Panyaro: The Korean Way of Tea


Tea in China


             It is impossible to speak of the Korean way of tea without relating it to the more general history of tea in north-east Asia, that begins in China. Tea began to be cultivated in China more than 2,500 years ago. At first, we find the simple inhabitants of the regions now forming south-western China using the leaves of a variety of different wild trees, including the tea tree (camellia sinensis), to make medicinal beverages. To the leaves they used to add onions, ginger, salt and other ingredients. Gradually, the leaves of the tea tree were recognized as having particular restorative qualities and the cultivation of tea in the form of bushes began to spread across the whole of today¡¯s southern China. Tea became a valued drink among the educated mandarin classes close to the royal courts, as well as among the Buddhist monks after Buddhism entered China at the beginning of the present era. In 780, Lu Yu composed a treatise, the Classic of Tea (Ch¡¯a Ch¡¯ing), mainly to encourage the wealthy classes to drink more tea in a simpler, more sophisticated manner. It is Lu Yu, too, who established the character Òþ (pronounced cha) as the standard name for the plant and the drink; previously a variety of different plant names had been used. In his days, the tea leaves were compressed into bricks and dried. These were then broken and the fragments boiled with a little salt.

             The Sung dynasty (960-1279) is know for the sophistication of its artistic culture and the refined taste of its connoisseurs. They now began to grind bricks of pure green tea into a very fine powder, which they would whisk with a little hot water and drink the foaming concoction. This is the form still preserved in the stylized Japanese tea ceremony. It was much later, at the start of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), that the emperor forbade the use of brick tea, decreeing that henceforth he too would drink tea made from loose leaves brewed as an infusion, hot water poured onto the leaves and from there into cups.

             From that time on, the urban merchant classes played an important role in encouraging the production of decorated tea services, and the development of multiple ways of drying the tea leaves, producing the various kind of tea—white, green, yellow, oolong, red (black)—that European merchants discovered when they reached the coasts of the region late in the 16th century. Every year, a few Koreans from the ruling classes went on embassy to the Chinese imperial court, and they clearly continued to bring back with them to Korea the current Chinese ways of making and drinking tea.


The Transmission of the Way of Tea in Korea


             The practice of tea has been known in Korea since ancient times. According to the Samguksagi, an official chronicle composed at the command of the king of Goryeo in 1145, tea was already very widespread in the days of Queen Seondok (632-647), the 27th monarch of the Silla kingdom. Later, it tells how at the time of the 42nd Silla monarch, King Heungdeok, a royal envoy, Kim Daeryom, returned in 828 from a mission to T¡¯ang Dynasty China bringing tea seeds, which the king ordered him to plant on the warm southern slopes of Mt. Jiri, where still today tea plants can be found growing wild.

             There were certainly other, older chronicles composed evoking Korean history centuries before the Samguksagi, but they were all destroyed during the wars and invasions which Korea has suffered through the ages. We can be sure that tea was introduced into Korea centuries before the dates the Samguksagi mentions. Buddhist monks from Korea frequently went to study in China, and it was among them that the drinking of tea and the practice of ¡°Seon¡± (Zen) meditation came together in a union that still survives today.

             There are records indicating that a princess from the Indian kingdom of Ayudaya brought tea to Korea when she arrived in the southern regions of the peninsula in the first century of our era after spending time in China. In Korea, she is known as Queen Heo Hwang-ok, wife of the founder of the kingdom of Gaya, Kim Suro. Other texts claim that when their descendants made the ritual offerings for the dead, tea was always offered along with other drinks. The south-western region of China where the princess is said to have sojourned is that in which tea has been drunk from the earliest times.

             Although tea first entered Korea by way of the royal palaces, it soon spread far and wide among the population as a whole. Thus the solemn offerings of food and drink to a family¡¯s dead ancestors, still practiced in most families at the New Year and at the full Harvest Moon, have long been known as ¡®Charye¡¯ (tea ritual) although in recent centuries the tea has widely been replaced by rice wine.

             The Way of Tea was widely followed in Korea until the earlier centuries of the Joseon Dynasty, and remained alive despite a relative decline until the years of Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945), when it suffered severe repression. Buddhist monks, in particular, traveling to and from China in search of instruction and enlightenment, continued to preserve the Way of Tea in their temples, hidden deep in the mountains of Korea.

