Korean Tea Rituals (Darye, 다례, 茶禮)

By Ásfríðr Ulfvíðardóttir/ Rebecca Lucas.

Usually, when one thinks of tea rituals, ones recalls the elaborate and stiff Japanese ceremony of Chado. However ritual tea drinking, which can be defined as a process involving 'artificiality, abstractness, symbolism and formalism'(Yasuhiko, 1995;4), is also known in China and Korea too. Its' ritualism may originally have had roots in ceremonial offerings, but over the centuries it became a form of theatrical performance with a cup of tea and sweets at the end for the audience. This formal manner of tea-drinking, unlike the everyday mug with a teabag floating in it, has its' roots in China, and where tea has spread, traditional ways of drinking it have followed. While the Japanese Chado is the most famous, there are formal ways of serving tea in Korea and China as well.

Chinese Origins of Ritual Tea Preparation

A ritualised method of drinking tea was originally suggested by the Tang dynasty Chinese scholar Lu Yu in the 8th century CE. Inner harmony could be acheived by careful, deliberate tea preparation, the ordered motions reflecting the harmonious order of the cosmos and society. (Heiss and Heiss,2007; 9)

Buddhist Roots in Korean Practice

This ordered style of preparation also appears to have formed a part of offerings to ancestors (cha-rye), or Buddha (hoen-cha) in Korea, a practice that continued into the Goryeo dynasty (An and Hong, 2007;91 and Heiss and Heiss, 2007; 187-8). King Munmu (r. 661-81) decreed in the first year of his reign that tea should form part of the ceremonial offerings when honouring King Suro of Garak (An and Hong, 2007; 90 and Yoo, 2007; 54) The 8th century monk, Chungdam, is the traditional progenator of the practice of offering tea to the Maitreya Buddha on Namsan mountain (An and Hong, 2007; 90-1).

By the Goryeo Dynasty, important national rituals involving tea drinking were being presided over by the government officials of the Tabang department. (An and Hong, 2007; 91) These high-level tea rituals were also carried into the Joseon era, and codified in the 1474 Kukcho oryeui (National Five Rites). (An and Hong, 2007; 93 and Kang, 1998; 103) Yet, the Joseon dynasty also introduced Neo-Confucianism (seongnihak) as the state religion, in response to the elaborate and excessive rituals and practices of the Buddhist monks. Buddhism was suppressed, temples were closed or destroyed, and many monks became hermits, where they still enjoyed tea. (See Sŏ Kŏ-jŏng's poem.) Eventually, only the Seon (Zen) school remained where tea rituals were still refined, culminating in a new tea rite by the monk Sosan (1520-1604). (Suk, 1997 and Ang and Hong, 2007; 94).

Still, Neo-Confucianists, like Yi Saek (1328-1396), of the new dynasty emphasised the importance of tea ceremonies for improving self-discipline, and as a practical method to attain Confucian enlightenment. (Jung, 1997)

By the 16th century the familiar tea-drinking culture had developed, and was practised by the yangban. (Heiss and Heiss, 2007; 188) However, with the Japanese invasion at the end of the 16th century, Korean potters and craftsmen were transported to Japan to provide the island with high-quality ceramics. (Heiss and Heiss, 2007; 189)

Historic Tea Rituals?

Yoo Yang-Seok seems to argues that Darye should be seen less as ritual and more as being custom, or good manners in preparing and serving tea. (Yoo, 2007; 54) This subtle difference in interpretation may allow one to draw parallels to the 17th century-on 'high tea' rituals and practices of Europe, where the ritual of being seen to have the right equipment, manners, and social circle, was just as important as the drink itself. (Milton, 2001; 19-20 and Orser,2002; 604) This also is an example of the claimed differences in traditional tea-serving styles in China, Japan and Korea; that historic tea rituals in Korea were the midpoint on a gradient between the appreciation of tea itself in China, and the appreciation of the tea ceremony during Japanese Chado. (Brown and Brown, 2006; 120-122)

