Monday, May 16, 2011

Korean Tea Classics Book Club- Dong Cha Song- Hymn In Praise of Korean Tea- 1

"The thickly-growing leaves struggle with sleet to stay green during the winter, its white flowers blossom splendid in autumn, bathed in frost."

Feel free to join the online book club at anytime by simply purchasing Korean Tea Classics. Dong Cha Song is 17 stanzas in length, we will go through each stanza week by week. Jump in and join the discussion as you please.



LTPR said...

So glad to begin this :) And I have many questions for you! I hope not too many :) (my apologies up front for any "silly questions" I end up asking!). In the introduction, it's mentioned that Cho-ui had spent time learning tea from Dasan Jeong Yak-Yong, and elsewhere it's mentioned that Yak-Yong drank tea in the manner of the Tang practice (toasting and grinding the tea and adding a bit of salt). When reading this text, can one assume that Cho-ui is referring to this particular style of tea?

What is meant by the virtues of the tangerine? Is this referring simply to all that can be appreciated in a ripe tangerine (color, texture, fragrance, taste, etc), or does the tangerine also speak to a specific traditional symbolism?

"living in the southern regions" -- meaning a certain region where tea grows in Korea?

I can't help but assume that these old tea texts, which are often written by monks, may look very matter-of-fact on the surface (a sort of "how to prepare good tea" manual) but are also speaking metaphorically of specifically spiritual matters. In this passage I can appreciate the acknowledgement of the hardships life often brings, of endurance and perseverance. I'm curious to know your 'take' on this passage, beyond the face of the words (if you have such a take :)
- bev

Matt said...


The more questions/ discussion the better the book club will be and the more we will all learn!

In reference to DaSan. One was combing references trying to find the comment that stated that DaSan drank Tang style tea. It seems much more likely that he drank loose leaf green- this is what one always assumed. He lived on top a mountain that was abundant with tea bushes ("tea mountain" is not only the location of where he lived but also became his tea name "Da"= tea, "San" mountain). Because of the ease of obtaining fresh green leaves and because drinking loose leaf green tea was the tea of choice among Confucian scholars at that time, of which group DaSan ascribed to, it seems most likely that he would have consumed loose green tea. This is what one had always thought.

It could be a possibility that he drank both cake (ddok cha) and loose leaf green tea considering his connections with the temple and the Buddhist community?

One had always assumed that Dong Cha Song was just about Korean tea in general not any specific type of tea. Although, now that you mentioned it, in ones mind it was probably Korean green tea that was pictured. See, there you go- ones mind is already starting to think in new ways about this work! :)

In reference to using the metaphor of the tangerine plant as the tea plant.

Think on some level it speaks to what you had mentioned- "to all that can be appreciated in a ripe tangerine (color, texture, fragrance, taste, etc)"

On this level it may be in reference to "Buddha's First Teaching" about the appreciation and reality of all things. See here:

One also can draw a comparison of the taste of a tangerine to the taste of tea- it encompass a balance of all five flavours- but particularly the sweet flavour which is also valued in tea.

The comparison between the tangerine plant and the tea plant also speaks at other similaities: they both share a similar habitat, they are both evergreen plants, they have both been cultivated in China for about the same time, they are both known for there medicinal properties (some of which include- quenching thirst, strengthening the body, calming the mind), they are both considered symbols of abundence, good fortune, and health.

But perhaps the most obvious in this stanza is the comparison that the tangerine plant and the tea plant both seem of perfect, almost heavenly, in design. They both struggle to stay alive amongst winter's most unbearable conditions but somehow manage to not only survive but thrive- the tangerine bearing its fruit resembling the warm sun in the middle of winter, often riddled by frost, and the tea plant with its autumn flowers defying natures normal routine and flowering amid the frigid, frosty conditions of autumn and sprouting its first buds in the earliest of spring. Both of these plants seem to defy the normal plan of nature- something that could only happen with the perfect "wedding" of heaven and earth.

And as you stated these qualities in the tea plant allow the drinker to "appreciate the acknowledgement of the hardships life often brings, of endurance and perseverance."


Matt said...


"living in Southern regions" is referring to the fact that tea cannot grow in the northern regions of China, Korea, or Japan.


Anonymous said...

Let's start with a new book to study; that's great!

and elsewhere it's mentioned that Yak-Yong drank tea in the manner of the Tang practice (toasting and grinding the tea and adding a bit of salt)

Is the Tang practice related to Matt's and Steve's comments about Zhaozhou, a Chinese Zen master of the Tang dynasty? — see

virtues of the tangerine

One should also note that oranges and tangerines are traditional symbols of prosperity and good fortune. We as often as not see them during New Year feasts.

P.-S.: I can't help thinking about Suzanne by Leonard Cohen, an impressive song I recently heard in the stunning movie Breaking the Waves… “And she feeds you tea and oranges // that come all the way from China”

The tea tree is really a bond between Earth and Heaven. The three components of a gaiwan.

LTPR said...

Matt and Julien -- thank you (love that note about the Cohen lyrics!). Didn't know that about the gaiwan, either (the three components, but what are they?).

About my comment regarding Dasan Jeong Yak-Yong and Tang-style tea -- in the introduction of the book (assuming you have the same book I do, ordered from your link Matt) there's a letter quoted written by Yak-Yong in his old age (pages 9 and 10). He write, "It is essential to steam the picked leaves three times and dry them three times, before grinding them very finely. Next that should be thoroughly mixed with water from a rocky spring and pounded like clay into a dense paste that is shaped into small cakes. Only then is it good to drink." Matt, would this be the Ddok Cha you've written about?

Matt said...

Julien ELIE,

Maybe Leonard Cohen was talking about Buddhist teachings too... Hahaha...

See here:


Sounds like ddok cha- Tang style tea. Thanks for pointing that out.


Anonymous said...

the gaiwan, either (the three components, but what are they?

saucer + cup + lid
It is often said that the saucer represents the Earth below and the lid, the sky above. The leaves are within, inside the cup. (Or the Man, instead of the leaves, if you prefer.)

Matt said...


Notes on stanza 1:

"Heaven and Earth wed together... it obeys their command."

This quote lays out at the very beginning that the tea plant has a divine source. It is reasonable to assume that what comes from this plant (tea) is also divine. Following this reasoning, all experience that comes from tea has a divine origin. This first stanza establishes reverence for such things.

Conversely, it states that Heaven and Earth (not Man) control and command the tea plant. This speaks to the tea growers and asserts that tea is something that cannot be controlled but that which is simply accepted as a gift from God, from nature. A lesson that seems even more pertinent today with all the agricultural technology employed in producing tea. In the end, it is these things beyond the control of man which dictates how well the harvest is.

The tangerine is also used at the very beginning as a metaphor, teaching us about tea. This parallels Buddha's first teaching. In Buddha's teaching he reveals the nature of all things and how we should appreciate them. This comparison is used in this text to challenge readers to appreciate tea on this level.