This article has been updated from the original publication in 2012.
While I was traveling on Jeju Island in Korea, I visited the family of my friend, Yongtag. As in all traditional Korean families, the core of the family is the mother because she cares physically and emotionally for each family member. Yongtag’s mother also plays such an important role in her family. The difference is that tea makes her role as a good wife and successful mother more important and much easier.
When I visited Yongtag’s mother’s home, I saw that their living room was a simple tea room containing a small tea table on the floor; along the wall were tea wares in a wood cabinet. In this living room, Yongtag’s mother served me tea and gently asked me about my travel experiences.
I liked her soft, friendly attitude and tried to get to know her better.
I learned that Yongtag’s mother began to drink tea 30 years ago. At that time, Yongtag’s mother found some wood that was discarded by its owner in Jeju’s village. She took the wood and made it into the tea table that is in the living room. Yongtag’s mother believes that tea has served an important role in her family life. “Tea is a huge asset for my family,” she said, “because we share our spiritual side when we have tea life together.”
Yongtag’s mother also thought tea played a large role helping her two sons go though adolescence smoothly. As she told me:
“Really, my sons almost did not show the symptoms of adolescence and then adolescence had passed. I guess our tea life contributed to this. When they were in high school, we had a tea meeting every night after dinner and they would tell me all the happiness and any difficulties they were having in school. I did not see the difficulty of adolescence.”
Her two sons now live in Seoul; my friend, Yongtag, is also a peaceful tea person.
Inflenced by his wife, Yongtag’s father began to fall in love with tea too. He even arranged a small tea room in his company for himself and for meeting clients. Of course, he does not pressure his clients to drink tea. If people like coffee, he will offer coffee: be natural – that’s the foundation of tea life, he believes. As Yongtag’s father said: “What is the tea life? It is peaceful, isn’t it? It is quietness, isn’t it? It is far from anger and chaos, isn’t it?” The tea life the Yongtag family pursues is natural and peaceful.
“It was difficult to get tea 30 years ago,” Yongtag’s mother related. “It was not as convenient to get tea as it is now. Today we can easily buy Chinese tea and I can even easily go to China to buy Chinese tea. But 30 years ago, there was a lack of not only Chinese but also Korean tea. Actually, to buy Korean tea, I have to go to Hadong.”
To ease the difficulty of obtaining tea, Yongtag’s mother developed a habit of sharing tea with others. “If the tea shops or friends needed tea which I had, then I would share with them.” Furthermore, Yongtag’s mother sometimes would advise the housewives who had problems with family communication to use the tea life tradition. She would even send them tea and tea sets. “I felt great happiness when I got phone calls from those women saying that their family communication improved since the family members began to sit down and drink tea together. To share, that’s another foundation of tea life.”
Looking at the face of Yongtag’s mother while she was making tea, I was smelling the fragrance of tea.