Saturday, July 7, 2012

Drinking Loose Korean Green Tea as Prepared in the Seon (Zen) Tea Ceremony

A Korean Buddhist Seon monk years ago had performed this ceremony. One carefully recorded the details of it but very rarely practice this type of tea ceremony. The tea ceremony you normally see photographed here on MattCha's Blog is an every day tea ceremony, scholar's tea ceremony, or powdered tea ceremony.

Tea ceremonies in Korea are either performed for guests, for ancestors, for yourself, or for Buddha. They are either in the form of a mediation, performance, and/ or offering. Seon tea ceremonies are done both as a meditation and as an offering. In fact the Seon monk that performed this tea ceremony did it strictly as an offering to Buddha and did not imbibe any of the tea. He was in deep meditation while performing and a serene peace surrounded the whole ceremony.

It should be noted that just because a Korean Seon monk performs a tea ceremony, does not mean that the ceremony is a "Seon tea ceremony". It can instead be an everyday tea ceremony, a scholar's tea ceremony, or a powdered tea ceremony. What makes a Korean tea ceremony a "Seon tea ceremony" is that it includes certain elements. First is must embody the principles of Seon. The Seon tea ceremony is done to deepen mediation and as an offering of tea to Buddha. Second, the hands in this ceremony are placed over the dan tian in the form of Korean Seon meditation. Other tea ceremonies place hands over the theigh or over the dan tian following the manners of Confucianism with the left hand over the right if you are male and right hand over the left if you are female. Most other recognized tea ceremonies of Korea follow the principles of Confucianism. Third, all of the Seon tea ceremonies that one has witnessed begin by placing the tea implements out over a modest coloured matting. Fourth, there is usually chanting, silent prayer, or silent meditation involved in the ceremony. Fifth, after the tea is prepared in the Seon tea ceremony it is always lifted with both hands above the head, a gesture of offering whether the tea is consumed or left as an offering.

Today it seems fitting that one perform such things. The tea of choice 2012 ZeDa Saejak, especially fitting because it seems to perform better under a touch warmer water and because this tea is completely hand picked and produced by a single Korean monk from the tea fields surrounding his hermitage. No video of this ceremony exists and it has not been previously reported on in English. Please sit down with a cup of tea and a clear head and share in the peace of this ceremony...

First a modest grey cloth matting is mindfully laid out and the tea implements are placed out as seen in the first photo. One sits in Seon to meditate for a while. When a rolling boil of water is heard from the brazier, one comes out of this meditative state and a gourd laddle, a pyo choo bak, is used to pour the boiling water into the ceremonial kettle called a Suju. This kettle is placed over a tea warmer, a candle is lit, and placed under the ceremonial kettle. Fire meets Earth and Water. The bamboo scoop and white hemp cloth are then removed from the tea bowl. One's clothes are arranged and mediation continues for a few more minutes in Seon as the birds chirp outside the window on this overcast and cool summer day.

The suju is picked up and brought over the tea bowl. Slowly the water is poured into the bowl. The white inside of the tea bowl flowers with water spots as the hot water seeps into the small imperfections of the bowl. After enough water has filled the bowl, about one centimeter of depth, the suju is placed back at top the tea warmer.

One once again sits in meditation for a few minutes with ones hands in Seon as the heat penitrates, warms, and purifies the bowl and mind. The bowl is then grasped with both hands and is brought to the dan tian. The bowl then angled such that the water almost reaches the distal edge of the bowl then the water is brought around the bowl almost touching the edge clockwise. When the water once again reaches the distal lip of the bowl, the water is discarded into the dirty water bowl, the tae soo gi.

The pure white hemp cloth is then slowly unfolded, ones mind follows shortly afterwards. It is then placed over the bowl.

The tea caddie is grasped with both hands and pulled to the dan tian. The lid is removed, the subtle odour from the tea released, and the lid is placed in the spot where the caddie sat on the grey matting. The bamboo scoop is picked up and placed over the lip of the tea caddie and two scoops of leaves are removed from the caddie. The leaves are placed on the white hemp cloth. The lid is replaced and the caddie is put back.

