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Book Reviews: Winter Reading from Seoul Selection Bookstore

Front cover of “Korean Tea Classics”

Front cover of “Korean Tea Classics”

Seems like it’s been ages since I’ve posted any book reviews here on the blog.  But last month I scored a passel of books from Seoul Selection Online Bookshop for a bit of light reading over winter vacation.   Not to get to promotional here (and no, I’m not getting paid for this), but if you’re looking for books about Korea, Seoul Selection is a great resource.   They have a knack for carrying a lot of books that simply are not available on Amazon or whatthebook.com, not to mention they self-publish a lot of titles which sell for very reasonable prices.  So without further adieu, here are a few books that might help you while away your time in front of the space heater this winter:

“Korean Tea Classics” by Hanjae Yi Mok and the Venerable Cho-ui:  Ever since my friend and local tea aficionado, Don Baumhart, published his two-part introduction to the Way of Tea in Korea here on this blog, I’ve made a point of exploring more of Korean and East-Asian tea culture.  Turns out this year Seoul Selection has made the timely decision to publish English translations three classic Korean tomes on tea and tea culture:  “Rhapsody to Tea” by Hanjae Yi Mok (1471 – 1498) and “A Chronicle of the Spirit of Tea” and “Hymn in Praise of Korean Tea” both by the Venerable Cho-ui (1786 – 1866).  In fact it was Ven. Cho-ui who earned himself the nick-name Dasan or “Tea Mountain” was responsible of the revival and restoration of the tea ceremony in Korea.  Translated by Brother Anthony of Taize (author of “The Korean Way of Tea” ) among others, this book is not simply a dry, academic  translation of obscure historical texts.  Rather it is an object de art itself, with impeccable design and choke full of beautiful color pictures of tea, ceramics, temples and ancient paintings.   Plus, for students of classical Chinese, the original “Hanja” is printed alongside the English.   Not merely an obtuse historical artifact, this book would be of interest to anyone with a love for Asian tea culture, and of course it’s a lovely accompaniment to a lazy afternoon sipping tea. read more »

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Gyeongju Shopping Guide: Part 2 What to buy?

Continued from Part 1…

Pottery Shop, Gyeongju

Pottery Shop, Gyeongju

If you’re shopping for gifts or personal mementos in Korea, there are a lot of options.  You could get something functional, like a hand-made tea pot or a brass ware dinner set.  Or, if you’re searching for something ornamental, take a look at the calligraphy scrolls or hand-carved wood work.  The fashion conscious might want to try a Korean “Handbok” dyed with traditional Korean pigments, like Je-ju mud.  However, if you’re looking for something more unique or unusual, here are a few suggestions: read more »

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Gyeongju Shopping Guide: Part 1 Where to Shop?

Folkcraft Village, Gyeongju

Folkcraft Village, Gyeongju

Christmas time is just a few months away, which means (for a lot of folks in my country anyways) that it’s time to start shopping for presents.  Korea offers some very unique and interesting gift options for folks back home and I’m not just talking about the kimchi chocolate or plastic fans that you can buy in the airport.  In places like Insa-dong in Seoul you can find everything from Korean antiques and calligraphy to hand-made pottery and high quality green tea.  What you may not know is that Gyeongju is also a great place for gift shopping, and you can usually find things here for a lot cheaper than in the big cities.  The trick is knowing where to shop and what to buy. read more »

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Restaurant Review #14: Ah Sa Ga Tea House (아사가찻집)

Ah Sa Ga Tea house, Downtown Gyeongju

Ah Sa Ga Teahouse, Downtown Gyeongju

As we’ve been on the topic of tea lately, I figure it’s about time that I post on Ah Sa Ga Tea House (아사가찻집).  Ah Sa Ga is in the middle of Gyeongju’s downtown shopping district, on Bonhwang-ro Culture Street (봉황로).    It’s been open for almost a decade, though I only discovered it a little bit ago myself.   For years, I thought it was a pottery shop, which I hope is excusable as they do actually display and sell tea sets in the front of their shop. read more »

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The Korean Way of Tea (다례) Part 2: The Ceremony

By Don Baumhart

Continued from Part 1…

Boseong Tea Plantation (from www.absoluteshinhwa.wordpress.com)

Boseong Tea Plantation (from www.absoluteshinhwa.wordpress.com)

Harvesting Tea

Unlike the powdered tea used in the Japanese tea ceremonies, the Korean ceremonies use loose leaf green tea. Traditionally, this tea is referred to as “Jakseol-cha” (작설차) which literally means as “sparrow’s tongue tea,” as the small curled leaves resemble the tongues of sparrows.  This “sparrow’s tongue” tea is well known for its exquisite flavor but, like everything involved the Korean tea ceremony, this depends a lot on timing. In his written guide to the tea ceremony, the 19th century monk Cho Ui (조의) noted that the flavor of the tea is adversely affected if the leaves are not picked at exactly the right time. It’s for this reason that Korean green tea is harvested in 4 different stages, which in turn determine the quality and thus the price of the tea.

read more »

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Restaurant Review #12: 100 Years Tea House (백년찻집)

100 Years Tea House, Mt. Tohamsan, Gyeongju

100 Years Tea House, Mt. Tohamsan, Gyeongju

Perched on the ridge of Mt. Tohamsan (토함산) , looking East over the Churyeong (추령) Pass is one of the best kept secrets of Gyeongju:  the Beak Nyeon Cha Jip (백년찻집) or “100 Years Tea House”.  Whether you’re a dedicated  tea aficionado or you need a break on the trip over to the East Sea and King Munmu’s tomb (문무대왕릉), Beak Nyeon Cha Jip is well worth the 30 minute drive from Gyeongju. read more »

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The Korean Way of Tea (다례) Part 1: The History

By Don Baumhart

Tea Ceremony for the Buddha, Dongguk University, Gyeongju

Tea Ceremony for the Buddha, Dongguk University, Gyeongju

If you want a glimpse into the soul of traditional Korean culture, you should try to experience grace and charm of the Korean tea ceremony. Like its Japanese counterpart, the Korean tea ceremony is meditation in motion. Each slow and mindful movement is carefully choreographed from start to finish. As in meditation, the purpose of the tea ceremony is to center each person in the present moment, to create a sense of purity, respect, tranquility, and harmony. read more »

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