Korea 2012 – Coffee in Busan

For those of you who don’t know, Korea is obsessed with with coffee. The history of tea is long, exciting, and full of cultural depth; but coffee is the here and now today. Most of the coffee in Korea is terrible; if you think my letter to Saints in State College (posted on this blog) was nice, I would be down right mean to these places.

Thankfully, Downtown Coffee Roasters in Busan would give Cafe Grumpy a run for its money. That spro is a “bright” ray of syrupy sunshine in a city as bright as Miami Beach.


I stumbled into Downtown Coffee while my students were on their Solo’s; I wandered down the ally ways in Downtown (hence the name), across from jagalchi fish market. Having already had a lot of coffee that day in Coffee Gong Jang (Also very good, they train roasters and competition Batista’s, Don’t bother with the one downtown; the one in Seomyeon where they roast is where you want to be) and a couple of others less notable cafes,  I almost didn’t walk in.

 Many of you are probably wondering; wait… doesn’t Jason study tea? whats with the coffee post?

It never clicked with me that coffee and tea are in competition; I enjoy both, just very differently. My primary research is focused on flavor analysis of artisan goods (as is my start up), and I will publish on coffee (probably twice) before I publish on tea. I often use coffee when teaching flavor analysis to my students. Coffee can be a great drink. When it’s artisan.

Back to Busan, once in the store, it was easy to tell that the owner/roaster/barista/Chief Executive Dishwasher O Sang-Gyeon (English name Neil) knew his stuff.

This is a guy who imports Intelligencia and Stumptown for his own reference. I spoke to him for about 15 min, knocked back a single of his signature Copper Dragon Espresso, and told him to give me 20 (min) to pick up my students.

We all ran back and Neil showed us his roaster and set us up a tasting. Great stuff, brewed coffee included. Anyone looking for good coffee in the Busan area should make their way over. Neil even gave us some recommendations for coffee in Seoul.

– Jason

Korea 2012 – On Leadership and Goals

When traveling alone, I only had to think of my own want’s and my own needs. When traveling in a group, I had to compromise on my goals and make sure my needs were met.

Now I’m leading a group of 4 of my students, who I am happy to call my friends, on a research and educational trip through Korea, and there is a world of difference in my role and responsibility.

Thankfully, I think everything I have done up to now has prepared me well for this;

I have been traveling throughout Asia since 2007, both in groups and alone. I have helped build schools, shovel roads, translated for lost foreigners, and done more research and learning on tea than I ever expected I would do. I have also been in some sticky situations from a near bar fight in Peru (with my dad!) to being escorted by soldiers to their bunker in Nepal. I have been bitten by a snake and gotten rabies from a dog. I treated myself for Typhoid in India.

And yet, none of this is what leadership is about; for many of the students being out of the country and being in Asia is a new experience. This is the first time any of them have been in Korea; this is their first time backpacking through a country; this is their first time on a research trip.

How can a lead the group so that they can grow as people and achieve their goals?

That’s a question that will keep one up at night.

I have found that leading by example, always being positive, and framing the situations are the foundation for good leadership. I try to spend as much time out of focus as possible. I assigned rotating roles including Leader, Chief, Navigator, and Care-taker so that each person can grow into the position and step out of their usual place in the group; this allows all of the members to take possession of the success of this trip, and to feel responsible for our successes and our failures.

But in the end, it is up to each individual to decide what their goals are, and to decide what they will take away from this experience. Their is very little I can do to make that happen for them.

I am so happy to say that this is a great group, and everyone traveling with me is so far ahead of my expectations for them; they have all taken on a real challenge in coming to Korea, and in rising to meet it, I think they have all surprised themselves.

I have learned as much about leadership from each of them as I have learned about tea ceremony this trip. If it wasn’t for the passion all of us in the Tea Institute share, none of this would be worth doing.

I know all of my students will read this, so I want to thank them for sharing this experience with me.

The hardest part of the trip is behind us now, but the future is still a mystery.

– Jason

Korea 2012 Guest Post – Pat Penny 2

During our temple stay at the beautiful Daeheongsa  (Temple) we had the chance to visit two hermitages. The monks at these hermitages harvested and processed there own tea from the wild tea trees growing in the temples land. The first hermitage we visited was ilchiam (1 bough hermitage). We started our trek up to the the hermitage around 6:30 pm. The path was steep and rain beat down on our faces as we climbed the mountain path to reach the hermitage. even though it was a rough climb the land surrounding us was a lush green, bamboo and wild tea trees were interspersed between the pines. We followed a path along a river until we finally poked through the clouds to reach ilchiam. Ilchiam was cho-ui’s original hermitage for over 40 years so having tea there was a very special honor for me. The hermitage was rustic with a deep understated beauty and from it I had a great view of the surrounding mountains. We walked in and bow to the monk who resided within the hermitage, his name was yeon deung and he had lived there for only a few years. The tea we had with him was produced on the 24th of April so it was quite fresh and pleasant. After the climb up the mountain the tea and the entire ceremony felt like a sweet reward. Drinking tea with a monk has a very profound feeling to it, it sweeps me away to earlier dynasties and really gave me an insight on how monks use tea in there daily lives and meditations. I treked back down the mountain in the dark, relaxed and awaiting the next hermitage trek.

