Gucheung-am Hermitage
, Hwaeom-sa : Tea Making 2011

About 150 meters up the path behind Hwaŏmsa temple in Kurye-gu is a small hermitage, Kuch’ŭng-am / Gucheung-am. Its buildings are old and unspoiled. It is surrounded by wild tea bushes and its one resident monk, the Ven. Tŏkje, has developed it in recent years as a center for tea-making. Visitors are welcomed at weekends in May for a tea-making program.

The hermitage is very ancient, the present buildings are perhaps 300 years old but the ruined stone pagoda beside it is much older.

          The Venerable Ilta, who had reached a very high state of enlightenment, used to spend the summer in Gucheung-am hermitage. Unlike Ssanggye-sa, there were no disputes with married monks at Hwaeom-sa. There might be occasional visitors, but it was very quiet and perfect for meditation. Gucheung-am thus served as a meditation room, and although it lay only a few steps directly behind the great hall of the main temple, it was silent as though it was somewhere deep in the mountain, unlike the main temple.

           The halls and living quarters in Gucheung-am, like the great hall of the main temple, were some four hundred years old. They were very unlike the humble rooms monks usually lived in, rather they seemed fit to be visited and inhabited by the great Mountain Spirit.

          In addition, there was the sound of streams flowing close by, while the quince trees beside the steps to the Hall blossomed. These were wild quince trees, that had long  flourished in Jiri-san. When they had grown tall and old, they were cut and used as timber, with several gnarled trunks serving at Gucheung-am as pillars supporting the roofs.

(From a text written by Jeong Chan-ju)

Gucheung-am is a peaceful hermitage easily reached as you walk up through the bamboo grove behind Hwaeom-sa to the sound of the nearby stream. In times past people used to say: “It lies among bamboos with a long stream running musically beside it. Such a beautiful spot!”

Gucheung-am has served as a meditation hall, a teaching hall, as home to a community, a place for ascetic practice. Its historic buildings are simple and natural. The hall, containing statues of a thousand Buddhas, is small and beautiful, with a solemn atmosphere.

Chung'no (Bamboo-dew) wild tea.

Picking tea leaves in the groves, gathering the buds,
brewing them in a jade bowl with water from the Yangtze,
as night ends ZhuangZi awakes amazed from his dream of a butterfly,
confusion banished, Zen Master Zhaozhou knows this taste.

This poem was written by the Venerable Jihwan, a former head monk of Hwaeom-sa.

From ancient times Buddhists have seen in tea not only a refreshing drink but also a potion that purifies the minds of monks in their meditation and practice. In 1697, soon after Hwaeom-sa had been rebuilt, we find one of its monks writing, “We never cease offering tea to the Buddha,” from which we can guess how precious tea was to the monks of those times.

Today we find wild tea growing plentifully all the way up the hillsides behind Hwaeom-sa, from the entrance until far beyond Gucheung-am. Previously it was only monks who drank this wild tea, but nowadays it is also available to visitors to the tea room in Gucheung-am.

The bamboo-dew tea growing around Hwaeom-sa and Gucheung-am has a long history but it has never been commercialized or produced industrially, it is simply made for those living and practicing in the temple.

The Story of Kuch’ŭng-am’s Wild ‘Bamboo-Dew’ Tea

The tea-field around Kuchŭng-am hermitage is completely natural. From the very beginning it has grown as now seen, in the shade of mountainside trees, without any human interference. We call it ‘bamboo-dew tea’ because it grows among the bamboos.
Ordinary tea-fields clear away the trees in order to maximize the yield
But the tea at Kuch’ŭng-am is very different. The quantity harvested is small, while the leaves are soft and large. Our aim is to take purely natural leaves and produce purely natural tea.
Historically speaking, the tea growing wild at Ku ch’ŭng-am may well derive from the first tea planted in Korea, in the valleys around Hwaŏm-sa, as is suggested by the representation in the three-storied Four-Lion Pagoda (National Treasure No. 35) above the temple, of the Venerable Master Yŏn’gi, the founder in 543-4 of Yŏngok-sa, Hwaŏm-sa, offering tea to his mother.
Thus the tea of Kuch’ŭng-am is carefully made using Chiri-san tea leaves with their long centuries of history, following the strict methods inherited from the monks of long ago.

nb. There is a record that in the 8th century the ambassador Taeryŏm brought back tea seeds from Tang China which the king order to be planted in Chiri-san but tea was growing at Hwaŏm-sa before that.

