about the differences in tea production from country to country and within each region of each country is a vast undertaking that is comprised of details and minutia that apply to one place but  not another. It requires much observing, explanation, and reliable, accurate translation. It is a lifelong process that cannot be fully learned or completely understood in a few trips. One cannot really grasp it from a distance.

And we rely so much on the selfless efforts of friends and colleagues abroad who share with us the common goal of educating tea enthusiasts in the west and spreading tea knowledge.

 To visit Arthur Park’s website, click on this link:

http://teatourkorea.com

To read more about the Mungyeong Traditional Tea Bowl Festival, click here:

http://sabal21.com

To meet Brother Anthony click here:

http://hompi.sogang.ac.kr/anthony