Buddhism, Tea and...Coffee

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Tea has been associated with East Asian Buddhism at least since the 8th-century. Buddhist monks were involved in cultivating, selling, and transporting tea from its birthplace in southern China to Korea and Japan. In addition to using it as an offering and as an aid for wakefulness in meditation, they developed a Buddhist tea lore which has been mirrored in their poetry, myths and monastic rituals. Tea has become such a central symbol of the contemplative life in East Asia that it is rather surprising to discover that in some of the major monasteries in Korea today over half of the meditation monks are said to have switched to coffee. In fact, numerous Korean temples today possess top-of-the-line hand-drip-coffee-contraptions, some offer Buddhist coffee workshops and barista certificates for monks and laypeople, and others replace their old teashops with new modern cafés. In this paper I will present what I think are fascinating ethnographic examples of the recent Korean Buddhist coffee trend, and discuss the debates regarding the appropriateness of coffee to Buddhist practice. I will illustrate how some Korean Buddhists attempt to remain relevant in contemporary coffee-crazed Korean society by re-branding the taste of Buddhism and creatively associating coffee with propagation, meditation and insight.