Mungyeong Traditional Tea Bowl Festival, Korea

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The warmer season sees a host of spring festivals in Korea and one such reveling festival is the Mungyeong Traditional Chasbal Festival, popularly called The Korean Tea Bowl festival.

For centuries, Korean pottery has been regarded as one of the most traditional, and best revelations of artistic talent worldwide.The Chasabal (tea bowl) festival is a beautiful blend of ancient traditions and techniques that are culturally driven by harmony of clay, fire and wind. The festival recently marked it’s 17th year (May 1- May 10), with this year’s theme – “the tradition contained in the tea pottery, the deep echo!”

The festival venue, Mungyeong, is a beautiful village near an ancient road through a mountain pass, built during the Joseon Dynasty (15th century). The village is a renowned pottery-producing center with over 900 years of history. It also features Mangdaengi, the oldest kiln in Korea. Home to nation’s leading ceramic masters, the festival, since it’s beginning in 1999, is a profound medium to promote Korea’s customary tea bowls or “Chasabal”, and retain Mungyeong’s identity as the birthplace of traditional ceramics and tea culture.

Mungyeong has long had a flourishing ceramics industry owing to an abundant supply of sandy soil and firewood. This annual festival offers visitors an opportunity to gain a deeper appreciation for the unassuming beauty of ‘Chasabal’ and learn the traditional time-honored craft from region’s best Chasabal masters through many hands-on experience programs.

The most enriching experiences at the festival is the Korean traditional tea ceremony called Darye. At the ceremony people wearing Hanbok, traditional Korean costume, brew and serve tea in accordance with traditional etiquette. Some of the teas enjoyed during the ceremony are Omija (five-taste) tea, Dandelion tea, Green tea and lotus leaf tea. Tea is generally enjoyed with Tteoktraditional Korean rice cakes. The omija tea comes highly recommended, as it is a specialty of the Mungyeong region. Visitors can also sample Makgeolli (traditional rice wine) and rice cakes made with omija.

The festival hosts many thematic events including – the International Exchange Exhibition for Chasabal, the Excellent Mungyeong Traditional Ceramic Ware Exhibition, the National Grand Chasabal Contest and many cultural performances. Besides these elevating programs, there are many leisure sports like paragliding, hiking, spa and beautiful accommodations for visitors to relax, making Mungyeong one of the best destination for family trip in Korea.

The 2015 Mungyeong Chasabal (Tea Bowl) Festival ended with more than 230,000 total visitors.

Journey Of A Lifetime In Search Of Tea

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A journey of a lifetime for me, would be going to china’s most exotic tea room at Mt. Huashan and having a cup of tea sitting in tranquility – almost among the clouds.

As delightful as the Chinese tea is, it is definitely not something you would closely associate with exhilaration, adrenaline and the fear of death. Mt. Huashan in China, however, manages to bring all of these emotions together by featuring a death-defying and vertigo-inducing cliff-side mountain climb. Famous as the world’s most dangerous hiking trail, Hua Shan plank path, leads to a tea house, that used to be a Taoist temple. Situated at 2,160 m (7,087 ft) on the mountain’s southern peak, the climb challenges people all over the world to get to the Huashan Teahouse to savor the world’s scariest cup of tea.

The trip up the mountain is long, grueling and could quite honestly get you killed! Many tourists trek thousands of miles up the mountain along the wooden boards that were nailed together about 700 years ago.

Looking at the mind-blowing yet daunting images, I wonder, would I go that far for a cup of tea? At first I think it’s close to impossible, but then it’s also a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The views would be breathtaking (and possibly life-taking 🙂 ) and I’m sure the sense of accomplishment would be second to none.

Tea Trip Three – Nagaland, The Land Of Warriors!

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I had heard a lot about Nagaland, it’s people, art, culture, the unique varieties of herbs and spices, their food, and Nagas’ intimate connection with mother nature. Nagas are known as fearsome headhunters, fighters and tribals, with many presumptuous stories that people assume are true, because despite being part of India, Nagaland has remained the exotic ‘other’. My journey here opened my eyes and heart to a rich culture and even richer history. This blog post is about my love story, with Nagaland.

