Tea in the early Joseon Dynasty

Jeompilje Kim Jong-jik (1431 - 1492) was Gunsu (prefect) of Hamyang-gun for 5 years from (Seongjong 2) 1471 until (Seongjong 7) 1476. In order to relieve the population of an unreasonable obligation to send tea as tribute to the king, he established a government-owned tea-field. In 1474, surveying the flourishing plantation, he composed the following 2 stanzas.

Jeompilje Kim Jong-jik’s 2-stanza poem “Tea field” (茶園)
다원 이수 병서

The tea which the townsfolk were obliged to offer up in tribute did not grow in the region. Every year when the levy was due they would take goods, exchange them for tea in Jeolla province and send that up. Usually the rate was one mal of rice for one hop of tea. When I was appointed, I learned of this evil practice and rather than imposing a levy on the people I borrowed government funds from the Gwana and so sent up the tribute tea. I had already read in the Samguk-sagi that in Silla times tea seeds sent from Tang China had been planted in Jiri-san. Now our town is at the foot of that very mountain, so are there none of those seeds sent in Silla times still remaining? Every time I met local leaders I would ask. Finally, I obtained a few bushes from the bamboo grove to the north of Eomcheon-sa temple 嚴川寺 (in the region of what is now Jinju). I was really happy. I had a tea-field planted. All around were people’s fields so I bought the ground as government (Gwana) land. After a few years had passed, the plants had flourished and spread wide. If we waited 4-5 more years, we should be able to gather the required quantity. So I composed a poem in 2 stanzas

공납하는 차茶는 본군에서 생산되지 않는다. 해마다 백성에게 부과하니 백성들은 값을 가지고 전라도에서 사서 바친다. 대개 쌀 한 말에 차 한 홉이었다. 내가 처음 고을에 부임하여 그 폐단을 알고 백성에게 징수하지 않고 관아에서 스스로 빌려다가 바쳤다. 일찍이 《삼국사기》를 열람하다가 신라 때에 당나라에서 차씨를 얻어 와 지리산에 심게 했다는 글을 본 적이 있었다. 아, 고을은 이 산의 아래에 있으니 어찌 신라 때 전해진 씨앗이 없겠는가? 매양 유지들을 만날 때마다 물어 보았다. 과연 몇 떨기를 엄천사 북쪽 대숲 속에서 얻었다. 나는 너무도 기뻤다. 그 땅에 다원을 세우게 하였다. 인근은 다 백성의 밭이므로 사들이고 관아 밭으로 보상하였다. 몇 해가 지나자마자 상당히 번성하여 다원 안에 두루 퍼졌다. 만약 너댓 해 기다리면 공납하는 액수를 채울 수 있을 것이다. 드디어 시 두 수를 읊는다.

上供茶。不產本郡。每歲。賦之於民。民持價買諸全羅道。率米一斗得茶一合。余初到郡。知其弊。不責諸民。而官自求丐以納焉。甞閱三國史。見新羅時 得茶種於唐。命蒔智異山云云。噫。郡在此山之下。豈無羅時遺種也。每遇父老訪之。果得數叢於嚴川寺北竹林中。余喜甚。令建園其地。傍近皆民田。買 之償以官田。纔數年而頗蕃。敷遍于園內。若待四五年。可充上供之額。遂賦二詩。

欲奉靈苗壽聖君 신령한 차 받들어 임금님 장수케 하고자 하나
I wanted to offer the king a tribute gift of marvelous tea
新羅遺種久無聞 신라 때부터 전해지는 씨앗을 찾지 못하였다
but I could not find any of the tea seeds that were sent from Silla times.
如今擷得頭流下 이제야 두류산 아래에서 구하게 되었으니
Now at last I have obtained some from the slopes of Duryu-san (Jiri-san)
且喜吾民寬一分 우리 백성 조금은 편케 되어 또한 기쁘다.
so our people are relieved and happy.

竹外荒園數畝坡 대숲 밖 거친 동산 1백여 평의 언덕
A rough field on a hillside beside a bamboo grove:
紫英烏觜幾時誇 자영차 조취차 언제쯤 자랑할 수 있을까
when will I be able to boast of Jayeong-cha, Jochui-cha?
但令民療心頭肉 다만 백성들의 근본 고통 덜게 함이지
But the main thing is to reduce the people’s suffering
不要籠加粟粒芽 무이차 같은 명다를 만들려는 것은 아니다.
I do not intend to make tea like the famed Wuyi-cha.

畢齋集卷之十 From Volume 10 of the Jeompilje-jip

Jayeong-cha is tea with reddish petals (russet leaves?); Jochui-cha is similar to Jakseol-cha.
In the Sin-jeung-dont-guk-yeo-ji-seung-nam (新增東國輿地勝覽, 1481 revised 1530) we find Jakseol-cha included as one of the local products designated to be offered in tribute by the population of Hamyang-gun. Jalsol-cha used to grow there but at some point prior to the reign of King Seongjong it vanished.
Wuyi-cha is the tea produced on Wuyi-shan in China’s Fujian province. A famous poem by So Dongpo includes the lines “Could you not see, beside the rivers of Wuyi-shan millet-seed-sized tea / Ding-wei before, Caixiang behind, togther placed in bamboo baskets”
Dingwei was a tea made in Wuyi-shan using millet-grain sized buds; Caixiang was imperial tribute tea made there in the Song dynasty, bamboo baskets were used to steam leaves when making caked tea.

The dialogue about tea between King Seonjo and the Ming general Yang Hao

임진왜란이 끝나 가는 무술년 6월, 선조와 명나라의 장군 양호와의 대담이다.

 “이 차는 남원에서 구입한 것인데 품질이 상품입니다. 이와 같은 좋은 차가 있는데 조선은 왜 마시지 않는지 그 이유를 모르겠습니다.”라고 양호가 말하자 선조는 조선의 습속은 차를 마시지 않는다고 했다. 그러자 양호는 “이 차를 요동에 내다 팔면 10근에 은 한전을 받을 수 있으니 국익에 큰 보탬이 될 것입니다. 여진인들은 고유를 먹기 때문에 하루라도 차를 마시지 않으면 죽습니다. 중국은 차를 팔아 1년에 1만여필의 전마(戰馬)를 구하기도 합니다.” 라고 하였다. 그러자 선조가 답하기를 “이는 육안차(六安茶) 종류가 아니고 작설차(雀舌茶)라 하는 것이요.” 라고 하자 양호는 “이것도 차입니다. 조선사람들은 인삼차를 마시나 그것은 차가 아닌 인삼탕입니다.”

In the 6th month of 1598, King Seonjo was talking with the Ming general Yang Hao. Yang said, “I obtained this tea in Namwon, it is of very high quality. There are other fine teas like this here, I do not understand why Koreans do not drink tea.” The king replied that it was not a Korean custom to drink tea. Yang answered, “If this tea were sold at Liaodong, you could get a jeon of silver for ten geun of it, that would be a great profit for the state. The Jurchen eat nothing but meat, they cannot survive more than a day without drinking tea. China sells them tea and receives in return ten thousand head of war-horses. Seonjo replied, “This is not the same as Luan tea, this is what we call jakseol-cha,” to which Yang replied, “This is what we call tea. The people of Joseon drink what they call ginseng-cha but that is not cha, it’s ginseng tang.”