             In the first years of the 19th century, a great scholar, Chong Yak-yong (1762-1836), was driven into exile from the royal court during fierce political conflicts. He was obliged to spend years living in Gangjin, in the remote south-west of Korea. There he encountered an educated monk, the Venerable Hyejang (1772-1811), who introduced him to the way of tea. The scholar soon became known as ¡°Dasan¡± (¡°tea mountain,¡± the name of the hill where he was living) and he shared his knowledge of the way of tea with the young disciples who came to study philosophy under him in his exile. Especially, in 1809 a young monk came and spent several months with him, the Venerable Cho-ui. It may have been Dasan who first introduced the way of tea to Cho-ui. Be that as it may, it was Cho-ui who, in the decades following, became the friend of other great Confucian scholars, to whom he taught the ways of tea and of meditation. With them he exchanged poems written in celebration of tea, and above all he composed a great set of stanzas on the way of tea, the ¡°Dongchasong¡± (Song of the tea of the east), all of which made him the undisputed leader of the 19th century revival of tea in 19th-century Korea.

             However, little continued once Cho-ui was dead, and when the Japanese annexed Korea in 1910, they had little difficulty in suppressing the specifically Korea practice of tea, replacing it with Japanese forms and customs. Thus it is only very recently, after the independence of Korea in 1945, there has been a great revival of the Way of Tea in Korea, thanks especially to the efforts of the Venerable Hyodang (Choi Beom-sul), who planted new tea trees, dried the leaves in the traditional manner to prepare Panyaro tea, and lectured about tea across the country.

             Thanks to him, and the many who gathered to learn from him, many Koreans now know how to prepare tea and savor it, purifying body and mind. Korean tea is different from that found in China, where it is produced on an industrial scale in vast plantations, and Japan, where it is usually processed mechanically; it is distinguished by its unique qualities of color, fragrance, and taste.

             In recent years, the traditional tea ceremony has united with traditional Korean music, resulting in a new artistic form of ¡®performance tea.¡¯


Tea, pure and unadulterated, is known as the ¡®noble plant.¡¯

             Tea is drunk, not only for its fine taste but for its medicinal properties and as a source of spiritual refreshment, a drink conveying a great wealth of cultural traditions.

             The ultimate goal of the Korean Way of Tea is to enable everyone, cultivating the tradition of tea with limpid body and mind, to work together to establish a world in which all may live truly human lives.


The Venerable Hyodang, Choi Beom-sul


             Choi Beom-sul was born in 1904 in the village of Yulpo, in South Gyeongsang Province, the far south-eastern portion of the Korean peninsula. He began to grow up in the last years of the old Korea, that of the Joseon dynasty. In 1910 Japan finally annexed Korea, the beginning of a brutal colonial period that lasted until 1945. At once, Japan set out to eliminate Korea¡¯s specific cultural identity. Japanese teachers were installed in every school, and soon the Japanese language began to be imposed as the language of instruction. Choi Beom-sul¡¯s first nationalistic gesture was made when he was only 9. He and a few other pupils boycotted classes taught by a particularly brutal Japanese teacher in protest. Expelled form that school, he was able to complete primary school elsewhere when he was 11, in 1915. The following year, still only 12, he asked his parents, devout Buddhists, to allow him to become a monk. He joined the clergy at Dasol-sa temple, near his birthplace, but soon was sent to receive formation in the large temple of Haein-sa, further to the north.

             On March 1, 1919, a wave of nationalistic resistance unfurled across Korea as people in many places took to the streets to shout their wish to be independent of Japan. This was the March 1 Independence Movement, and the young monk received a copy of the independence declaration signed that day from his older cousin, active in the movement. He and his fellow students distributed copies of the declaration across the southern regions; as a result he was arrested and severely beaten.

             In 1922 he went for further studies in Japan. There he very soon came in contact with groups of Korean anarchists, also active in the anti-Japanese resistance, thanks to his friendship with Pak Ryeol, one of the most influential anarchists. A small group planned to explode a bomb during the forthcoming wedding of the Crown Prince but the great earthquake of 1923 provoked a wave of violence against the Koreans, after which the authorities launched a crackdown on the anarchist groups. He was arrested, but nothing was found to link him with Pak Ryeol¡¯s plans and finally, in 1927, he was able to begin studies in the Buddhist department of Taisho University in Tokyo. He graduated in 1933. In 1928, while still a student, he had been appointed head monk (juji) of Dasol-sa, and had been spending his vacations there.

