Thursday, July 31, 2008

Drinking Tea with a Stranger on the Street

A few days ago in the sweltering heat of the Korean Summer one shared tea with an old lady. One was traveling with two half iced bottles of sencha draped around ones waist. The cool emitting from the bottles caused condensation that imitated ones perspiring body.

As one reached the top of a low rolling mountain that was much more a hill than a mountain, one came across an old weathered lady. Her skin leathery, her teeth missing, dressed in commoners hanbok her smile radiated outward.

She is a lady that looked like she lived a thousand lives in just this one. She is a lady that one has seen before.

Her smile caught me and she implored me to sit down in the shade of her front porch where she enjoyed the clear blue sky, the flowers, and the light breeze.

One sat down beside her, handed her a small paper cup, unscrewed the lid of the bottle and then poured the freshly melted tea into her cup and then into my cup. We spoke simply to each other, enjoying the fluffy clouds and clear sky, and the sound of a chirping cicada in the trees. We shared refreshing tea in this way for only a minute or two before continuing on my way.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tae Soo Gi, A Dirty Water Bowl

Dirty water pools in you like a lowly marsh, yet everything about you is far from low. The water in you now was once bubbling from a fresh pristine mountain spring. It was taken from the mountain before traversing the waters path from mountain streams, into rivers, then fed back into the sea or perhaps, by chance, making its way to an unmoving algae covered swamp.

Instead, the water contained in you traversed a different path but, in all of its differences, in spirit, it is almost the same. The water taken from mountain springs, before being thrust upon the outer clay of a yixing pot, the dusty glaze of a rarely used tea cup, the dirty green shallow of a chawan, or over the dusty filth of old peurh leaves, washing them clean, purifying them.

Then falling on such natural clay, the clay of the earth, clay of a tea table, the clay of Kim Kyoung Soo's kiln. Draining from high places to low before laying idle, still, unmoving in your natural shallow.

In you browns like that of the earth console what was once pure.

In you greens like that of the life that you give to what was once dead.

Blacks cast shadows over still waters.

Whites enlighten ones spirit. The white of the brushstroke, validating your beauty. Making you no less beautiful than the chawan that rests high on the shelf with such a similarly mindful gye yal.

Oh what a shame such dirty, filthy water lies within something so beautiful as you.

You and only you can make such filth look so beautiful once more in stillness. In stillness, one sits in mediation contemplating these things.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Correction Notice and Introduction of Ceramicist Yun Sung Woun

Posted on this blog a few weeks ago was a story about drinking tea by the foot of the cauldron. One particular white cracked serving pot got a little attention.

One thought it was made by potter Kim Kyoung Soo. After asking the owner about the other beautiful pot in the post, one realized that a mistake had been made. The eye grabbing serving pot as well as the white ash speckled and cracked tea pot were both made by artist Yun Sung Woun not Kim Kyoung Soo as initially suspected.

Yun Sung Woun's works have been quite poplar in Korea. His cha hang a ree or large tea storage containers are particularly wonderful.

One style of cha hang a ree that is quite beautiful features a spinning, swiveling, cylindrical look.
One other style that has become popular features a square container that looks as if its made from old buckling wood boards or perhaps the bark of a tree. An interesting home for tea leaves indeed.

Unlike most Korean artists he has his own homepage where he displays large amounts of his art. Check it out by clicking on the 2nd link on the bottom left of the page, then just click on the dates. There's enough beautiful teaware pictured there to keep you happy and busy for a while.

The pictures at the end of this link feature some of his most interesting large tea containers, the media at the start are some of his wife's stunning works.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pushing Puerh: A Tasting of 2006 Jinggu Yunchun Tea Factory Puerh

A few days ago, one brought the water to a boil to in order to prepare a sample of puerh a friend had removed from a bing a few days earlier. The dry leaves smelt very sweet, leathery, with tones of licorice.

One prepared the tea as one would any other puerh before drinking a cup. The first infusion felt very smooth and watery on the tongue with a sweet woody dough taste. Not bad for the first infusion.

The second infusion bore similar results without much change in the flavour profile. One couldn't help but think that something was lacking in this tea. The mouthfeel was watery not full.

One pushed the tea a little harder to get something out of it during the forth infusion but still very little changed. The tea, although not bad at all, just didn't seem complete, as if lacking a defining front note. Its aftertaste soft and leathery with a subtle camphor flavour.

The fourth infusion one pushed a little harder, still with similar outcomes.