The next day we woke up at 3:30 to go to morning chants (after which we napped) and then had breakfast at 6. Around 9:30 am we got ready for our next hike up to jinbulam (true Buddha hermitage) to have tea with the monk Jiyun. The hike was about an hour, and somehow even steeper than the last. The scenery made it impossible to be dismayed by the steep climb, we crossed rivers and trekked ancient paths all the while picking a bit of wild tea on our way. The morning air was cool and refreshing, a great start to our day. When we reached jinbulam we were greeted with another beautiful view of the surrounding mountains and yet again another rustic hermitage. Jinbulam was smaller and much more simple than the previous hermitage. It’s walls were lined with Jiyun’s masterfully crafted calligraphy, and tea ware’s were scattered about. Jiyun had been practicing Buddhism for 35 years, and has lived at Jinbulam and produced his own tea for 15 years. Jiyun had a deep and powerful gaze, a sign of his high level of zen practice. He brewed a nokcha that he had produced just a few days before, Its flavor was wonderful and the body was light but present with good throat characteristics. The tea’s qi lifted me up to another dimension, and the cool breeze from the hermitage’s open sliding door, as well as the mountain view, brought an otherworldly calmness. We departed after finishing the tea, we took a different path down which was a bit more challenging including a couple of rope swings across rocky crags.


Tea with monks has given me a deeper understanding into the ways others use tea. Climbing a mountain to receive some words of wisdom and a humbly prepared cup of tea alone has made this trip worth doing. Reaching the top of the mountains and entering these old hermitages gives the tea an oceanic depth, and an everlasting sweetness. Some say its the journey and not its end point that matters, in this case both were in and of themselves a fulfilling reward.

Korea 2012 Guest Post – Gaby Parker 2

We spent two days with Professor Park, Director of the Paik-Inje Memorial Library, and Mr. Jang, Manager of the Paik-Inje Memorial Library traveling from Gimje to Gurye.

First we stopped for lunch in Muan for a traditional Korean meal, with lots of banchan (Korean Side Dishes). Like all Korean food, it was completely amazing! It will be odd returning home and only have one side with the main dish. Especially when in Korea, a meal comes with at least 15 different types of side dishes! Next, we visited Zen Master Cho-ui’s home, temple and tea plantation. It was so beautiful and well taken care of. There was also a tea museam, that went through the Korean tea history and Cho-ui’s influence over ti. We learned that the people who run it have their own tea company. We drank a Saejak, green tea, and a yellow tea with our guide.

The final place we went that day was the daeheung-sa temple, where Professor Park planned a temple stay for us that night. Our room had a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains, I could get used it everyday! It was a great experience, we traveled to some hermitages around the main temple to have tea with Monks and experienced morning prayer. I don’t know too much about Buddhism but it was an interesting experience. I definitely want to learn more about it because of how much culture and history that comes with each different temple. All of the temples and their separate buildings our so unique and genuine in their own way.

The next day, we continued our journey to Gurye to Mr. Hong’s tea field and home! Our first stop of the day was DaeSung’s hermitage on a secluded mountain side. At the top was his home and library. A recent addition to the hermitage was a look-out tower that overlooked the countryside and a beautiful river. Korea’s mountainsides are truly underrated. Once at the top of a mountain, the view below you is truly breathtaking. I have never seen anything like them in my life and I love that I’ve been able to experience them and make the journey to the top. It’s never easy in the beginning, but the view at the top makes everything worth it.

After, we drove to Boseong Tea Fields. Think amusement park, but tea themed! Not only are they famous for their beautiful tea fields and tea but apparently, a Korean drama was filmed there! The tea fields were located a big mountainside, carefully grown in consistent rows all the way to the top. Every couple rows, you would see ladies picking the tea leaves! The hike to the top was pretty intense, a couple hundred rows. Like always, the view from the top was amazing. Just to see how much time was put into the field itself and how beautiful it was, was so phenomenal. And, of course the best part about any theme park…was the gift shops. If it involved green tea, it was there! Green tea ice cream, green tea chocolate candy, green tea cookies, and even green tea wine! I recommend the green tea ice cream, such a delicious treat on a hot day, overlooking the fields that it came from!

