Friday, November 21, 2008

Faith to follow, or to Shepherd?

In a not-so-ancient time (Ming - Qing Dynasty), when mandarins gathered for tea, the focus was most often not on the tea itself but on the free association of minds. Delicate and graceful moments in time and space were created over pots of tea—vast enough to glimpse the past, present, and future, and perhaps also affect and alter one's reflection of oneself.

I spent three days in San Francisco this past week. Brian Kirbis (, was kindly introduced to me (online, of course) by Jason Fasi, aka bearbearbear ( Brian the Shepherd was kind enough to take his precious time, a day before leaving for Yunnan on an important research trip, to meet with me over a cup of tea.

He arrived at my place just shy of 3 o' clock. The spiritual journey began once the doorbell rang... the door opened and upon greeting, I felt somehow that I had known this gentleman before. I unconsciously burst out with a hearty laugh: presented to me was a solid wooden chest, about 20 inches by 20 inches, with Japanese-crafted hardware and a Ginko engraved lock. "How did you manage to get through security with that?" I exclaimed, "That would be a pretty tough feat to handle if we were meeting in NYC". The positive energy from this chest and its master was radiant and immediately warmed the room.

Faith had brought us together to this moment; and once again, tea was the vehicle that had caused the connection. (I do think this friendship would be a good raw puerh).

Brian had a mission, a positive aim to help the world understand the importance of humanity through tea (in this case, puerh). Cooked (human needs) and Uncooked (nature)—abstract words, perhaps, but they are in every drop of tea. A craving for the cognitive? A medicine for the mind or body?

I was enlightened only a week ago, and concluded that there is only Good tea and Bad tea: Good tea is the concept of how the tea benefits one at the moment or in the future, and how it makes one feel and contemplate. Bad tea is known only through experience; and once one has built this memory, one builds an immediate response when drinking a Bad tea from having had enough of it in the past—perhaps like an inner alarm or firewall.

The Chest opened—cosmos or tea capsule? Antique cups, teaware, fine tea, and experience all fit neatly into ths 20 by 20 space. "I can only contribute water..." I offered. We drank three teas in this short time: 1. Lao Ban Zhang, 2. Nannou, and 3. 80's Chang Ning. I won't detail the nuances or complexities of these teas; it would be too insignificant. All that must be said is that they were Good teas.

Brian will be in Yunnan for the next two months, living with his new family (tea farmers) in the mountains and furthering his studies for the Yunnan University regarding the Essentialism of Modern Tea Society. Maya Angelou once said: "When you get, give. When you learn, teach." Brian and I understood this idea through tea; it is another wonderful gift of nature conveyed through a single leaf.

Two days before this trip, I found my newly designed project in the mail: "Footprints In The Snow: The Autobiography of a Chinese Buddhist Monk." I do think that all things are connected through karma—and this is yet another of them. The book fit nicely into the small space left empty in Brian's chest. "I always want to fit an old man into this chest," Brian said, accepting this small token. "I will be faithfully following your chest in its development," I replied.

Best of luck, and have some good tea, my friend.

A gift from Brian: A Malaysia stored 7542 from the 90s. Aging inside my silver box, until we both meet again.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Hong So Sul, making Good Korean tea for 50 yrs.

An interesting article From Segye Korean Newspaper. Regarding modern Korean tea, roughly translated for your viewing pleasure:

Hong So Sul, master of Korean green tea, has been spending more than 49 years to make good tea in Korea. He devoted himself at Hwagae market and Hadong where most of Korean green tea is cultivated. When he first started tea cultivation in 1960, there were many tea farms in Hwagae but no one understood its true value. Hong was the one who realized the value of the tea and helped the farmers earn high income from tea farming.

Hwagae Jae Da, the tea that Hong is producing in Hwagae, was selected as the best tea in 1995 and 2001 by Korea Tea Association and won silver medal at the World Tea Competition held in China in 2001. Besides these, he was awarded with more than 10 times for his green tea. Now more than 70 years old, he still insists on steaming nine times and rubbing nines times all by hands. Korean persimmon leaf tea is what he first developed. He became a Bamboo dew tea production master and was awarded in recognition for his distinguished work.

Born in KyungBook, he went to Japan with his father at 2 years old. He came in contact with Japanese tea culture until he turned 17 and came back to Korea. He was 27 when his garment business failed and lost everything within 3 years. One woman who was supposed to pay him back for some garment gave him some green tea instead of the money she owned. He realized there's green tea in Korea as well.

He went to SaChun to produce green tea as knowing the value of green tea in Japan, but soon he was disappointed by the small size of the wild tea farms. He went to HwaGae immediately when He heard there are many large tea farms. He recalls when he found an old man from China, who makes fermented green tea for his own family, he was so glad. He started running his own tea factory in HwaGae and producing and selling wild green tea. He also educated people trying to spread his knowledge about Korean tea. As a result, after 46 years right now, 1940 farmhouses are producing 2134 tons of wild tea leaves in 931ha, making 431mil(korean won) income per year.

In the "book of tea" by Luk Yu (Tang Dynasty), it says the best tea trees are from between cliff rocks. The wild tea trees in HwaGae grow up between cliff rocks that goes around Jiri Mountains and SumJin River. They are beloved by tea drinkers because of its color and deep taste. He is recognized by his best quality green tea produced with his traditional skill by hands. He and his son's family cultivate 33000m(2) tea farms and produce 150 tons of green tea and other Korean traditional teas. Now his achievement became the province's specialty product, the town supports a Green tea Development Organization. They organize the national annual green tea festival. As a president of the organization, Hong says, many farmers are having hard time due to WTO, but we have no worries about tea because Korean tea is high quality tea with good taste and fragrance. He says Japanese & Chinese teas are large markets so it's more difficult to produce organic teas but it is possible for Korean tea because it has smaller scale market and it will raise the value of the tea. That makes it possible to compete with others teas.

Now he concentrates on handing on tea cultures to visitors at tea school next to his own tea factory. He advised that we should produce and value (中雀) & (大雀) medium/large bird's tongue more, not just high quality tea like (雨前茶) pre-rain so they can all have competition to each other and it will make all teas as universal drinks.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.