|2005 Spring - Intro - Aojiru - Chinese Black Tea - Korean Tea - Therapeutic Tea
Traditional Korean teasassimilating chi
coordination by Tomoe Kim
The wisdom of seasonal chi
Jilsiru, the most popular traditional tea shop in the Korean capital is owned by Yoon Sook-ja, who is also a professor of traditional Korean food at Baewha Women's College. We spoke with her about tea, her shop, and Korea's tea traditions.
Jilsiru's Korean tea menu changes with the seasons. "We don't just eat and appreciate seasonal fruits and flowers," says Yoon, "but by ingesting the season's bounty as tea, our bodies assimilate the season's vital energy or chi." Traditional teas embrace centuries-old wisdom used to link human life to nature. Just as we naturally desire water after eating salty foods, explains Yoon, teas made with seasonal ingredients provide elements our bodies crave at particular times of the year.
||Teas, front to back: Chestnut skin and honey; ginger and persimmon; magnolia vine and aloe; fermented green tea flowers; ginseng, jujube, and rice; quince and honey; dried mugwort; jujube and shelf fungus
Jujube and ginger
Indeed, Jilsiru's tea menu reveals a list of ingredients few Japanese have ever consumed in the form of tea: shelf fungus, jujube, ginger, aloe vera, Chinese magnolia vine, rice, and chestnut skins. Deep red jujube and shelf fungus tea is served in a cup slightly larger than that used for Japanese green tea, with slivers of jujube and pine nuts floating on top. One sip and the subtly sweet flavor of jujube tinged with the slightly sour flavor of apple fills the palate. This tea gradually warms the body from the core, reinvigorating the weary traveler. We tasted it soon after coming in from outdoors where the temperature was -7 degrees Celsius, and this traditional winter brew provided most welcome comfort.
Another winter favorite is mogwa-cha (Chinese quince tea), which is high in vitamin C and helps prevent colds and suppress coughs. But the brew believed to be the best curative for colds is nokdae-botang (deer antler tea): a cube of clear jelly made by boiling deer antler for two days and then refrigerating the liquid. Added to a hot tea, it is said to alleviate colds by instantly warming the body.
A tea for all seasons
Koreans ingest the chi of spring by drinking jindallae-hwachae (azalea blossom tea), believed to be good for diabetes and lowering blood pressure. In summer they drink fragrant yellow song-
hwa-misu (pine pollen and honey) tea, which helps the heart and lungs, as well as relieving heat fatigue. And in autumn? The drink of choice is omija-hwachae ("five-taste" tea, from the fruit of the Chinese magnolia vine), which is rich in organic acids and helps suppress coughs and soothe dry throats.
Year-round in their homes, Koreans brew grain teas made from roasted corn or barley and a "tea" they flavor by boiling water in rice-cooking pots with the scorched rice still stuck to the bottom. In the last 10 years, even younger Koreans (who once consumed coffee, Coke, and other Western beverages), have been rediscovering the benefits of traditional teas steeped in more than 700 years of heritage.
The Confucian factor
Why haven't green and black teas steeped with leaves of Camellia sinensis taken hold in Korea as they have in neighboring China and Japan? Their absence stems from Confucianism's infiltration in the 14th century. According to Korea's oldest history book, Samguk Sagi (Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms), the custom of drinking tea spread to Korea from China together with Buddhism.
During the Choson Dynasty (1392-1910), however, Confucianism became Korea's national religion and tea production, which had been intimately linked to Buddhist temples, disappeared as Buddhism fell into decline. From then on, Koreans applied their health knowledge to developing teas using medicinal ingredients. Along with Confucianist principles such as respecting one's elders, the concept "food is medicine" became firmly ensconced in the minds of the Korean people, and medicinal teas became a staple.
Traditional Korean tea also differs from Japanese and Chinese tea in that certain varieties are only served cold. Mountains, rivers, and natural springs are abundant on the Korean peninsula, so pure water is plentiful. Moreover, the waters from these rivers and springs vary subtly in taste from one region to the next and are suitable for drinking as they are. Thus, cold traditional teas embrace the Korean wisdom of assimilating nature's chi, unfiltered, for health.
So where can one sip traditional Korean teas? In Seoul, tea "cafÈs" are springing up one after another. The traditional teas they sell, replete with ancient wisdom, show no sign of losing their popularity. (Make a visit to KyoungdongSeoul's wholesale Oriental medicine market where more than 1,000 shops bustle with customersand the tea trend will be confirmed.)
Professor Yoon is equally optimistic: "After all, kimchi is already eaten worldwide. Why shouldn't traditional tea be the next thing to represent Korean culinary culture? It contains 700 years of Korean wisdomand it's healthy." She also points out, "Improved health is not the only benefit. Most teas are a colorful feast for the eyes, and time spent sipping liberates the spirit." Indeed, tea's spiritual aspect is something she wants to convey to the next generation.
Articles from the 2005 SPRING issue:
Kateigaho International Edition Issues:
2005 SUMMER - 2005 SPRING - 2005 WINTER
2004 AUTUMN - 2004 SUMMER - 2004 SPRING - 2004 WINTER
2003 AUTUMN - INAUGURAL ISSUE