             In 1933 he was appointed chairman of the League of Young Buddhists, an organization that had been founded under the reforming influence of the great monk and independence leader, Manhae Han Yong-un. He therefore returned to Korea, where he soon founded the first of the several schools that he was to found in his lifetime. More important, perhaps, he tried to make of the temple Dasol-sa a center of anti-Japanese resistance. He had long admired the thought of the great Buddhist master Wonhyo (617-686), who had rejected an excessively clerical vision of Buddhism. Following elements in his practice, the Venerable Hyodang (the name indicates his admiration of Wonhyo) welcomed into the temple, that was remote from major cities, a unique community composed of all kinds of people, united in their rejection of the Japanese, but not all monks or even deeply believing Buddhists. Men and women, intellectuals and working folk, dissidents and anarchists all found a welcome there and labored together to provide for their needs. There too Hyodang established a school for the local children. And at the same time, Dasol-sa offered a uniquely favorable place in which to preserve and develop a Korean way of tea, for on the hillsides around many wild tea bushes grew. Hyodang began to increase their number by planting many more until he had a virtual tea plantation.

             Universally recognized as one of the great heroes of the anti-Japanese resistance, Hyodang was summoned to play a major role in the foundation of the Republic of Korea after independence was achieved in 1945. However, his ideas on the forms society should take and on the best course for the newly independent country soon brought him into conflict with the president imposed by the United States Sygman Rhee. After Liberation, Hyodang founded a number of schools and colleges but he was eventually set aside by political rivals. Still he kept his position at Dasol-sa, where the earlier community was renewed by the constant arrival of new dissidents seeking refuge. He was able to remain there as head monk until 1977, practicing and teaching the way of tea, welcoming all who came to meet him. Finally driven from the temple in the bitter struggle that opposed married and unmarried monks in those decades, he went to live in Seoul where he was able to continue encouraging the revival of the Korean way of tea during the last months of his life.


The Great Tea Master Chae Won-Hwa


The Great Tea Master Chae Won-Hwa is the Director of the Panyaro Institute for the Way of Tea and as such is the most highly qualified teacher of both the theory and the practice of the Way of Tea alive in Korea today. For more than ten years from the mid-1960s, she received her training directly from the Venerable Hyodang, Choi Beom-sul, who led the 20th-century revival of the Korean tea tradition.

             After the death of the Venerable Hyodang in 1979, she founded the Panyaro Institute for the Way of Tea in the Insa-dong neighborhood of Seoul on July 2, 1983 in accordance with his wishes and has now been instructing members in the Way of Tea for almost twenty years. The Venerable Hyodang published the first modern Korean book consecrated to the Way of Tea, "The Korean Way of Tea," in 1973 and in 1977 he founded the first association for Koreans interested in the study of tea, the "Korean Association for the Way of Tea".

             Above all, Chae Won-Hwa inherited from the Venerable Hyodang the particular method of manufacturing the green tea called by him ¡®Panyaro¡¯ (the ¡®Dew of Enlightening Wisdom¡¯) and continues to produce this uniquely deep-flavored tea each year. Chae Won-hwa studied history at Seoul¡¯s Yonsei University and several years ago she went back there to study Korean history in the Graduate School, writing her M.A. thesis about the Venerable Cho-ui¡¯s practice of Tea Zen in the 19th century.

             In 1994 she was honored by being included among the six hundred exemplary and notable citizens of Seoul whose names were placed in a time capsule buried on Namsan to mark the 600th anniversary of the founding of the Joseon Dynasty.

             She is currently lecturing on a regular basis at the Panyaro Institute and also at Yonsei University¡¯s Institute for Social Education, while giving occasional lectures at a variety of venues. In particular, she is noted for the introduction to traditional Korean tea culture she frequently gives foreign visitors to Seoul.

             With her nearly forty years of experience, Chae Won-Hwa is Korea¡¯s foremost expert in every aspect of the Way of Tea.


