By Ms. Regina Han
Located in the antique street of Insa-dong, Seoul is Boicha (puer tea) house named Yeonhwa-jeong (literally Lotus Flower Well), which even had wind chimes at the entrance, which you find only at remote Buddhist temples in the mountains in the countryside. It was drizzling and the ambience, the wind bells and all, were inspiring.
Stepping into the room, you find a room with layers of shelves neatly laden with a wide variety of tea cups and kettles that tell of their age.
There were a number of guests who had already arrived. The proprietor, Mr. Wang Chang-il, kindly offers a cup of Boicha (puer tea). Boicha has a magic effect of bringing people closer together and the meeting was no exception. Before their knowing of it, the guests, including myself, found themselves already deeply involved in discussing the worldly affairs, society news and gossips.
Mr. Wang kindly offering Boicha to us was no longer the proprietor of the tea house but a good friend.
The inevitable ‘interrogation’ began. Excerpts from The Korea Post questions and answers follow:
Question: When did your relationship with Boicha begin?
Answer: After graduating from university, I started working at a business company and then by a sheer chance I started a trading business with China. In the process, I learned that a lot of people in Korea liked Boicha, which prompted me to learn tea originated in China.
At first I thought that it was just tea. With the passage of time, however, I found myself gradually getting lost in the taste of it. Then I travelled to China where Boicha tea was actually cultivated and grown. So I became lost in Boicha culture.
Q: I hear that you actually grow Boicha tea in China. Would you introduce the place where it is grown?
A: The place is called Yunnan-sheng Province in China. It is located in the southwestern region of China and shares a border or is near to Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. The area is good also for border trade. The province is 90% highland with mountains and hills with forests.
In the former times, Chinese poets used to call Yunnan Province ‘Backyard of Four Devas’ because a lot of wild Gochasu (Camellia sinensis [literally, Old Tea Plant]) grew in Pu’er City, Lincang City and various other areas in the Yunnan Province. These are the places where Boicha has been developed into a traditional Chinese tea culture. These places in Yunnan Province are considered to be best-fit for the cultivation and farming of Boicha (puer tea) and developing the Boicha culture.
Q: Would you elaborate on Boicha (puer tea)?
A: At the beginning, small ethnic groups of people living in the remote border areas started drinking a kind of Heukcha (Hei Cha [literally ‘Black Tea’]) which was made by fermenting tea leaves.
With the passage of time, Heukcha was officially selected and designated as the official tea of China in 1726.
Heukcha was first used as a medicinal herb and then as food and finally was developed into tea. Depending on the different methods of fermenting the tea was further classified Saengcha (Shengcha [literally Raw Tea]) and Sukcha (Shucha [literally Ripe Tea]) and depending on the shapes it was designated as Sancha (Powdered Tea) or Ginapcha (Compressed Tea).
Q: Boicha tastes somewhat bitter but has a light and clean aftertaste. What medicinal efficacy, if any, does it have?
A: It breaks up the fat and this is why it is good if you take it after you have had greasy food. At Chinese restaurants, they mostly offer you Jasmine tea, which has about the same efficacy as Boicha. It has natural and mineral ingredients that are good for dieting and digestion. It is also good for hangover and blood circulation. Furthermore, it is known to be good for improving immunity and preventing aging and cancer.
Q: I understand that you are making donations for the needy.
A: For the past 14 years, I have been paying scholarships, for which I put aside a part of our revenue. Three years ago, I leaned that the Korean Buddhist Jogye Order is operating a scholarship foundation named ‘Beautiful Companions’ and I am contributing to the fund in kind.
The charity project of the Buddhist Order, I leaned, is for the benefit of students in Africa, including construction of schools there. I am very happy to be a part of the program. Some time ago, the ambassador of Kenya, counsellor of Sudan and students of Ghana visited us on a number of occaions and we shared our tea with them. The meetings provided us with an occasion to increase our participating in ‘sharing.’
Q: At Yeonhwa-jeong, do you offer classes for tea culture in addition to selling tea?
A: Yes, we provide a class on tea ceremony twice a year on a non-regular basis. It is a class for people who like tea and it does not necessarily be Boicha. We have a plan to host one in October this year. We also have social gatherings held casually in addition to the tea ceremony class.
Q: I understand that you have a new product.
A: Hitherto, Boicha users drank and offered Boicha mostly indoors. It was for enjoying oneself with Boicha and also for treating guests inside the house or building.
I have heard that many of the Boicha users wished they could have Boicha at the time of outing, outdoor meeting and mountain trekking. They also said that when they had guests who did not have much time to brew Boicha because it took time to do so.
In order to meet these circumstances, we have developed a drip-bag type Boicha. You can put the drip-bag Boicha in a tumbler of the tea cup and pour hot water into it. When you brew it, the water is boiled at 100 degrees centigrade. However, in the case of the drip-bag type, it is easily soluble at 70 degrees, which is the temperature you have in the hot water from the coffee vending machine.
You can re-use the drip-bag Boicha several times as you would at the time of brewing it using the proper Boicha-making utensil such as kettle and cups. The drip-bag Boicha comes in mighty handy when you are required to carry Boicha outdoors when you do not have enough time to brew it.
Q: The Yeonhwa-jeong Tea House. Where does it derive its name from?
A: Yeonhwa-jeong is a place name mentioned in the Buddhist Scripture. It is said to be a place where many people gathered and conversed with one another over a cup of tea. Jeong in Korean means a ‘pavilion’ or ‘gazebo,’ but it is a homonym and also means a ‘well’ where you get water from. Many people think that Jeong of Yeonhwa-jeon is a pavilion, but in fact it is a well.
A well offers a much easier access to people than a pavilion and this is why I preferred Jeong meaning a well.
Q: I think that it might be a good idea to have your website also in the English language.
A: Yes. We are working on it.