I have a great story to share. Please bear with the length here.
Following Tim's advise (and his blog), I tracked down the "Tea Lady", whom I now know as Ms Kim Keun-Ja. We went to Insadong, armed with an address and a phone number. After some help, some wandering, and after having already had WAAAAAY too much puerh (
) with another friend there, we found her place, Sam Hwa Rang. I introduced myself, explained that someone I know from an online tea discussion board told me about her, and that, if she had time, I was interested in learning about Korean tea. She offered us to sit at a table, or on a raised platform, traditional style. Come on, like we are gonna take the wooden table?
So we sit down on this platform, at a BEAUTIFUL stone table about 6 inches high, surrounded by tea, tea-ware, and inside a very old tradition Korean house. First was quite traditional Korean music, later replaces with plunky, stirring South American strings (she loves South America we found out). She brought out some snacks: very ripe persimmons, some toasted crunchy-chewy rice things (name?), and roasted chestnuts. Then she brought out her tea set and some tea. She explained that we were going to drink nokcha, told us about the mountain from whence it came, and explained how to "dose" the pot. One scoop for 1 person, 2 for 2-3 people, 3 for 3-5. She went with 3. Then she did the whole prep and ceremony, talking us through it, and explained that this was the informal way to perform; she also noted differences between how men and women would do it.
It was a bit bitter on the first steep for my tastes, and grassier than I like (I prefer a good, meaty, deep green tea), but it was very satisfying and I really enjoyed it. As we prepared for a second steep, an older woman with bright purple hair dripping gorgeous lapis lazuli jewelry rolled into the shop bubbling laughter like jolly, feminine Buddai. It made me happy just being near her. Our host, Ms Kim, explained that this lovely lady is a famous poet, and showed her great deference and respect, referring to her with the Korean word for teacher. She was wonderful, and I heard her speak Japanese, so we switch from English and Korean to also include Japanese. Difficult and fun!
Left to right: The Poet, Ms Kim, and Melanie
The Poet's (name?!) website: http://www.munhakvatang.co.kr/
(sorry, it is in Korean!)
So then we did a second round, and I was instructed to perform the ceremony! I felt a bit nervous, but did my best. She gently corrected me a few times, and was very kind. I then led for three rounds, totally four steeps. I really enjoyed the tea on the 2nd and 3rd rounds.
Then Spanish came up, and it turns out Ms Kim can speak Spanish (much better than Melanie and I, who speak a bit), and the rest of our ceremony instruction was in Spanish! Conversation slipped between all four languages, often in the same sentence.
I mentioned my quest for Yixing pots, which I had found but was waiting to buy (being big purchases, I wanted to think it over for a few hours). She got excited, and said that she used to dislike puerh, but her Oriental Medicine doctor (there is a BIG distinction around these parts between Chinese Medicine and Oriental Medicine) told her to drink more, and she has really come to love it. She busted out a beautiful hongni pot, and some lovely raw (sheng) bing cha. I am not sure how old, but I think 10 or 15 years. Maybe more. It was fantastic. I should have taken a photo of this all when it was set nicely, but I was so caught up in the moment that I didn't get a picture until the end!
We moved to another table, next to her private stash, and drank more puerh (here it is called poicha) and laughed and laughed over nothing. She insisted that I accept a gift of some 1993 wild sheng, which I was very humbled and grateful to accept. So kind. Then she showed me some ddok cha, which I will sample next time and maybe purchase. It is pricey, and I am poor (and saving as much as I can), so I am waiting to purchase for now. I looked at everything in her shop, and she kept apologizing for how expensive everything is, telling me that she specializes in high-end pottery, but that I can find many good shops with ware to brew tea that is just as good for much less. I laughed and said in Spanish, "Mi corazon esta llena con amor por te, pero my billeta no esta llena con dinero por te!" Pardon my horrible Spaish. It means, roughly, "My heart is full of love for tea, but my wallet is not full of money for tea!" She really understood that we love tea, but aren't ballers like many of her clientel. I was amazed by her kindness and easily expressed affection and love of tea. All in all we stayed three hours, and would have stayed more if I didn't have to meet a friend (I had already pushed it back an hour). I think they wanted us to stay longer and I was sad to leave.
She gave us her personal number, took ours, and insisted that we return. She admonished us for not knowing much Korea, and asked us twice to please start to study Korean more seriously, which we are now going to do (I will study every day if it means more respect from her and more tea knowledge from her!!!). We will call later this week and try to go back Saturday or Sunday night, where I will bring a gift of some sort. Any ideas on a good gift, teachatters? I was thinking an Asian pear, which are really popular and somewhat expensive around here, or maybe some Harney and Sons Black Jasmine (sealed in a 4 oz tin-one of my favs and I brought 6 tins with me to Korea!), but I don't know. Any help would be great!
Thanks for sticking it out to the end here, and special thanks to Tim for making this happen. This was a huge experience for me. Also, I bought the teapots, which I will post as soon as I get good photos in the Yixing showoff section.