The History of Korea’s Tea and Tea Drinking Culture-Past to Present

The country of Korea lies between tea giants China and Japan and it’s believed
that Korea’s early introduction to tea was made by Buddhist monks returning
from the two countries after studying there.
By the beginning of the Koryo dy-
nasty (918-1392) Korea’s tea cul-
ture was already well underway,
with gifts of tea (called uh cha) given by the king to
members of the military, Buddhist priests and
monks, and as gifts to families grieving the loss of a
family member or suffering from illness.  Called New
Woun Cha, meaning “mind origin tea” for a clear
mind, or Dae Cha, meaning “great tea,” there were
even established customs for placing boxes of tea
with the deceased during funeral rites.
Buddhism played an integral part in Korean tea
drinking, with Buddhist monks teaching the virtues
of tea, that it be viewed as a contemplative bever-
age that was important
for developing mental
It was during the Koryo dynasty that tea was first used as an offer-
ing to nature spirits, such as mountains and rivers, and also to an-
cestral spirits at ceremonies of the New Year and full harvest moon
known as Ch’a-rye.
Unlike Japan and

China who reserved tea drinking for the special
classes, all classes of Korean citizens practiced tea drinking,
including making ritual tea offerings to statues of Buddha in the
temples, a practice called Hon-ta.  It was also during the Koryo
dynasty that Korean potters who had learned to craft fine celedon
wares from 
Chinese potters, became proficient in creating their
own fine celedon called Chongja ware.  This was later followed by
white porcelain wares and later by blue and white porcelain with
applied designs.
Korea’s appreciation of tea and traditions was brought to an abrupt ending at the end of the
Koryo dynasty and beginning of the Choson dynasty (1392-1910) as the Yi family took power,
shifting religious views and replacing Buddhism with Confucianism.

This radical shift to a variant of Chinese
Confucianism no longer supported the fam-
iliar ways of tea drinking, preparation, or
appreciation, delegating it to the back-
ground.  In spite of this new ruling, Budd-
hist monks tried to keep Korea’s tea culture
and ceremonies alive.

But the new government retaliated, angry
over the Buddhist monks influence over the
citizenry, they placed a tax on tea, hoping
to force the monasteries and temples to
destroy their tea fields.  The Choson rulers
were so angry, in fact, they went a step
further and destroyed many of the Buddhist
temples and monasteries, and stripped the
rest of any remaining wealth or treasures.

By the end of the 16th century there were few tea
fields left in southern Korea.  Then in the late 1500s
the Seven Year War with

Japan devastated what
little remained of Korea’s tea culture.  By the end of the war the damage to Korea’s farmland,
villages, and cities was massive.
The capture of thousands of Korean potters and craftsmen after the war,
further devastated Korea.  Forcibly removed from their country, they were
exiled to Japan where they were made to ply their skills.  The great pottery

traditions of Japan that grew and flourished were at the expense
of Korea’s skilled craftspeople.  The massive influx of manpower and skill
was largely responsible for Japan’s advances in ceramics and handmade
pottery skills.
In spite of all the problems, by the late 18th century an interest in the
Buddhist ways and ideals began to return due to three men who worked to restore the
traditional Korean tea practices.  The first was a scholar, Tsan Chong Yak-yong (1762-1836),
who trained and practiced tea discipline from a group of Buddhist monks, growing tea in
Jeollanam province.

Chong Yak-yong in turn introduced the second man, Ch’o Ui (1786-
1866), another Buddhist monk to the way of tea.  Ch’o Ui led a
solitary existence, living alone in an isolated tea room near
Haenam county in Jeollanam, where he wrote two important
books on tea and tea preparation in the 19th century, along with
poems celebrating tea, including Dongchasong (Song of the Tea of
the East).

But Korea was dealt yet another blow to its tea drinking culture when it was once again taken
over by the Japanese.  The third influential man, Choi Beom-sul, later known as the Venerable
Hyo Dang, came forward immediately following Korea’s independence from Japan in 1945, and
set about rebuilding Korea’s tea culture.xxxx

The Korean War (1950-1953) once again cast Korea into chaos, but this
time the forward movement of the tea culture wasn’t stopped.  Venerable
Hyo Dang remained true to his quest to rebuild Korea’s traditional tea cul-
ture and practices, and to that end accomplished three important goals in
his lifetime.

He began in 1973 by composing the first modern day study of tea called The Korean Way of Tea.
Secondly he codified the “natural” and “open heart” methods of 
brewing green tea, becoming
known as Panyaro.  And finally he founded the first alliance and resource center for 
tea historians
and those interested in reviving the culture of tea in Korea, called the Korean Association for the
Way of Tea.
After his death in 1979 the Venerable Hyo Dang’s work in revitalizing Korea’s tea industry was succeeded by the
great tea master, Chae Won Hwa, a female tea master who studied under Hyo Dang for over ten years, and today
continues to promote the Way of Tea to graduate students in tea culture at the Panyaro Institute for the Way of Tea
in Seoul, South Korea.