We know that by the Goryeo Dynasty, important national rituals involving tea drinking were being presided over by the government officials of the Tabang department. (An and Hong, 2007; 91) At least one hundred officials attached to the Tabang would organise and transport the portable stoves, kettles, tea sets, tea, water, wine, tables, saddles and presents when a function outside of the palace with the King or Crown Prince was held. (Jung, 1997 and Yoo, 2007; 70) There were also codified logistics as to how these tea-related items were to be transported outside of the palace. Only a a eunuch could serve tea to the king. (Suk, 1997 and, An and Hong, 2007; 92) These high-level tea rituals were also carried into the Joseon era, and codified in the 1474 Kukcho oryeui (National Five Rites). (An and Hong, 2007; 93 and Kang, 1998; 103) These rituals were developed by the literati, yangban class of Korean society, unlike the warrior caste of Japan, or the Chinese aristocracy overseas.(Jung, 1997)

In spite of the Buddhist overtones of tea-drinking, the neo-Confucian aristocratic literati of the Joseon dynasty continued to hold tea parties, where entertainment such as music, dancing and poetry also took place (Suk, 1997). The bureaucratic class of the new dynasty also "adopted tea drinking as a part of their official daily routine. According to the 'bureaucratic tea art,' officials met over tea every day to discuss government affairs. Auditors from the Office of the Inspector General had nighttime tea sessions when they investigated corrupt officials." (Suk, 1997 and, An and Hong, 2007; 92) It became tradition for kings and government officials to take part in ceremonies and drink tea before making a decision on important matters. Tea was drunk, because it could promote fairness and honesty, "and Korea boasts many government officials whose fair and wise administrative practices were at least partly attributable to their adherence to the Confucian principles underlying the tea ceremony." (Jung, 1997)

The Goryeosa Yaeji, or The Official History of Goryeo, mentions a Goryeo-era 'ritual' that takes place, when 'receiving a Chinese messenger:'

The King makes a remark to offer the first cup of tea to the messenger. The messenger responds by requesting that the King drink tea first. The messenger bows to the King and then sits down to drink tea. And then the messenger does a half-bow while standing and returns to the original place.
(Translation from Yoo 2007; 68)  

This evolves, and becomes the ceremony recorded in the Gukjo orye-ui (Five Rituals of the Yi Dynasty of 1474:

...The King and the envoy bow and then stand, bow again, and then stand properly. After exchanging bows, a tea ceremony is conducted. Once the tea ceremony is completed the envoy is escorted to meet the crown prince and exchange bows...
(Translation from Yoo 2007; 76)  

Tea ceremonies, and drinking, appear to have become part of the culture of the 'lower classes' by the end of the 16th century, as illustrated by a anecdote mentioned by Choi (1997):

When Commander Yang Hao of Ming China arrived in Korea with his troops during the Japanese invasion, he told King Sonjo (r.1567-1601 CE) that he had discovered a variety of tea native to Namwon. "There are premium tea plants in Namwon. If you were to sell the tea in Liaodong, you could get a silver coin for every ten pounds of tea. Altogether, that would be enough silver to buy ten thousand horses. "King Sonjo replied, "We do not have a tea drinking custom in our country:" and said that what grew in Namwon was only for the lower classes. Yang-ho insisted that the tea in Namwon was of high quality and said, "If you drink that tea, it will relax your stress and clear your mind." But King Sonjo, whose guiding principles were based on Neo-Confucianism, could not accept anything that had been so inextricably linked to Buddhism as tea.  

How Traditional is a Traditional Tea Ceremony?

The popularity of tea drinking, and the associated tea rituals appears to have declined after the 16th century. The person usually given credit for reviving Korean tea culture is the Zen Master Cho-ŭi, with his Chasinjeon (Lives of the Tea Gods) published in 1830, and Dongdasong (Praise for Korean Tea) in 1839. (An and Hong, 2007; 91, An and Jinwol, 2009, Suk, 1997) Although Cho-ŭi was writing about traditional tea ceremony and drinking practices, it is highly probable that since the 16th century, tea drinking habits have changed. One example, is in the traditional teapots used in modern Darye rites.