After leaving, we made the final push to Gurye! Once we arrived, Mr. Hong joined us for dinner. The banchan was an easy 28 different side dishes, and every single one left you wanting more! The rest of the night was relaxing while we drank tea at Mr. Hong’s home and enjoyed his beautiful view overlooking Gurye and the surrounding mountains! A relaxing night before our first day of hard work in the fields, picking and processing tea!

Korea 2012 Guest Post – Elizabeth White 2

As an elementary education major, I have to admit, I play with a lot of play-do. I never thought that my childish pastimes and love of tea would ever intersect, but Korea continues to surprise me. We spent about 3 days with mr. An Si Sung, a traditional onggi potter in Korea. After attempting to make tea ware out of clay with Mr An next to me, I have the utmost respect and admiration for him. He is truly an artist. We spent our first day absorbed in our own clay workings. There were many tricks, such as the creative use of tooth picks and the use of water to keep the clay together. After spending 6 hours working with clay, it was hard to focus on our evening meal due to the fact that we were fascinated by the dinner ware our meal was served on. Every meal we ate was served on plates hand crafted by Mr. An. whether it was a tea pot or a coffee mug, Mr An made it all. Also, I have to mention the food that Mr An’s wife served us was some of the most delicious food I have had here in Korea. I wish we could have spent a few extra days there studying with her! This portion of the trip was extremely enjoyable and I am so glad we get to return!

On our second day with Mr. An, he taught us how to use the pottery wheel. I was most surprised at the amount of work that goes into preparing the clay as well as how difficult it is to make pottery. Luckily Mr. An had some clay ready for us, but before we could out clay to wheel we had to throw and shape it. Mr An makes it look easy, but creating a flat her of onggi clay requires some serious skill and elbow grease. After we (and by we I mean mostly Mr. An) finally got our clay nice and flat, we started working in the wheel. This wheel was spun by a swing of the leg but don’t let the lack of electricity fool you, it was still pretty hard work. I think we gave him a few laughs at our attempts to mimic his every move. Not only did we have to focus on spinning the wheel at a constant pace, but we also had to focus on how we molded and shaped the clay. And, when a piece is fired in the kiln, it shrinks about 15%! Everything we made, we had to make sure was slightly bigger than intended so it would come out the right size. I will never look at a pot the same way again. It is amazing the amount of work that goes into the creation of onggi pottery. I would be amiss in writing this if I failed to mention that kindness and hospitality shown to us during this portion of the trip. Not only were we fed spectacular food (and lots of it) and giving tea after every meal, but Mr. An and his wife were so warm and welcoming and some of the nicest people I have met. Mr. An was constantly taking us out, giving us tours of the town and local markets, and even took us to JeonJu, a nearby town with a lot of unique and interesting shops and museums. One of my favorite parts of this trip was when Mr. An took us to his friend’s house who is also a potter. After giving us each a beautiful cup as a gift we were invited to sit and drink makgeolli with the three families that we had grown so close to. With a wonderful view of the mountains and the kids playing soccer in front of the house, it was just the picturesque bonding of cultures. Neither of us spoke each other’s language particularly well, but that didn’t stop us from communicating. We may have been tired and in need of a shower, but in the end, our love of tea (and tea ware) was what brought us together, and in the end, that is one of my favorite parts of tea culture; its ability to bring together people from all nations and background to enjoy a simple cup of tea. As you may be able to tell, I enjoyed our time spent with Mr. An and his friends and family very much. There is just something about watching someone take a lump of clay and be able to transform it into a work of art in minutes. Literally, at one point we glanced away for a second and when we looked back, Mr. An was taking a tea bowl off of the pottery wheel. While I enjoyed the fast pace and urban wonder of Seoul, I enjoyed the simplicity and relaxed atmosphere of Mr. An’s home.

I learned a lot during our stay with him, but one of the greatest lessons I learned had nothing to do with how to shape clay or spin a wheel. When browsing through some of his wares seeing what we would like to purchase, a couple fellow travelers and I found ourselves fixed upon the mugs we were served coffee in every morning. When we asked Mr. An if they were for sale, he said no, but after a few minutes of confused conversation, he plucked a mug from the table, wrapped it, and presented it as a gift. He took something that he used on a daily basis, not just a product for selling, but a part of his daily life, and just gave it to us. I was amazed. Mr. An taught me dozens of tricks when it came to pottery, and each facet of it was fascinating. But the humility and generocity he displayed was something that I will never forget. I know, this post has been sentimental, but isn’t that what tea is all about? Bringing people together to not only appreciate this delicious drink placed in front of us, but to appreciate the people we share it with as well? So, to sum everything up, Mr. An’s pottery was amazing and he was a wonderful teacher, but this part of the trip definatley taught me that the man behind the wheel is just as important as what he is making. Signing off with a greater appreciation for each piece of teaware I encounter and a promise to commit more time to my play-do addiction.

– Elizabeth White