Experience Picking Tea

Once tender leaves begin to grow in April or May, the topmost bud together with the two topmost fresh leaves must be plucked gently without wounding the bush, so that healthy leaves will grow there again the following year. The plucking must be done by hand, one bud at a time.

Parching the leaves in a very hot cauldron

The Korean word for parching fresh tea leaves in a cauldron is “tŏkkŭm.” In this process, the most important thing is that the leaves must not scorch or burn, but they must be thoroughly parched. If the temperature is too low, the cells are not sufficiently impacted, then the leaves oxidize and turn red.
The initial parching lasts some 7-8 minutes in a cauldron heated to 300-350 degrees.
We place the leaves we have picked into a cauldron heated to the right level and begin the“tŏkkŭm.” The leaves must be stirred constantly to keep them from burning. After this, the leaves are rubbed on a straw mat or in a wicker basket in order to squeeze out the moisture.
If the leaves are thoroughly rubbed, the tea will be clear when brewed; if they are not rubbed enough, the brew will be murky.
After “tŏkkŭm” and rubbing comes the final drying process.

Yu’nyŏm (care) in rubbing the leaves

The process of rubbing the initially parched leaves is known as Yu’nyŏm (care). The moisture within every portion of the leaves must be drawn out and the cells thoroughly crushed in order to obtain a good brew. Adequate pressure and time are needed in this process, which usually takes 10-15 minutes. After rubbing, the leaves must be teased apart to avoid clumping. They are then returned to a rather cooler caudron briefly, and the process of rubbing is then repeated, nine times. The leaves must be sufficiently well rubbed, bruised and rolled if they are to release their full flavor. The result of this is Kuch’ŭng-am’s famous green tea.

Thoughts on Making Wild Tea by the Venerable Tŏkje

I want to make tea that is full of nature.
I want to make tea using purely natural leaves that have grown in a natural environment, watered by the surrounding trees, fertilized by their falling leaves and not by people trying to increase the amount of tea they yield.
Nowadays you sometimes hear people demanding convenience in making tea; we in Kuch’ŭng-am want to make truly natural tea using people’s hands rather than any kind of convenience. Hwaŏm-sa’s history of tea-making goes back centuries, whereas I have only been making tea for a few years. Therefore I want to continue making pure, natural tea for a long time yet.
I hope to make tea in such a way that the people involved experience nature and find peace of heart.

Timetable of Tea-Making

* Saturday (Green tea)

03:30 - 04:00 Dawn chanting
06:00 - 06:30 Morning meal
07:00 - 11:00 Tea picking
Picking tea buds among the bamboos as nature provides
11:30 - 12:00 Midday meal
12:30 - 13:30 Sorting the leaves
13:30 - 17:00 Tea making
17:30 - 18:00 Evening meal, rest
18:40 - 19:10 Evening chanting
19:30 - 20:30 Sharing tea and talk with the monk in charge
20:30 - 21:00 Wash-up, bedtime
*Sunday (Making paryo (oxidized) tea)
03:30 - 04:00 Dawn chanting
06:00 - 06:30 Morning meal
07:00 - 09:00 Hermitage pilgrimage
In the hope that time spent walking up the mountain to visit the Yŏngi-am and Kŭmjŏng-am hermitages will give you new insight
09:30 - 11:00 Making parhyo tea
11:30 - 12:00 Midday meal, departure
* Weather etc may cause changes

Dates for Tea-Making
1. May 6 – May 8
2. May 13 – May 15
3. May 20 – May 22
4. May 27 – May 29
5. June 3 – June 5
6. June 10 – June 12

 * Weather etc may cause changes


Important Rules when Making Tea
Tea readily absorbs the smell of other substances, so:

1. No strongly perfumed cosmetics
2. No clothes washed in perfumed detergent
3. No perfume
4. No fingernail varnish
5. No strongly perfumed shampoo / rinse
6. No bracelets, rings or wristwatches
(risk of burns while working over heated cauldrons)
7. Alcohol, cigarettes and gum are discouraged

Extra notes
1. You should wear a light t-shirt with long sleeves (to avoid burns) and bring warm clothing for cool nights.
  Telephone: 061-782-4146