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Tea and the Tea Ceremony

"The simple elegance and subdued beauty of celadon tea ware adds quiet peace to a relaxing moment with a cup of your favorite tea."

Tea History

     Tea was fist discovered about 2700BC and was first cultivated around 350AD in China. The first recorded tea ceremony was held in China about 800AD but in Korea the first offering of tea to an ancestral god was believed to have been performed in the year 661.
     Since then tea culture in Korea developed initially as a way to make Buddhist offerings during ancestral worship, but eventually was embraced by the Confucian scholars, and the Taoists as well. The Buddhists felt the stimulating effect of the tea helped to bring them closer to the gods or ancestors. Later, the Confucian scholars during the Chosun Dynasty embraced the tea ceremony both as a way to make offerings to the ancestors, but also as a formal rite to be used during meditation and to help them relax and focus the mind. In fact, the use of the tea ceremony was so prevalent among the literati or scholars of the time (who were frequently also government officials) that it became a  common practice during meetings of government officials and became almost a part of the job. We can see the lingering effect of that today in modern Korea in which most business meetings are accompanied by a mandatory cup of tea or coffee. The Taoists also embraced tea drinking and the tea ceremony as a way of helping them find the "way" - the way to spiritual enlightenment - and to purify the mind. Today it is still used as a way to help one meditate, purify the mind, and reach spiritual enlightenment.

Types of Korean Green Tea

    Korean green tea can be roughly classified into three categories based primarily on the time the tea leaves were picked. The fist category is called U-jeon (우전) and consists of the first tea leaf buds that appear around  April 21. Of course the time varies slightly each year, but these first buds of the leaves are picked before they become too large and are used to make tea with the most delicate flavor and fragrance. The second classification is called Se-jak (세작) and are the slightly larger leaves that appear about 14 days after the first harvest. The third picking, Jung-jak (중작) are picked about 14 days after the second and all consecutive pickings for the rest of the year are classified as Dae-jak (대작). These last pickings are what is used to make most of green tea supplied in tea bags. It consists of pieces of larger tea leaves and has a stronger, somewhat harsher flavor than the first three pickings.

Types of Korean Green Teas

Caffeine in Green Tea

    While it is widely believed that green tea has less caffeine than other teas such as oolong, that is not necessarily true, and studies have found that all teas have about the same amount of caffeine. Green tea in teabags, however, does have slightly less caffeine than the more expensive teas and this can be attributed to the larger, lower quality leaves used in teabags.
    If caffeine is a concern for you, there is a method for removing a great deal of the caffeine in green tea. After steeping the leaves for the first time for several minutes, throw away the first batch of tea and you will be throwing away about 50% of the caffeine contained in the leaves as well.

Preparing Green Tea

    Korea has eight provinces and while each province has its own unique method of preparing green tea, below is a  common method that is familiar to all the provinces.
    The most basic equipment needed is a tea pot and cups. And while it is also nice to have a cooling bowl, it is not a necessity. Great tea can also be made using a teacup set with a internal strainers. It is also nice to have a tea container, but again, it is not a necessity.

Celadon Tea Ware

Using a tea set with a cooling bowl:
    Boiling water is too hot to make green tea - the extreme heat can burn the leaves and it tends to draw the bitter flavors out of the leaves. Boiling water should first be poured from the tea kettle into the cooling bowl where it should sit for a several minutes to attain the desired temperature. While the water cools, place the tea leaves into the pot. The chart below shows the amount of tea that should be used based on the number of cups of tea to be served (there are many different types of green teas, the chart below is a generalization based on the most common types). Refer to the instructions for your particular type of tea for the amount of tea and steeping time that best suits your tea.

Number of servings

Amount of tea leaves

Water temperature

Steeping time

10g = 2 1/2 teaspoons
60C = 140F
2 ½ min.

    Once the water is cooled, it is ready to be poured into the pot. After letting it steep for 2 ½ minutes, it should then be poured equally into the cups, and sipped slowly for maximum enjoyment. For a teapot set without a cooling bowl, the boiling water may first be poured into the cups and then left to cool in them for several minutes before it is poured into the teapot. The tea leaves should be used three times, and then washed out of the teapot with water.

Using a cup set with strainers:
    Again boiling water is too hot to make green tea so the water can either be let to cool some in the kettle, or poured into the cups with the strainers removed. The strainer can be placed on its lid and the tea can be put into the strainer while the water is cooling in the cup. After the water is cooled the strainer can be lowered into the water and then removed and placed back on the lid after steeping.