Many have heard about Nagaland, but very few have actually travelled to this beautiful place. Nagaland is a part of the ‘Seven Sisters’– that includes Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura. Thanks to our friends @DesignStash, we got the opportunity to be part of Nagaland and see it up close. A lovely train journey took us from Guwahati to the extreme east-end of India, to the land of Nagas – where the air and the greenery were simply mesmerizing.

It became very clear that despite being sidelined by the Indian government for decades, the Nagas by nature are full of an industrious spirit. The amount of facilities required for the prosperity of the state is still missing but people have worked their way out on many self-sustainable models. They are great lovers of fun and frolic and here, life is one long festival. The local culture has the deep imprint of Western influence, as seen in their fashion and music. English is the pre-dominant language amongst the locals, many of whom practice Christianity

In my journey, I saw the colorful life and rich culture of the Nagas. They are very skilled in making things with their hands and are known for their textile, handicrafts and cuisines. Till recent years, they were dependent on the forest for their food and shelter, which gives them a deep insight into the natural and organic lifestyle, which I wanted to absorb and explore for my Tea. Our journey, luckily, was not just about the food and spices, but also culminated in us attending three weddings and witnessing India’s first Mixed Martial Arts Tournament – Yoddha Fighting Championship. Most importantly, I discovered the rich history of Tea (my favorite subject!) in the many discussions I had with the locals I interacted with, as I explored the many local markets.

I found that people have been growing wonderful varieties of Tea here for centuries, but only for the local consumption. There is no outside trade. I was told that people from Burma and China usually come here in search of herbs and spices, which are very unique in taste and are exquisite in aroma. Nagaland is still so untouched and far from industrial pollution, and this seems to be the reason why the flora and fauna in this region is still very pure and organic. More of my explorations with Naga tea in my next post. Come back!

To be continued…

TEA Trip Two – Assam, The Land Of TEA!

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Assam is the world’s largest tea-growing region and the second most commercial tea producing region in the world after southern China. To understand it’s history, culture and trade, right from it’s roots, we decided to travel to Assam. For me, an ardent tea addict, the journey here was a very willing step into nirvana.

Assam, as per data, comprises of more than 850 tea estates and more than 2500 tea gardens, that immediately arouse an almost fanatical devotion. Today, Assam produces more than half of the tea produced in India, which accounts to around 400 million kgs of tea from it’s gardens alone. Most of the premium grade tea is either auctioned or exported to other countries, through the auction center in Guwahati. Rest, which is left, is sold to the domestic market. This is sadly one of the prime reasons why most of the well-established tea brands in India are selling very low-grade tea.

Tea is produced in the low lying areas in Assam, unlike Darjeeling and Nilgiris, which are grown at higher altitudes. This is the reason why Assam tea is brisk, malty, bright and strong, while Darjeeling tea is light colored and musky, with floral aroma. Most of the tea gardens here are situated in Jorhat, which is called the ‘Tea Capital of The World’.

Assam tea has a very rich and fascinating history. It is manufactured specifically from the plant Camellia Sinensis, Assamica family. Assam teas or blends, are sold as ‘breakfast’ tea globally. For instance, Irish Breakfast Tea, a maltier and stronger variety, consists of small-sized Assam tea leaves. Infact, English tea and Scottish breakfast tea include tea from Assam. Interestingly, Pu-erh, one of China’s most famous tea, is essentially a green tea of the big-leafed assamica. Besides it’s distinctive black tea, Assam also produces smaller quantities of green and white tea.

I spent adventurous days exploring the local markets, visiting various tea vendors, shops and learning about tea, first hand from the local businesses. One such great moments in Guwahati was a brilliant evening of tea tasting and tea-talk, with Absolute Tea. Later, we headed to 11th Avenue, an urban café and bistro, overlooking a lake. A perfect evening spot, for a cup of tea. I met the owner Gaurav Das, and had wonderful chat over few rounds of exotic teas here. I would highly recommend this place to anyone looking to spend time reading, writing or simply enjoying the beautiful view by the lake, in this tea divine city.

