Preface and Poem of Southern Tea[1]

By Geumryeong Bak Yeong-bo[2]


The text of the manuscript letter sent to Cho-ui and still extant, owned by Bak Dong-chun.


Translated by Brother Anthony and Steven D. Owyoung





Nam-cha, southern tea, refers to the tea produced in Ho-nam and Yeong-nam.[3]

Seon Master Cho-ui journeyed there like a cloud,


corresponding with both Dasan[4] and Chusa[5] by exchanges of letters.


In the winter of the year Gyeongin,[6] he visited Seoul with a package of tea made by himself  to give to people.


He kindly gave some to Yi San-jung who then gave some to me.


Tea draws people together like golden threads and jade belts,

I now know this is the truth.

After drinking the tea in a bright place,


I composed a rhyming poem of twenty seven-character couplets


that I sent to the Master, who read it with insight, and replied briefly.


Poem of Southern Tea



In ancient times, some tea drinkers rose to become immortal;

others, failing that, were enabled to become pure and virtuous.

Ssangjeon and Ilju teas[7] are now far gone from the world,


Ujeon[8] and Honggok[9] are nothing more than remembered names.

Treasure the patterned, sea green porcelains.


Having brewed the true flavor of Chinese tea,


Tea of the Eastern Realm[10] is better.


Tea buds emerge quite fragrant and beautiful.


From the early Western Zhou[11] until these latter days,


The difference between Chinese and other teas has always been great.

Flowers and plants all have distinct features.

Who among Koreans first recognized tea?


Silla merchants went to Tang China,


Carrying tea in ships across the vast blue sea for ten thousand li[12]


The earth of Gangjin and Haenam is like that of Hunan and Fujian,


Returning, they sowed seeds and cultivated tea.


Much grows in the south between the mountains and the sea,


Gangjin and Haenam producing the most.

Spring flowers and autumn leaves, the seasons slip by.


Through empty passes and over green mountains for a thousand years,

A wonderful scent lingers and a glossy flush appears.

Spring picking baskets come out as if ordained.


In Heaven, atop the table of the Moon, small dragon and phoenix cakes are made,[13]


The making is simple but the flavor is true.


Venerable Cho-uis pure and ancient way:


To wash and store and make strong tea, to practice true Seon,


And to write in leisure with brush and ink about the profound and the lasting.


In time, famous scholars appreciated his tea and made reverence.


In swirling snow, a Buddhist monk[14] crossed a thousand li


bearing tribute tea,[15] beautifully made jade wafers and rounds.


An old friend now gives me jade-like tea.


I grind it until the white powder flies over the mat, making it bright.

My weakness for tea is just like drowning.[16]


The chill long lodged deep in my bones has gone clean away.


I eat three cents worth of rice and drink seven cents worth of tea.


To purists, ginger and pepper [prevent] leanness,[17] a pity.


For three months, I held an empty tea-bowl.

While dozing, I hear the kettle boiling:[18] my mouth waters.


Now, this morning, as I drink tea to cleanse my innards,


a green mist floats, filling the room.

I am bothered that the peach blossoms fade and fall,

ashamed that I have no chrysanthemum spiced wine to entertain Bo Juyi.[19]


In the Gyeongin year, eleventh month, fifteenth day,

Bak Yeong-bo respectfully [clasps his] hands and bows.[20]




[1] Poem of Southern Tea: Nam-cha byeong-seoܴ (a.k.a. ܴ or, in Korean,  ). The text of this poem is preserved in 2 versions, the first being the actual autograph version sent to the Ven. Cho-ui and the second being that reproduced in the unpublished anthology of Bak Yeong-bos poems preserved by his descendants (Jeong Min 265). There are many slight variations between the two texts; Jeong Min 266-268 prefers the version found in the anthology, which seems to be an authorial revision of the original text. This English version follows the earlier, manuscript version.

[2] Geumryeong Bak Yeong-bo (1808-1872 A.D.), scion of an aristocratic yangban family, was still a young man when he composed this poem. He went on to hold significant government positions. His poem seems to have done much to make his fellow aristocrats aware of Cho-ui and his tea.