    While many think the quality of the water cannot have an impact on the taste of the tea, nothing could be farther from the truth. The taste and fragrance of the better teas are so delicate that the wrong water - that is water containing chlorine, hard minerals, or other additives - can destroy the delicate aroma and taste of the tea. The best water to use for tea is fresh spring water or a good quality bottled spring water. The water can be boiled in any vessel but a non-reactive one is the best. Ceramic coated pots or teapots, are the best, while bare aluminum vessels are the worst as the aluminum is very reactive and tends to add a metallic flavor to the water.

Laying out the Tea Ware

    The tea ware should be laid out on a small low tea table or a Gyo-ja-sang (교자상). Though the placement of the various pieces is different for each province and school of thought, below is listed a general guide that is the most common.
    As shown in the photo below, the teapot is placed on the right side of the table near the front (the side nearest the server). The cooling bowl directly beyond it, the tea container is placed in the center of the table, towards the back, and the cups placed on the left towards the back and usually face down. A small spoon and a small scoop are usually placed either between the teapot and the cooling bowl, as shown here, or beyond the cooling bowl on the back edge of the table. To the right of the table is either a kettle with boiling water, a thermos with hot water, or as in this case, both. Prior to the ceremony beginning the entire table and the tea ware should be covered with a cloth. There is also usually a waste water bowl to the side for discarding the unused water and used tea leaves.

Laying out the Tea Ware

Preparing the Tea

    Drinking green tea is an art in itself, and the rhythm and ritual of the ceremony is an aid to help the mind relax and achieve a higher level of spiritual enlightenment. In order to achieve that, the following movements are all performed with slow grace, and in a very smooth, controlled and artful motion. First the cloth cover is removed from the top of the table and the tea ware. Next with the right hand the lid of the tea container is removed and placed on a stand (not shown) or on the table in front of the container, and then the lid of the teapot is removed in the same manner. Then with the left hand the tea container is picked up, and with the right hand the spoon is used to place the proper amount of tea in the teapot. The tea container is then returned to its place and the lid restored At this time, hot water from the kettle is poured into the cooling bowl and one must wait the appropriate amount of time for the water to cool sufficiently - generally one to two minutes.  After the water is cooled, the bowl should be lifted with two hands and the water poured gently into the teapot, then the cooling bowl placed back on the table. The lid is then placed on the teapot, and the tea is allowed to steep for the proper amount of time (in some cases, water from the cooling bowl is also poured into the teacups to pre-heat them, and then poured out into the waste water bowl). The tea is then poured into the cups and served. After drinking the first cup of tea, the last steps of pouring the water into the cooling bowl, then into the teapot, and then into the cups is repeated two more times. Each time a serving of tea leaves is placed in the teapot they are steeped three times.

Drinking Green Tea

    As mentioned above, the tea leaves should be steeped three times, and each time a cup of tea is served, the cup should be sipped from three times, sipping about a third of the cup each time. The tea drinkers should be seated on the floor either on their legs, or cross-legged in front of the serving table. After the tea is poured into the cups, the cup should be picked up with the right hand and the left hand placed flat under the cup and then with the elbows slightly out to ones side, the hands and cup are brought up together to the mouth. Prior to sipping the tea, the delicate fragrance of the tea should first be enjoyed by holding the cup under your nose and inhaling deeply. After a moment, the tea should be sipped lightly and rolled over the tongue while savoring the fragrance and taste. After the tea is swallowed there remains an aftertaste that should be enjoyed for its own unique flavor before taking your next sip of tea. After the first sip, the cup is then brought down to the level of the belly and held there while the drinker breathes and clears the mind of thoughts while focusing ones energy into the area of the body behind the belly button. After the second sip of tea the cup should be brought to the middle of the torso, and again, one should breathe, clear the mind of thoughts and feel the energy flow from the middle of the chest. The third and last sip should drain the cup, and then the cup is brought down to the upper part of the chest and the breathing, mind clearing and energy focusing repeated.

Drinking Green Tea

Enjoying the Experience

    Green tea is said to be an aid to digestion after a meal and some claim it helps the complexion as well. It has no calories and is much lower in caffeine than coffee. But the real joy in drinking green tea is the experience.
    Drinking green tea should be a calming experience that brings peace to your soul, and calms your nerves while allowing you time to think, dream or simply enjoy the fragrance and taste of the tea.

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