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To brew a cup of tea...

When preparing tea for drinking, oolong teas are made using hot water, while that used for black tea (which is the only kind produced in India and Sri Lanka) should be virtually boiling. The water used for green tea should be much cooler, never more than 70 degrees and for the first cup of a really good tea, such as Panyaro (the tea whose box is shown in the photo), water as low as 30 degrees will produce the best results. If the water is too hot, or is allowed to remain too long on the leaves, the finest taste is lost and the bitter elements emerge.

The water used for making tea should be pure spring water. The Chinese have developed a great sensitivity about this, and the most famous teas are each supposed to be drunk using only water from this or that particular well. Certainly Seoul's tap water can spoil the taste of any tea! Traditionally the water should be boiled in a kettle on a charcoal fire in a small brasero in the room; there are many poems about the various levels of sound as the water sings on the fire, slowly reaching the point where it sounds like wind rustling in bamboos or pines. Today most people use electric pots, which are less poetic but much simpler.

In order to prepare green tea in the Korean way, we use a tea set (ch'a-gi) usually consisting of three or five cups (ch'at-chan), although the Venerable Hyo Dang used to say that drinking tea alone was the best of all. There is a tea pot (ch'akwan or ch'at-chonja), smaller than the English variety but larger than the little Chinese ones. In addition there is a large bowl (not shown) into which the water used for warming the pot and cups can be discarded (kaesukurut), and a somewhat smaller bowl for cooling the water and the tea, with a lip for pouring (mulshikim sabal or kwittaekurut). A stack of wooden saucers (patch'im) stands ready to receive the cups after they have been filled. Today there is often a small stand on which the lid of the tea pot is placed while filling the pot, but this is not traditional. In theory, the tea should be in an ornamental tea caddy (ch'aho) but in Korea it is usually taken directly from the box or packet in which it is sold, using a spoon or scoop, often made of bamboo (ch'asi).

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