Believe it or not, the first documented tea ritual in Korea was recorded in the year 661. Loose leaf tea was used as an offering to the spirits in hopes that they would provide protection even in the afterlife. These types of rituals were also common with the spirits of well thought of monks all the way into the fourteenth century. The rituals would take place in temples and could last several hours or even days! In addition, most of these rituals were overseen by high ranking officials to ensure that they were executed properly. Over the last several hundred years the Korean tea drinking rituals have been developed and evolving to the point where they are typically used just for special occasions. In fact, the rite to have tea was made a national rite that was made available to all residents of the country. This type of rite is not present in other countries that do not take tea drinking as seriously. Over history there have been periods of decline in the ceremonial tea rituals of Korea. However, each time there was a decline it was followed up with a period of great interest. This fact alone shows how serious the people of Korea are in regard to the tea rituals that they hold so dear. No matter what the circumstances surrounding the decline in tea drinking it has always seemed to make a comeback is it is central to the core values of the people.
The interesting thing about Korean tea ceremonies is that they seem to follow along with the seasons. Because of this, the way in which the tea is served varies greatly depending on what time of year it is. However, for the most part tea is always served with the assistance of bowls and cups. Much of the time the bowls and cups are green with images and designs on them for decoration. There are, however, instances where the cups and bowls are different colors. For example, special situations may call for a bronze or white cups and bowls. In the summer months the bowls that are used are about 5-centimeters high and 12-centimeters wide. These dimensions are important because it allows for quick cooling of boiling water as there is more surface area that is exposed. The boiling water is cooled in the bowl and then emptied into a teapot. In Korea, the water is cooled because pouring water that is too hot over the tea will make the product taste bitter. In the fall and winter the bowls are taller and narrower so that they could maintain the internal heat without cooling too much. The tea would be made the same way that is made in the summer- the water is poured into a teapot making sure that it is not too hot so the taste does not become bitter.
It should be noted that the way in which the tea is consumed is unique and unlike most other tea cultures. In short, the approach to tea is less ritualistic than other places. The emphasis is on relaxing and enjoying the tea. In other cultures the emphasis may be on the technique that was used in making it and even the way in which it is to be consumed. Because of this, the Korean teahouses are all a bit different in design and styles. For example, some will offer food along with the tea while others will not. The teaware that is used can also vary from teahouse to teahouse as there is not strict guidelines that must be adhered to. The thing that is common in all the teahouses in Korea is that the best local water is used to brew the tea. Some teahouses in Korea even go as far as to develop their own springs where they can harvest high quality water. The water is taken from the spring, boiled and then immediately used in the tea making process. This ensures that the taste of the tea is natural and that it is unique to the area that the tea is being consumed in.
Tea has always been served in Korea on special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries. The tea signifies the importance of the event as well as makes it memorable. Most often the tea will be served with some other type of cake or pastry for the guests to enjoy. At the party the host or hostess is in charge of making sure that all the guests have the tea just how they want it. This is a sign of showing respect to the guests that you have invited to the party.