The suju is picked up once again and brought about a foot over the tea bowl. The warm water is poured in an outward spiral pattern starting in the center of the bowl and very slowly spiraling outward. As the warm water embraced the leaves a wonderful subtle green forest odour is emitted.

The suju is placed back on the warmer and the hemp cloth is folded up so as all the remaining tea liquor can drain. When the last dew-like drops have seeped out, it is placed aside.

The soft green colour of the liquor in the bowl is admired. The bowl is grasped with two hands and lifted up to the head in offering. The tea bowl is brought to the lips and the tea is imbibed.

The taste is soft, subtle, fresh green forest with pine nut nuances. The mouthfeel is full in the mouth and has a light, smooth-fuzziness to it. The aftertaste has a soft frosty, barely sweet, edge with subtle creamy-floral tastes.

The qi pushes ones mind just a touch deeper in meditation.



charlotte billabongk said...

Very interesting. I imagine quite well this ceremony. Tea prepared in mindfulness and great concentration is a very intense moment, just being present to the present...

I'm also glad to find information on korean tea culture on your blog. Since several months, I've been looking all over the web for korean tea information, and it's not so easy. So thanks for sharing, it's actually very precious for my researches.

Thanks again.

Em said...

It looks like Korean tea is blowing up right now in the blogosphere, especially from those who went to the World Tea Expo, but this is the best post I've seen about it so far.

Matt said...

charlotte billabongk,

Happy that you could feel the feel of this tea ceremony. Hahaha...

There is a bunch of info on Korean tea in the achives of MattCha's Blog that can be accessed on the right hand side of the page. Happy researching!


Every month you can see more and more posts on Korean tea. It is definitely a growing scene. Thanks for the kind words.


Centranthus said...

Matt, what a beautiful post. Oft times before a solo tea session, I will just sit on the floor by the table, eyes closed, and just relax. Experience has proven (to me, anyway) that a "rushed" session feels like a session shouldn't have been had at all - which is why I'm hesitant to brew at work where there are time constraints.

Your session sounded most peaceful. Did you attempt a "blanking" of your mind, or was it more of keeping positive thought? Was someone on your mind and you were drinking in their honour, so to speak? Just curious.


hster said...

Dear Matt,

You do Koreans proud!!! I've often felt a jealous twinge concerning the predominance of Japanese or Chinese tea culture, but your blog really unveils the unique identity of Korean tea culture.


Matt said...


"a rushed session feels like a session shouldn't have been had at all"

Good advice. You should always consider time when deciding how you should prepare your tea. Obviously this type of preparation is best if you have no time constraints. If at work or in a rush you can always consume the tea in a more fitting manner.

One prefers to use this guy:

This tea session one "blanked" hahaha...


Will continue to make you proud! Hahaha...

Thanks so much for the kind words.


Centranthus said...

"One prefers to use this guy:" -

Now, THAT is a cool little piece. I did just pick up a little travel gongfu set over the weekend, and it will be perfect for a session of hongcha or perhaps oolong - something difficult to screw up.

By the way, I wanted to thank you, as your post (positively) affected me:


discipleofthetealeaf said...

beautiful. honestly. thank you for sharing this session... it almost feels like an invasion of privacy to read the entry.

Matt said...


It is good to have the right equipment that matches what you want of your tea. Think people get frustrated or feel rushed when these things don't harmonize.


Please, feel free to invade whenever you wish! Hahaha...


Anonymous said...

Perform :) not preform.

Matt said...


That cleared up 8 typos!

If you readers see anymore, please leave a comment.



The Teaist said...

Really, really lovely. Am quite new to Asian methods of making and taking tea and this was a delight to read. Stunning photography as well. Thank you for providing me with a peaceful and mindful moment!


Matt said...

The Teaist,

Good luck in exploring this whole new way of looking at tea.