Thus, my TEAlightful time in Assam came to an end and after many cups of brilliant tea, I was all set to catch my early morning train to Nagaland – to discover something enchanting, from the land of the warriors. I could smell the tea in the air.

TEA Trip One – Rishikesh, The Yoga Capital Of The World!

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The increasing worldwide interest in yoga has made Rishikesh a hot destination for all yoga lovers from around the world. People, who love yoga, also consider tea as a spiritual medium to heal and connect with their inner self. To explore the emerging tea culture in Rishikesh, the yoga capital of the world, ‘Love for Tea’ decided to hit the road and explore the city.

Rishikesh, a nature buff’s paradise, has a serene and calm ambience, that will completely absorb you. With both relaxed and reverent vibes- right on the bank of river ganga, with fresh mountain air, sunrise over the peaks, incessantly ringing temple bells and power packed yoga centers and devotees, the city is a must visit tea destination.

After checking into a beautiful room at Tapovan, on the hilltop, we started our day of adventure. We walked through the forest from our hotel and reached Swiss Garden Restaurant. It’s a beautiful bistro in the middle of forest- with huge variety of great tea, awesome food, calm ambience, trance music and yes, free wifi. This place is a magnet for tea lovers and I highly recommend it.

Some of the teas that I tried here over the next few days are Mint tea, Herbal tea, Ayurvedic tea, Honey ginger lemon and Nepali tea. Nepali chai, as called by the locals, is made with spices without any tea leaves. It’s delicious and a must have. I had to connect with the head chief and learnt the recipe first hand. The recipe for Nepali Chai lands on my blog pretty soon.

We spent our next three days hiking, trekking, visiting numerous temples and exploring tea at local restaurants & cafes. Most of them had interesting menus for all taste. Chilling by the shore of the Ganga and making new friends was our normal activity there.

One of the memorable places during my visit was the Third Eye Restaurant, where we spent an evening after a long day at the beach. Next to the Beatles café, ‘The Third Eye Restaurant’ is another beautiful place with a breath taking view. We spent crazy hours over many rounds of tea hereThe Tibetan Restaurant in Tapovan is another nice place to explore, with awesome variety of tea and multi-cultural cuisines. This place is packed with foreign travellers also because of a German bakery next door and Baba massage center right in front.

The organic and spiritual energy in Rishikesh reflects in the tea here, which besides being completely different in it’s presentation, is mostly made from fresh herbs, that offers a unique tea experience.

Best time to visit Rishikesh is during the winters. Tapovan is a must explore destination for all nature lovers. Thus we continued our Tea quest further towards the east of India, where the tea was already brewing for our arrival.

Thank You ‘Lock Cha’ For Yellow Tea

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“Tea is like a library, where every book has a purpose”- Love for Tea

Yellow tea and me, it was love at first sight. I was in Hong Kong for work and I wanted to check out some local tea cafes during my stay. It was a bright chilly afternoon and I walked by Lock Cha Tea Shop, right in Hong Kong park, which seemed like a nice quiet pleasure in the busy city. When I walked in, I felt pure tea-nirvana.

The place is a tea museum and the entry is free. It’s very vibrant and has lot of stuff going around, from display of ancient tea pots, tea making equipment, lessons on how tea should be served, tea-wares consulting, to tea etiquette and whole lot of tea inspiration. Lock Cha Tea shop is a very traditional place where one can truly experience Chinese culture and where people are always thrilled to serve you some tea. The tea shop is equally spirited with a wonderful menu of more than 100 kinds of tea, with clear explanation about their flavors.

There was a tea-tasting ceremony happening at the tea shop and I just flew for it. It was a beautiful and a spiritual experience, that felt like a cross-country road trip along with tea, with so many varieties of tea and flavors, known and unknown, on the way. Here, I tasted yellow tea and it was sunshine in my cup.