“Is this the right place?” I asked my friend as we arrived at the quiet, nondescript building on the eastern side of Jeju City. “I think so,” she replied unconvincingly as we descended the dimly lit stairs. We had just finished an excellent dinner, and I was reluctant to let such a great evening end early. I wanted to go somewhere a little different and had heard about a popular tea house called Namu Mulggogi.
As we opened the well-worn, wooden doors, a warm, golden light from the room flooded over us. Entering the room I was struck by a multitude of sights and sounds. A variety of colorful wind chimes, dolls, and a mini waterfall made out of vertically stacked cups sat like an oasis in the center of the room. Beautiful clay tea pots, bowls and cups of all sizes and shapes adorned the shelves lining the back wall. Soft music played in the background, completing the tranquil scene before us.
Approaching the front counter, we were greeted by a pleasant young woman who quietly led us to our table. She left us alone to take in the peaceful atmosphere only to return a short time later to place a pot of steaming green tea and a colorful array of snacks on the table.
The tea, grown locally, was freshly made, had perfect texture and a wonderfully mild flavor. The snacks were equally fantastic. Sun-flower seeds wrapped in dried persimmon. Dried radish stuffed with sesame seeds. Broiled dates. Dried carrots that tasted like jellied candy. It was all delicious!
While we were drinking our tea, we were joined by the owner, Won Jong-ae. She explained she had opened the tea house about six years ago out of a love for tea and people and a desire to preserve a little piece of Korean culture. She told us she has even opened a class on the second floor that teaches the art of the Korean tea ceremony, including pouring etiquette, a tradition that dates back nearly 1,400 years.
“All foreigners are welcome to take part in the class,” she exclaimed enthusiastically.
As we walked home that night, we passed a popular coffee shop. Its big, glass front window glistened under the glare of its bright lights. I looked inside and could see the same stainless steel stools, overstuffed sofas, and plastic chairs you can find in dozens of other coffee shops around Jeju City. A counter sat at the back, cluttered with the usual generic cookies and cakes. Pop music blared in the background. It made me pine for my next visit to Namu Mulggogi.
Douglas MacDonald is a Canadian-born English teacher and freelance photographer. He has spent 10 years documenting life and landscapes in Jeju and is a regular contributor to The Jeju Weekly. He won a “Fine Arts” prize in the 2010 Jeju UN World Heritage International photo contest. You can see more of his work at flickr.com/photos/dmacs_photos.
[Editor's note: An earlier version of this article misidentified the name of the teahouse. The Weekly regrets the error.]
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