Monday, July 13, 2009

Traditional Tea Ceremony

Last Thursday I participated in a traditional tea ceremony. I really had no idea what to expect from the ceremony, but it ended up being a really cool experience. Thank you to my roommate, Jennifer Li, for the pictures. I learned that drinking tea (traditionally) is actually more of mental and spiritual exercise than a way to refresh and entertain.

A group of 10 sat around three different "tea stations." We were led by a really sweet lady. I like to refer to her as the master tea leader. The process begins by, simply, "purifying" the dishes. So we kind of poured boiling water in each cup and pot.

Warning: super-embarrassing story coming.

Each tea station had a host. And, by luck of the draw, I was the host for my station. Well, I purified everything pretty well; no problems there. The next step was to pour water from the big pot to the big cup to the tea pot. Well, I poured a little too much water into the big cup, so when the tea pot started to fill up, I stopped pouring. The translator said, "You must use it all." Helpless, I tried to pour more in. Next thing you know, my tea pot was leaking water out of the top and spout. Not to mention that I still had extra water in my cup. Epic fail. Master Tea Leader made some surprise-sounding remarks and instructed me to pour the excess in the waste bowl (why didn't they tell me to do that earlier?).

All this happened after the translator/Master Tea Leader said that the pouring of the tea illustrates your sense of control. Fantastic.

From the tea pot, you fill the cup to your right first and you fill each cup 1/3. Then you add an additional 1/3rd, and then one more. In theory, you will take three equal drinks to finish the cup. Forgive me, I should have taken notes, but with each sip you should focus on a specific thing. I think it was something like taste, quality and control (or something spiritual like that).

Well, my embarrassing story doesn't stop at the tea pot. I started pouring the cups with my left hand (thanks, Mom) which warranted another shocked string of words from Master Tea Leader. Might I add that it did not help to be at the tea station right in front of Master Tea Leader.

It is also a little bit tricky to be grabbing and pouring everything with the non-active hand resting on crook of your elbow.

Each person's tea cup tray looked like this:
The pink and green balls are the rice dessert. They were so good! Even though I made a big deal about my mistakes at the tea ceremony, I really did enjoy it. In fact, I think it was one of my favorite things I've done since coming to Korea. And Master Tea Leader, as it turned out, had a wonderful sense of humor. Whew!

We finished the tea ceremony by learning how to bow on the most formal level. This means, essentially, touching your forehead to the floor. As simple as bowing sounds, there were actually a lot of steps involved in this bowing process. More for men that for women.

So that was my exciting tea ceremony story. Funny enough, I thought of Dad a lot during the tea ceremony. Not sure why, but I'm pretty sure he would have liked it. :) Tomorrow I am attending my first of two samulnori (traditional drumming) sessions. So hopefully I will have something exciting to post about that. Thanks for reading!


  1. Once you get past learning all the steps, it is probably very relaxing.

    I think we American Women should institute a new tradition of men bowing to us. I think that would be cool.



  2. I Thought I told you about how to do the tea ceremony, guess u wer'nt listening. ha

  3. Tea Ceremony??? I have to say I didn't even know that there was Korean tea ceremony. They are making a YangBan (ruling class scholars) out of you! My family definitely wasn't YangBan. If you follow the 4 class scheme (scholar, farmer, engineer/craftsman, merchants in that order), we were definitely on the bottom. No wonder I never heard of it :-)

    However, Korea only recently started growing tea plants, so it must have been Chinese influence??? Can't imagine Koreans following Japanese tea ceremony, so it must have been Chinese tea they drank. Or maybe they grew a few plants for the Royal family in the palace! I will have to research this... maybe after I retire. You will have to remember and demonstrate for us when you get back.

  4. poor amy haha. it was an entertaining ancedote, though. the desserts look delicious!