People in Korea love drinking tea due to the associated benefits. They use the drink to meditate in Korean tea ceremonies as a way of reducing their stress levels and improving their overall health. The first step to starting an official tea ceremony involves heating cups, pots and the cooling bowl by rinsing them with hot water. After that, you will have to pour the tea leaves into the pot using a teaspoon or a scoop. Pour the hot water into the teapot and steep the leaves for a few minutes – around three times before dumping it out. What you will find in Korea tea ceremonies is green tea. So, we will focus on its preparation in the ceremonies.
The types of green tea served in Korean tea ceremonies
Green tea has less caffeine than that expected in other types of tea such as oolong. Green tea supplied in tea bags has the least amount of caffeine and that is attributable to the low-quality tea leaves supplied. If you are afraid of caffeine, you can reduce it. After you have steeped the tea for a few minutes, throw away the tea you get for the first time. That way, you will reduce the amount of caffeine by around 50 percent. Koreans use three types of green tea, which they classify according to the time of picking. Here are the types:
This is the first type of Korean green tea and it is made of the tea buds that appear around April 21st. They are usually the first tea buds and therefore the picking time might vary slightly each year. The tea growers have to pick the buds before they become very large so that the tea they make can have a delicate fragrance and flavour.
Se-jak is the second type of tea and it consists of slightly larger leaves that appear 14 days after the first tea picking. The growers then pick the tea after 14 days for the third time and name the tea Jung-jak. Se-jak and Jung-jak are more common in Korean tea ceremonies.
Dae-jak refers to the green tea picked for the rest of the year after the third picking. It is the tea used to make a large percentage of green tea supplied in tea bags. The tea consists of very large tea leaves and has strong harsh flavour than the other two types.
The Koreans traditionally regard tea as an experience and not a beverage. They describe the experience, from the preparation part to drinking, as one that appeals to the five senses. Tea drinking started with beverages that the Koreans made with tea seeds they brought from China in the Silla Dynasty (between 57BC and 668AD). That was influenced by the art of tea preparation in China. Korean tea has many health benefits, which help cool or warm the body. The tea has a unique taste, which eases the senses and mind. Some Koreans will add roasted rice to the tea to provide the tea with a distinctive flavour – the result is Barley Teas. Tea drinking is linked to rich ceremonial tea culture indigenous to Korea.
Preparation of the green tea
Each of the eight provinces in Korea has its method of green tea preparation. But you do not need to learn how people in all the provinces prepare their green tea. You just need to learn the method used in all provinces. Teacups and teapots are the most basic equipment you need to prepare Korean tea. And even though a cooling bowl is important, you do not need it for the tea preparation. People also set their teacup with an internal strainer to prepare the tea easily. A tea container is not necessary but having one is nice. Here is how to prepare Korean green tea with a cooling bowl and a tea set.
1. Prepare the tea
Even though you will boil water when preparing your green tea, you should not use it when very hot. Extreme heat can burn your tea leaves and create a bitter taste. So, after boiling the water, you will have to pour it into your cooling bowl where it should sit for a few minutes to achieve the right temperature. As the water cools, add tea leaves into your teapot. If you plan to serve three cups of teacups, add 2½ teaspoons of tea and steep for 2½ minutes.
After the water has cooled, pour it into your teapot and allow the tea steep for 2½ minutes. Pour equal amounts into four cups and sip slowly for the best enjoyment. If you do not have a cooling bowl, pour the hot water into the four cups and allow it to cool for a few minutes. Pour it back into the teapot. Use the tea leaves for three times before washing the teapot with water.
To use teacups and strainers, boil the water and pour it in a small kettle for it to cool. You can also pour it into the cups with the internal strainers removed. Place the strainer on the lid as the water cools and put some tea in it. After the temperature of the water lowers to the right temperature, lower the strainer and steep the tea for a few minutes. After that, place the strainer back on the lid.
Although many people think that the quality of water is not important, the water you choose will have a big effect on the taste of your green tea. Fragrance and taste of the high-quality green teas are more delicate such that the wrong water, such as that containing additives, hard minerals or chlorine, will destroy them. Use bottled spring water or fresh spring water. Boil it in a non-reactive vessel – ceramic-coated teapots and pots are recommended but aluminium pots are the worst. Aluminium is reactive and adds a metallic flavour to water.
2. Lay out the teaware
Lay the teaware on a low tea table – Koreans place it on a table known as Gyo-ja-sang. The placement of teaware is different in every province but place the teapot on your right-hand side of your low table. Place your cooling bowl beyond it and the tea container at the centre of the low table and the cups on the left facing down. Place a small scoop and a small spoon between the cooling bowl and the teapot or beyond your cooling bowl. On the right of the low table, place the thermos or kettle with boiling water. Before the ceremony starts, cover the whole table and your teaware with a piece of cloth. Place a waste bowl on the side to help discard the used tea leaves and unused water.
3. Preparing to drink the tea
The preparation and drinking of green tea is an art and the ritual and rhythm of Korean tea ceremonies help the mind relax and attain a higher level of spiritual enlightenment. To enjoy the benefits, you have to perform all the movements slowly and in smooth artful controlled motions.
Start by removing the cloth cover from the table. Remove the tea container and place it on a stand or in front of the tea container on the low table. Remove the lid of your teapot similarly. Pick up the tea container with your left hand and add the tea in the teapot with your right hand. Return your tea container to the original place and restore the lid. Now, pour the hot water from the kettle or thermos into the cooling bowl and wait for at least two minutes for it to cool.
After the water has cooled down, lift the bowl with your both hands and pour the water gently into the teapot. Place the cooling bowl to its original place and place the lid on the teapot. Steep the tea for several minutes and rinse the cups with hot water to warm them. Pour the tea into the cups and serve it. After drinking the first cup, you will have to repeat the process of tea preparation for at least two times. Steep the tea leaves for at least two times before dumping them out.
4. Drinking the tea
As we mentioned above, tea drinking in Korean tea ceremonies is a form of art. You will have to sip each cup three times – sipping around one-third of the cup each time. As a drinker, you will have to seat on the floor cross-legged or seat on the legs in front of the low table. After the tea is poured into your cup, pick the cup up with your right hand and place the left-hand flat under the cup. With the elbows slightly to your sides, bring the cup to your mouth.
Before sipping the tea, enjoy the sweet fragrance by holding your cup near the nose and inhale deeply. After that, sip the tea lightly and rollover your tongue while savouring the taste and fragrance. Swallow the tea and enjoy the aftertaste that remains in your mouth before you take the next sip.
After your first sip, bring the cup down to the level of your belly and hold it there. Breathe and clear your mind of thoughts while focusing your energy on the area behind your belly button. After sipping for the second time, bring the cup down to the middle of your torso. Breathe, clear your thoughts and feel the energy flowing from your chest. Sip for the third time and drain your cup. Bring the cup down to your chest and breathe to clear the mind. Repeat the energy focusing process.
Green tea has no calories and it helps with digestion of food. Some people believe that it helps with the complexion too. It has low caffeine levels compared to other types of tea or coffee. However, the drinking experience offers joy. Drinking green tea should have a calming effect on your body nerves and bring peace to your peace. It should also help you dream and thin. Enjoy the taste and fragrance of the tea.