[3] Horyeong ȣ, an abbreviation of Ho-nam and Yeong-nam, the western and eastern portions of southernmost Korea, the provinces of Jeolla and Gyeongsang.

[4] Dasanߣ ٻwas one sobriquet of Jeong Yak-yong (1762-1836 A.D.), a philosopher and leading thinker of the Practical Learning movement.

[5] Chusa ߻was the sobriquet of Kim Jeong-hui (1786-1856 A.D.), a member of the Practical Learning movement and renowned calligrapher.

[6] Gyeongin year = 1830.

[7] Ssangjeon or Shuangjing (Twin Wells) and Ilju or Rizhu (Radiant Sun) were loose leaf Chinese teas of the Song dynasty in the eleventh and twelfth centuries A.D.

[8] Ujeon or Yüchian cha (Before Rain tea) was picked as small, tender tea buds during the spring harvest between April 5 and April 20. 

[9] Honggok or Honggu cha (Red Grain tea).

[10] Eastern Realm or Dongguk, an ancient name for Korea.

[11]  A reference to the Chinese tribute tea sent to the victorious Zhou by their allies the BaShu after the defeat of the Shang dynasty in the eleventh century B.C., the event recorded in the geographic history of Szechwan from ancient times to the fourth century A.D. by Chang Chü (ca. 291-361 A.D.), Hua-yang kuo-chih (Records of the Lands South of Mount Hua), ch. 1, no. 3, ch. 3, nos. 14 and 16, and ch. 4, no. 7.

[12] A lior ri , a little more than a third of a mile.

[13] In Chinese myth, the moon was the home of the immortal Change and her pet rabbit that made the elixir of everlasting life.  Xiao longfeng ף (small dragon and phoenix) referred to Chinese tea cakes made at the imperial gardens for the Northern Song palace.

[14] In the poem, the Buddhist cassock or jiasha ʷor gasa, was used to represent a monk.

[15] Touwang˵or du-gang was a special Chinese tribute tea of the Song dynasty.  Of the highest grade, it was a caked tea produced at North Garden on the imperial estates of Fujian.

As the new tea of the season, touwang was presented to the throne before the Qingming Festival ٥, i.e., before April 5th.

[16] Drowning, known as shuie or su-aek , was a derogatory slang for tea.  In the fourth century A.D., the Chinese Eastern Jin official Wang Meng (309-347 A.D.) was an avid tea drinker who foisted his habit on subordinates whenever they visited him.  Unused to the disturbing effects of tea, they detested the drink and grumbled, Today, we have to drown.  The story was a lost passage from the Shishuo xin yü (New Account of Tales of the World, ca. 430 A.D) recorded in the Yinshi buݻ (Drinks and Food), Tai-ping yü-lan (Imperial Digest of the Tai-ping Reign Period, 977), ch. 867, no. 25.

[17]  Purists likely referred to the Tang dynasty Chinese tea master Lu Yü (ca. 733-804 A.D.) who disdained the vulgar practice of adding fruit and herbs to flavor tea (Lu Yü (trad. 733-804 A.D.), Yincha (Drinking Tea), Cha-ching (Book of Tea, 780 A.D.) (Pai-chuan hsüeh-hai , ed., 1273 A.D.), ch. 3, part 6, p. 3a.).  Spices like ginger and pepper, as well as strongly flavored alliums, were regarded by Daoists as prohibited foods that made the body heavy and impeded a long and healthy life and the attainment of immortality (cf. the saying, bitter tea, if taken with chives, will make the body heavy, attributed to the immortal Master Gourd in Lu Yü , Shi (Affairs or Writings on Tea), Cha-ching (Pai-chuan hsüeh-hai , ed., 1273 A.D.), ch. 3, part 6a, p. 6a).

[18] In the art of tea, the soft, gentle sounds of the boiling kettle was called pines and rain, songyüor song-u, the soughing of wind and rain in the pines.

[19] The Tang dynasty Chinese poet Bai Juyi (772-846 A.D.) is a poetic reference to honor and represent Yi San-jung who gave Bak Yeong-bo the tea.

[20] The Buddhist practice of folding or clasping the hands and bowing respectfully is represented by the phrase su hwa-nam.