A Possible Tea Ceremony

The layout of the equipment used in a 'simple' tea ceremony. Photograph taken by Mai-Linh Doan.

For more information about the history of some of these utensils, see my page on Teaware.
Click on image to enlarge.  

There are numerous resources on the internet that have photographs, text and video explaining how to conduct the modern, traditional tea ceremony. The 'fairly formal' ritual described by An Sonjae (also known as Brother Anthony) is the most common form of ceremony described. (An and Hong, 2007; 45-51) However he also describes a ceremony involving whisked powdered green tea (malcha, or the more famous Japanese matcha) as being 'the way Koreans used to drink tea in the Goryeo period,' so it seems depending on your particular chronological interests, or desired level of traditionalism, there are at least two options. (An and Hong, 2007; 53-55)

I do not have the training, or skill to fully grasp all the subtleties of tea ceremonies, so I can only provide the following links:

Simple Tea Rite

Malcha Tea Rite

  • Step-by step instructions, from the MyungWon Cultural Foundation
  • Brief instructions, from the Hankook Tea Company
  • A preview of The Korean Way of Tea: An Introductory Guide, has a scan of page 54, showing the photos and text (if you squint) for this ceremony.

Ritual, for the sake of Ritual? Or just Common Sense?

If you take away the solemnity of a 'ceremony,' and just look at the steps taken to make cups of tea in darye, then it is remarkably similar to the 'rules' proscribed by the decidedly modern Royal Society of Chemistry's Dr. Andrew Stapley. The teapot should be slowly pre-warmed, and freshly boiled, pure water should be used, with an emphasis on synchronising your actions with the temperature of the water! (Stapley, 2003) It is probably disingenuous to seriously suggest that medieval tea-drinking in Korea and 21st century are particularly closely related, though.


  • Anonymous Korean Tea Culture
    Website last accessed: 10th February, 2009
  • Amore Museum 차문화전시실 [Tea Culture Exhibition]
    Website last accessed: 10th February, 2009
  • An Sonjae (Brother Anthony of Taize) and Venerable Jinwol Korean Tea Poems
    Website last accessed: 10th February, 2009
  • An Sonjae (Brother Anthony of Taize) and Hong Kyeong-hae The Korean Way of Tea: An Introductory Guide (Seoul: Seoul Selection, 2007) ISBN: 978-89-91913-17-2
  • Brown, Ju and Brown, John "Tea Culture" in China, Japan, Korea Culture and Customs (Self-published, 2006) pp.120-122
  • Choi Ha-Rim "Tea Ceremony and Implements" Koreana (11)4 1997 pp.22-27
  • Heiss, Mary Lou and Heiss, Robert J. The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide (Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2007)
  • Jung, Young-sun "Characteristics of Korean Tea Culture" Koreana (11)4 1997
  • Kang, Don-ku "Traditional Religions and Christianity in Korea Korea Journal (Autumn, 1998) pp.96-127
  • Milton, Joanna "A Nice Cuppa: The English Tea Ritual" in Dick Riley et al. [Eds] The Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Agatha Christie
  • [Second Edition] (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2001) pp.18-21
  • Min, Chung "The Poetry of Tea" Koreana (11)4 1997 pp.18-21
  • Orser, Charles E. [ed.] "Tea/Tea Ceremony" in Encyclopedia of Historical Archaeology (Routledge, 2002) p.604
  • Stapley, Andrew How to Make a Perfect Cup of Tea[PDF] (London: Royal Society of Chemistry, 2003)
    Website last accessed 10th February, 2009
  • Suk Yong-un "History and Philosophy of Korean Tea Art" Koreana (11)4 1997
  • Yoo, Yang-Seok The Book of Korean Tea (Seoul: The Myung Won Cultural Foundation, 2007)
  • Yasuhiko Murai, Varley, Paul [trans.] "The Development of Chanoyu: Before Rikyu" in Paul Varley and Kumakura Isao [eds] Tea in Japan: Essays on the History of Chanoyu (University of Hawaii Press, 1995) pp.3-32