The Panyaro Institute for the Way of Tea


The Panyaro Institute for the Way of Tea was founded on July 2, 1983 in the Insa-dong neighborhood of Seoul to perpetuate the lifelong work of the Venerable Hyodang. It is a place where people can receive training in the practice of Tea Zen, studying the traditional Korean Way of Tea together with classic works by great masters of the past. In a way, all human culture can be said to have started with the kindling of fire and the boiling of water. The highest zenith of that combination of fire and water is achieved in the Way of Tea.

             The essence of the practice of Tea Zen consists in sitting alone in a quiet room, kindling a fire, listening to the sound of water coming to the boil in the iron kettle, preparing then drinking tea and at the same time quietly sensing and becoming aware of one¡¯s surroundings and of the various thoughts arising inside oneself, receiving enlightenment from that awareness, and by that enlightenment living a more truly human life.

             In other words, the ultimate goal of the Panyaro Institute for the Way of Tea goes beyond the purification and strengthening of body and mind, through the regular practice of the Way of Tea in daily life, to a cosmic awareness of the mutual interconnectedness of all beings, acquiring a true freedom of the will in order to set out to construct a better world.



¡®Panyaro¡¯ green tea


             The Venerable Hyodang¡¯s unique ¡®Panyaro¡¯ green tea is available solely from the Panyaro Institute, from Master Chae Won-Hwa who inherited it from him. The name Panyaro was created by the Venerable Hyodang by combining the two Chinese characters for Prajna (the wisdom leading to enlightenment in Buddhism) and that for dew, yielding a name signifying ¡®The Dew of Enlightening Wisdom.¡¯

             Panyaro tea is marked by uniquely high qualities of taste. It is produced by the precise and demanding method known in Korean as ¡®jeungcha,¡¯ following the process developed by the Venerable Hyodang during his lifetime. Having directly received the formal transmission of that method from the Venerable Hyodang, Master Chae Won-Hwa has been involved in preparing Panyaro tea each year for the past thirty years. Every year she goes in mid-April to the tea plantations on one of the outlying slopes of Jiri Mountain in southern Korea and until later May labors daily over a great iron cauldron heated by a wood fire, drying freshly plucked young shoots of tea and producing by hand, with the utmost care, the year¡¯s supply of Panyaro tea. As a result of the particular method used, Panyaro tea has unique qualities of color, fragrance and taste.

It is brewed with the purest water, that must be far below boiling point when it is poured on to the leaves. When offered a cup of Panyaro tea, the first step is to view the color of the tea, the second to inhale its fragrance, the third to taste it on the tongue, the fourth to follow its taste in the throat, and finally there is the lingering aftertaste in the mouth to be enjoyed. Panyaro tea is reckoned to contain six tastes: salt, sweet, sour, bitter, tart, peppery, in varying proportions.



¡°No doors¡±


¡°The Way of Tea knows no doors¡± was a phrase very dear to the Venerable Hyodang. Perhaps aware of a tendency to consider the Way of Tea as something complex, aristocratic and inaccessible to common folk, he always stressed that every kind of person, no matter what their social class or education might be, could equally practice the Korean Way of Tea.



¡°A concentrated heart¡±


While everyone can practice the way of tea equally, everyone is equally obliged to observe the spirit of the Way, expressed in the term ¡°a concentrated heart.¡± While the gestures of making and drinking tea are simple ones, they must be performed in an appropriate spirit and that depends on the state of mind, or heart, of the individual. This can be summed up in a few simple words.

Everything in the surroundings and the utensils as well as in the heart, attitude and gestures of persons preparing and drinking tea should have certain qualities: Naturalness, Simplicity, Moderation, Firmness, Flexibility, Gratitude. From these words, it will become clear that the Korean Way of Tea taught by the Panyaro Institute is not a formal, ritualized ¡°Tea Ceremony¡± but truly a ¡°Life of Tea¡± in which the individual practices the most essential values of life, while performing one of the simplest human activities.



             We fully realize that every experience in life passes, melting like snow in springtime; yet there is an essential reality that endures. Allowing each person to discover that by drinking tea is the sole aim of the discipline involved in the Way of Tea.

             Sitting alone meditating in a tea room, hearing the light murmur of the water boiling on a charcoal fire, making tea and absorbing its taste both bitter and sweet, becoming aware peacefully of thoughts that arise, awakening from illusions by that serene contemplation, we grow ready to live our lives in a truly human manner: for that reason we practice the Way of Tea.