One then decided that there was no point in fighting with this tea, so giving in to the tea, one just decided to enjoy the tea for its own sake. After making this decision and accepting the tea, it tasted much better.

A few days later one prepared what was left of the sample, just accepting it for what it is, and not pushing it into something it wasn't. One enjoyed it much more. In this way this sample taught one a lesson about life. One will never truly enjoy life if we are always trying to be someone we are not, when we just accept who we are and just be, we will truly enjoy what life has in store for us.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sel Young Jin's Snowy Night

Coming from the extreme heat of the Korean summer, to the air conditioned cool, one sits down to enjoy a bowl of matcha.

One selects a beautiful piece by Sel Young Jin, one that emulates cool, its name, 'Snowy Night'.
The Yame matcha prepared within froths and bubbles with delight, how happy it is to lay within such a cool place. It's radiance beaming from its heady froth, reflecting off the uncut, rugged lip of the bowl.

As one's hands reach for the bowl, pleasurable tactile sensations abound, contradicting visual information. Although this bowl looks extraordinarily rough, it feels much softer and smoother. A thin translucent gloss is felt that blankets gritty earth and large pebbles underneath, like the first winter snowfall atop the mountain, it blankets the dead lifeless earth. Passifying it. Softening it. Beautifying it.

This bowl is gracefully disproportionate, exhibiting marked asymmetry. One side is rocky, earthy, dark brown, dotted with large white pebbles, imitating the slow elegant snowfall of big wet snowflakes, the first snowfall of winter. The other side is coated in thick white glaze blanketing a warped sidewall topped by an irregular protruding notch on the lip of the bowl. This white glaze is remarkably thick and soft on the fingers. The glaze is an accumulation of white, a fresh newly formed snowbank.

The contrast between the sides is so stark that if one were to only view one side of the bowl and then the other, they would surely think that they were viewing two separate bowls. But, now, cradling it in one's hands it seems so natural, so right. Each side completing each other, completing the story this bowl tells.

As one takes the final gulp of tea from this bowl, one's mind is chill. Reflecting on the light purple summer flower resting comfortably in Sel Young Jin's miniature ceramic vase, one is reminded that it is in fact summer. As one puts away the bowl and heads out side, stepping once more into the smug enveloping humidity and extreme heat of summer, one smiles knowing that in frigid winter months one will yearn for even a second of such sweltering heat.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Education In the Art of Gimhae Style

Bowl Number One by Jung Jum Gyo is the pricey piece. It displays many characteristics of an excellent chawan.

Firstly, the way in which the glaze sits on the bowl is absolutely beautiful. It is an excellent example of the method of applying glaze in drizzled little blobs wherein the clay underneath can peek through. This technique looks simple but is actually quite hard to master. One can best see this artistic element near the foot of the chawan where bloby glaze just barely covers the clay beneath.

Secondly, the cracking of the glaze inside the bowl is quite beautiful in this piece. The shallow of the bowl contains many fine dark cracks but as one's eyes move up the inside wall to the lip of the bowl the cracks slowly and gradually fade away before disappearing. This technique is also difficult to master in such a balanced, natural way.

Thirdly, the foot of this bowl conveys a sense of natural beauty, or 'wabi sabi' as Toki put it. The light glaze naturally blends, blotches, and fuses with the exposed clay in a way that is elegantly natural, far from jarring. It's four pieces supporting the bowl are extraordinarily thin. The swirling center appears pursed and cracked. This technique requires a skillful combination of intuitive glazing as well as appropriate firing. This piece was likely pushed to its limit under high heat in the kiln. If the heat in the kiln was too hot the four thin pieces would crack, if too low the cracked and pursed look could not be created. So, as you can see, this technique is also quite hard to master.

Fourthly, this piece conveys an overall naturalness to it that is especially prized by the Japanese and Koreans. The pale whiteish-pink colour, the form of the bowl, it's etchings, the way the glaze sits on the bowl, the elements of the foot all reflect a peaceful naturalness.

Bowl Number Two is also a excellent piece by Kim Kyoung Soo. The cracking of the glaze is particularly wonderful in this piece, if not a little overdone. Its glaze is also thickly applied and shiny, a characteristic of Kim Kyoung Soo's style. It's etching pattern is also quite intricate perhaps the best of the three and the colour subtle and natural with pink softly laying with creamy white. Such a beautiful piece.

Bowl Number Three by Kim Jeong Pill is a very interesting piece. It is probably the most eye catching and flamboyant of the three, the dark effect seen in the clay creating a stark contrast with the light glaze. The shallow of the bowl contains a beautiful swirl that also plays with the fine swirling brushed on technique found on the inside walls of the bowl. The beautiful circular pink flowering technique that is found on this piece characterizes most of Kim Jeong Pill's works.

Its foot is perhaps the most interesting feature of this bowl. The foot is glazed in such a way that the edges and bottom of the four pieces supporting the bowl are unglazed but slowly transition to ghostly white glaze accumulating in a swirling button. Its four pieces that support the bowl are all of different size and shape but yet appropriately support the bowl and create a sense of motion and change, exactly what this bowl is trying to convey. Although this bowl is stunning, it lacks the elements and feeling, subtlety and naturalness, found in traditional gimhae style bowls.

Thanks again for your wonderful commentary on these beautiful pieces. One hopes to do this again soon.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Test In the Art of Gimhae Style

Gimhae is a famous tea city in Korea with deep tea roots. It is here where most Koreans believe tea was first brought to Korea. Nowadays, Jukro Cha, a special variety of green tea that is said to have originated from the first tea brought to Korea, is still consumed.

The gimhae tea bowl style originated in the kilns surrounding this city in the 1600s. This style was much sought after by the Japanese tea masters around that time. Creamy pale cracked glaze over soft pinkish clay. Outer sidewalls of the bowl etched in a crisscrossing pattern imitating wind-blown grasses and reeds. Its foot composed of four notched out pieces arranged in a cross providing stability to the bowl.

Many Korean ceramicists attempt this famous style. The three beautiful bowls pictured are by three different living artists. Each bowl carries with it certain characteristics of the artist who made them. Each is, in and of themselves, beautiful examples of this style. And each holds merit in its individual beauty, but one of these bowls is worth more than a new car!

Just for fun one thought that one would test your ability to discern valuable ceramics.

Can you guess as to which bowl is the over-the-top expensive gimhae style chawan? What do you think makes it is the most valued?

All monetary judgments aside, which is your favorite out of the three? Why do you like that one?
Please don't be shy now, its just for fun!

From left to right: #1, #2, #3

Number One...

Number Two...

Number Three...

One will post the answer as to which is the breakin-the-bank expensive gimhae bowl in a few days.

Looking forward to hearing your opinions on these splendid pieces of art.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Marukyu-Koyamaen Aoarashi Matcha

The producer's name Marukyu-Koyamaen (or Seh San Won in Korean) means 'Small Mountain Hill”. The company's website details the long history of this well known tea produced from the hills it got its name from in Uji, Japan.

If one hopes to fully appreciate the top grade matcha from a producer one should first appreciate the lowest grade.
If one can drink the lowest grade matcha and still enjoy it for what it is, then surely one can fully enjoy the highest grade.

Today, one mindfully prepares the lowest of ten tea ceremony grades from Marukyu-Koyamaen, Aoarashi matcha. It's name means “Blue Mountain's Energy”. One can assure you that it has just that.

As one pops the lid and then carefully peels it off, the rich green smell of fresh matcha lifts into the surrounding air. The smell is almost smokey, not pure, and not entirely sweet, emulating its dark green colour. One can already smell the bitter elements of the tea overcoming most of the sweet.

This tea is prepared in ceremony, thanks is given, then it is consumed.

The layer of froth resting atop watery green sludge is thin, the density of bubbles low. As the tea makes way into one's mouth, green with a smokey, roasted, bitter-sweet taste sticks to the roof of one's mouth and the front of one's tongue. The mouthfeel is thin and drys out these targeted areas in the mouth.

The chaqi of Aoarashi is different than most. Its energy is soft and subtle, at first it is barely detectable then, as minutes and hours tick by, it slowly and softly builds up, like climbing one's way up a mountain top to experience the rising sun. This tea softly radiates “Blue Mountain's Energy”.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Subtropical Forest Baozhong

This Taiwanese tea comes from pristine conditions atop Wen Shan Mountain.

It's dry leaves dark, shriveled, with a few small stems release an odor when the foil pack is opened. The irresistible smell of syrupy sweet roasted cinnamon and fresh flowers are release in the air and cause one to put the foil pack over ones nose and huff, immediately intoxicating ones system.

Being it a Taiwanese tea, one steeps it in just under boiling water for long intervals, 'Taiwanese style'. The first infusion is spicy, and sweet similar to the way in which it smells. It leaves a slippery feeling all over the tongue and a spiciness at the back of the throat. The second is barely hasher and grittier with a slight dryness on the tongue and sweet floral scent on the breath. The third infusion most of the tea's complexity is lost to soft green-astringency, the aftertaste becomes more roasted spice and less floral. After steeping the leaves for the forth time, it is apparent that nothing much remains in the cup, all flavours are fleeting.

Because there was just enough leaves for another round one decides to now brew the remaining leaves 'Korean style' with much cooler water and for shorter intervals. The first infusion is soft pale and creamy smooth with floral throatiness. The second picks up a roasted sweetness as the flowery scent overcomes taste and smell. In the third, the smoothness starts to wane and a slight sharpness develops with a wheaty taste that hides behind floral notes. The forth infusion allows for the dryness of this tea to stretch out and thinly coat the tongue along with a recognizable greenness with less floral elements. In the fifth, the flavour has thinned right out but still retains its character. The sixth infusion is flatter than before but the floral elements have stamina and continue to impress. After the seventh infusion, the liqour is flat, slightly sweet, with its characteristic taste almost unrecognizable.

The energy of this tea was powerful its effects cascading through ones body into legs and arms, hands and feet, relaxing and energizing. It simply makes one feel good. This tea is a well processed tea with an excellent profile and great young green tea cha qi.

This well rounded tea is available at Tea Masters. Thanks Stephane for providing the wonderful sample.


Monday, July 14, 2008

How One Should Drink Samples of Tea

One drinks new tea, like one is meeting someone for the first time.

In this way the following quotations from Buddhist master, and current head of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, Beop Jeong, seem especially relevant. The following excerpts were taken from his book, May All Beings Be Happy.

In the world of tea, there is a phrase, “In one life, one meeting.”
It refers to the kind of karma that allows for but one meeting in an entire lifetime.
Looking across an individual's entire life,
and knowing that we have just this one time to share with them,
regarding it as the singular opportunity of a lifetime,
we cannot help but spend each moment meaningfully.

From “The Karma We Encounter But Once”

I want to send my warm gaze towards every single person I encounter.
Person by person, I want to become familiar with all of their faces.
I want to know their face, right here and now, such that in the next world, when I happen to chance across them on some street corner,
I can say, “Ah, well isn't it so-and-so?”
standing face to face, clasping their hand affectionately.

From “Autumn Is a Strange Season”


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Shin Hyun Churl Style Tea Set

This tea set is typical of artist Shin Hyun Churl.

The cups in this set are a delight to the senses. They have three circular windows in which one can view the beautiful edo clay. They feel just right in the hands as clay windows allow for the fingertips to enjoy the full tactile beauty the clay has to offer. Simultaneously, the eyes are able to view the smokey white glaze covering the rest of the cups. One wonders if the use of three windows might specifically imply that there is a certain auspiciousness that surrounds these cups and this set?

The tea caddy that comes with the set is of such unusual shape. Its long top protruding upward like the stem of a recently clipped flower blossom. The shape of this caddy is like no other it almost looks as though the lid of the caddy is a blossom turned face down in the fragrance of the dry tea leaves stored within. An interesting piece of an interesting set. The floral motif found in the caddy is carried through to the pot.

Shin Hyun Churl tea pots relay a sense of feminine floral lifelikeness. The clay and glaze compliments form to make them come alive. The large swirling flowering motif with the beautiful ebo clay blossoming in the center body of the pot exemplifies this motif.

The lids of Shin Hyun Churl pots are ornamentally topped with the motif of a budding lotus which is also seen in the lotus leaf shape of the plate that sits under the teapot. One must touch the lotus, removing the lid before tea can be prepared within the pot. In this way, the budding lotus design reminds us to prepare our minds for the awakening tea can offer us. Just as we prepare tea, we are also preparing our minds to drink tea.

Perhaps the most eye catching element of Shin Hyun Churl tea pots are their spouts. When viewed head on these spouts resemble the sensuous opening mouth of an orchid or ... ahem ... putting all metaphors aside, the ripe eager lips of a woman's vulva. When the last drops of tea drip from this scandalous spout, from pot, cup, lips, mouth, body, and mind our senses buzz with sensation. This pot reminds us to passionately use our senses when preparing and drinking tea. In a way it reminds us of the intimate experience that we share with tea when preparing and drinking it. The sensual orchid spout may also act as a warning against attaching oneself to the simple act of drinking tea.