Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Cha Chan Bad Chim (Korean Tea Coasters) Part I: White Ceramic Coasters By Park Sung Il

Some teawares such as cups, pots, and bowls are almost an obsession amongst people who seriously drink tea. This is understandable because out of all the teaware cups, pots, and bowls directly affect the flavour, taste, feel, and qi of the tea the most. But today lets look at an often overlooked piece of teaware- the tea coaster.

One reason for the tea coaster's lack of attention is the fact that not all tea cultures use them, in fact, most in Asia don't. Japanese teaware mainly focuses on matcha and the ceremony surrounding it and coasters are not necessary in the gong fu setup of China where cups are usually set right on the tea table or a tea tray. In Japan and in China, when they do use them, they often prefer metal coasters. Out of all the teawares that could be made of metal, the tea coaster is, from a Feng Shui perspective, the best place for metal in the arrangement of teaware. It acts to balance all the elements on the table by anchoring (or controlling) any excessive energies that might be present. From this view, having metal under the tea cup makes perfect sense.

In Korea, because of the way teaware is arranged, the coaster is commonly used. Koreans rarely use metal coasters or any metal in their arrangement of teawares. You do see beautiful ceramic ones in use though. These pieces by artist Park Sung Il are real beauties...

These modest pieces are a good example of the natural beauty of Korean wares.

Firstly, they are functional. They are of the appropriate size which hold most Korean cups which tend to be larger that Chinese teacups but smaller than Japanese teacups. The top surface is slightly slanted towards the center so as to not allow the spilt tea to drip off the coaster. It also has four cute little legs which prevent a hot tea cup from transferring heat to whatever is underneath the coaster as well as giving it stability.

The shape of these coasters, although very simple, are quite beautiful. The shape has a quality about it that feels as thought it has just blossomed or formed. It gives the tea coasters the feeling of a cloud in the sky or the outside pedals of a blossoming flower. But it does so in a such a subtle way as not to draw attention away from the cup that sits atop, and the tea that rests in that cup. In this way these tea coasters teach one modesty when drinking tea.

The white colour of these pieces convey a sense of peace, purity, and simplicity. The colour white, although not a metal, vibrates with the frequency of metal- in some ways imitating its affect on the energy of the set up. Due to the nature of buncheong style teaware, these white coasters haven't retained their pure white look. They have darker cracks that are only brought out through usage. This is what gives them such natural beauty.

This beauty also teaches one a deep lesson. Although the purity of white is beautiful in its own, it can only stay pure if unused or if no tea touches its surface. If unused its even more beautiful state of infinitely small intricate pattern of cracks will never be revealed. Only though a subtle mistake, some sort of slightly careless action, or imperfect action can its true beauty be revealed.

The look of these coasters is not stable but always in a state of change. Like the wave of time or an aging peurh cake, in time and through more use the look of these coasters will change even more.



Cha said...

I enjoy your blog a lot, it is very useful for my education.
I am wondering how did you learn about Feng Shui.
I had some exposure to it from my martial arts backround . Reading about taoist martial arts and toism, I made contact with these concepts. I also apply them to cooking and whatever I can. However, it's a hard to actually apply them before you can feel them. I can feel the qi in tea, but I can not feel how to harmonize the surroundings ( including the tea ware). I feel it's not right , but I don't feel what it needs to be done. I hope you understand me and give me a hint. Perhaps some reading?
Thank you.

Matt said...

Mr. Cha,

One has learned about Feng Shui using the same method of learning that one uses for a bunch of other things- through: experience and observation, reflection and meditation, transmission of knowledge through teachers, and self study.

By your comment, it sounds as though you have a well rounded education in Feng Shui. It sounds like you are quite good at using your intuition to feel out the energy and can tell if it feels right or that something is not right. To feel the energy is one thing- to know how to correct it or manipulate it is another. And this part takes time.

Advice on strengthening your Feng Shui abilities will not only require reading but also experimenting with the set up of your teahouse, teaspace, teatable, and the arrangement of teaware, visiting some teahouses or teamaster's teaspaces, studying under someone well versed in the art of Feng Shui, and deep reflection during all of this. Some advice on reading would be to simply read, understand, discuss, and reflect deeply on the Chinese Classics and classic Chinese theory. Once your understanding of these works begin to grow you can apply the knowledge to anything from Feng Shui to Tea.

One is no teamaster, but expect some posts in the future about specifics on tea and Feng Shui. ;)


geneviève meylan said...

I like these coasters very much and it was a surprise to see the under side of them ! the little feet can make them be on a level over the table , it is subtile and is like a steam of flower .

Cha said...

Thank you.
There is a problem in contacting tea masters, because there are none here. From time to time i have the opportunity to travel to Hong Kong, but my tea time there is limited. And, it's hard to just drop in to a tea master and say "hi, I want to see your space and learn from you".

In fact, to just post a comment here, I waited many posts.

Because I can't access real tea masters, most of my education is done via internet, studying blog like yours, and of course, brewing a lot of tea.
I am lucky enough to have contact to martial arts masters and that helps me a lot. For me , the state of mind is similar, learning there translates in tea experience.
However, I know from my training that our brain likes to deceive us, so I am constantly looking for feedback. That's why i setup a blog , a flickr and a twitter account so that I can connect to people and learn from them.
I will be looking forward to your next posts. Thank you.

Matt said...


Nice to hear from you.

These coasters give a bit of separation from the surface they rest on. The effect is wonderful.

Glad you liked them.


it's hard to just drop in to a tea master and say "hi, I want to see your space and learn from you".

Hahaha... yes that's true.

Yeah, know what you mean by the scarcity of teamasters here in the west. There are no real teamasters hear on the island either. And even if there was you probably wouldn't just knock on their door and ask to look at their space.

But you are right that the knowledge of say a Gong Fu or Tai Chi master does cross the line. Or even a Monk, or a Traditional Chinese Medicine Doctor. These are good resources to tap into.

Never hesitate to ask any questions about anything here on this blog. One will always do the best to answer them.