             Purifying both body and mind by a constant practice of the Way of Tea, attaining union with one¡¯s own self and with the deep nature of the universe, and so reaching true freedom: such is the fundamental goal of the practice of the Way of Tea.

             Working together to construct a world in which all may live more truly human lives by that newly acquired freedom: that too is a goal for all who love tea.

             Our Panyaro family, simply resolved to go through life in this illusory world by the Way of Tea, invites everyone to construct together a beautiful world. Come in, sit down with us, drink tea.



The Zen of Tea


             The ¡®Way of Tea¡¯ takes the simple, everyday gestures of making and drinking tea and makes of them a spiritual ¡®way¡¯.

             The ¡®Zen of Tea¡¯ suggests that in drinking tea in such a manner, one touches the edge of an intuitive meditation.

             Zen is a reality that can never be explained in words or writing. Zen is a concentrating, a positive awareness.

             Zen is above all free and creative, and subjective too.

             Zen offers a short-cut by which to reach a limitless individuality.

             Just like tea.

             All you need to do is prepare tea and savor on the tip of your tongue its six tastes: bitter, tart, sour, salt, spicy-hot, and sweet.

             Tea and Zen should constantly govern and guide both body and mind; only so can such a level be attained.

             Therefore people have said, ¡®tea and Zen have a single taste,¡¯ and also, ¡®tea and Zen are one.¡¯



Panyaro: the Korean tea ceremony

An Invitation to Serenity


Discovering the beauty and elegance of the essence of the Tea Ceremony celebrated in Korea


Coming to unity with the Breath of Life though tea


Tea, our life drink



Zen tea ceremony with several participants


             Sitting meditating in a tea room, hearing the light murmur of the water boiling on a charcoal fire, the master and disciples prepare and drink tea together in the proper manner, either powdered tea or leaf tea: a Zen of Tea that instructs both body and mind.



Tea ceremony to welcome guests


             The master carefully prepares tea and offers it to guests: a Zen of Tea that instructs by a shared drinking of tea.



Ceremony offering tea to Buddha, to spirits or to ancestors


             This solemn ceremony marks the end of an eventful year; candles are lit late in a night bright with stars, and the tea that is prepared is offered on the altar to the spirits above, all sensing the approach of a new year, bright with new hope.



Zen tea ceremony with a single celebrant


             Alone, the master prepares and drinks tea, deep in meditation: the Zen of Tea at its deepest, most universal.



The actions of the Korean tea ceremony


             No matter which form of tea, the essential gestures remain the same. At the start, the tea service is laid out, covered with a cloth, on a slightly elevated table behind which the person who is to preside the ceremony is seated. At the start, the celebrant greets those present, bowing with hands joined in traditional Buddhist style. Then the cloth is lifted, folded, and set to one side. The cups, which had been inverted, are turned over one by one. A quantity of hot water is placed into a lipped bowl, poured from there into the teapot, and from it into the cups, to warm and clean them. A new measure of water is placed in the lipped bowl to cool. The tea is taken from its container using a wooden spoon and placed in the teapot. The cooled water is poured into the teapot. While the tea is brewing, the water warming the cups is poured away. Then the tea is served, poured little by little into the cups, passing from one to the other, to ensure that the brew in each cup has the same strength. Each cup is placed onto a wooden saucer, except when preparing tea to be offered to the Buddha, when the lidded cup and its base are all in pottery. When tea is to be served to guests, the cups are carried to them by an assistant. Before drinking, all greet each other with joined hands.

             Before starting to drink, the color of the tea is first admired, then its fragrance. After drinking, its taste is savored as it passes beyond the lips, over the tongue and down the throat, before enjoying the lingering aftertaste in the mouth. A new measure of water is poured into the lipped bowl, from there into the teapot, and after a moment all the tea is poured into the lipped bowl, which is now used to refill the cups. This is repeated a third time, usually, before the cups are returned to the person presiding to be washed. The tea leaves are emptied from the teapot, which is rinsed. Once all is in order, the tea service is covered with its cloth and finally all greet each other, bowing with hands joined.






Panyaro Center for the Korean Way of Tea

Gahoy-dong 31-39, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-260, Korea


Tel: 82-2-763-8486; Fax: 82-2-737-8976