We were hiking on a small island, Yeonhwa-do, during our recent trip to Busan, when we spotted a temple. It looked big. It had this grand entrance and large central building that was insanely bright against the dullness of the cloudy sky.
We took turns posing for the obligatory “I’m standing in front of a temple” photo, when a bald man in grey robes approached us. He made a camera motion, silently asking if we wanted him to take a photo of both of us.
“Coffee?” He asked, as he handed me back my camera. