Tuesday, January 10, 2012

An Old Tea House in Insadong

Almost 15 months after stepping foot into South Korea I think I may have found my favorite spot. It is humble and quiet and tucked away down a narrow alleyway off a main street. It is a beautiful traditional Korean tea house.

Now that it is official, I am leaving Korea in less than 2 months, I am trying to squeeze in all the things I want to do before I go. Saturday's itinerary was to spend some more time exploring Insadong. I am hunting for the perfect 'Korea' piece to bring home with me and I thought Insadong would inspire me. After a few hours of walking and browsing and generally enjoying the day we needed a break. Starbucks was a hop, skip and a jump away but I held out and went in search of a tea house. What I found was exactly what I was looking for.

At the very, very end of a quiet little offshoot alley lined with pots and plants, I found Shin Old Tea House. What a gem. As soon as you enter inside, there is an open, light, indoor greenhouse type of room. There is green foliage everywhere, from trees to plants, to roots and stems poking in every direction. With our shoes kicked off here, we were guided by the only ajumma who was working, to a table.

As soon as we walked into the next room where we were seated, the lights were much dimmer, and the ambiance much different. Instead of exuding light and life, it now reeked of history and tradition. All the seats were on the floor, no chairs in sight. Each table had beautifully coloured cushions to sit on. The small, low tables were made in a dark wood matching both the interior and exterior of the building. This style of traditional Korean building is called hanok. The walls were covered in framed art work and traditional tapestries, so everywhere your eye turned, there was something to soak in.

The clientele added so much to the environment too. There was one table with 2 young ladies who had their heads poured over some very important looking work. They rarely spoke and looked so focused on the task at hand. Beside them, a little further away were 2 business men, conducting their business over tea and a laptop computer. A little closer was a table of 4 middle aged women, sipping their tea, and incessantly chattering like teenaged girls. The last table was barely bigger than our tiny 2 person table, but there were up to 8 people huddled around it at one point. One family spanning over 3 generations. Grandmother was there, her kids and their spouses and a small little boy no older than 2. Everyone was there, nestled closely on the floor enjoying their tea. To me, this place was the greatest part of my day, an amazing discovery but to everyone else, it was just an ordinary place, on an ordinary day.

The menu was as simple as the tea house. There were maybe 6 different choices. Green tea, jujube, ginger, and a few others, nothing too fancy. I ordered green tea and Garry ordered ginger. Mine was the better choice because it came with a small one person tea pot, and an even smaller traditional tea glass, and then a thermos full of hot water so I could steep my tea, pour it myself, and refill at my leisure. Garry's ginger tea was tasty, but much less involved than mine- just a mug, the tea and a few floating pine nuts. I recommend the green tea. With the tea came some deok (rice cakes), and another traditional Korean snack.

The whole experience was beautiful. I could've spent the rest of my afternoon in that old tea house and every afternoon there after. As I sit drinking green tea on my apartment floor, I am imagining myself to be back at the old tea house. It really did feel like a part of Korea's history. I only have a short time left in Korea but I will make sure to return to this place. After travelling to all different corners of South Korea, it may very well be my most favorite spot yet.

Here are some pictures to try and do it justice.

At the end of this alley, is the old tea house.
Just outside of the tea house. 
The entrance way.
The front room entrance, before we got seated. 
Our tiny little table inside. 

The 2 girls, heads down, very focused on their work. 

Korean snacks. 

Tea time.

Part of the decor.

More beautiful decorations.
My happy place. 


Johnna Kim said...

im definitely checking this out, Alex!

Alexandra DeMaria said...

Johnna, do it. Seriously it may be my #1 place in all of Korea. Super low key, nothing crazy. Highly recommend it. Enjoy!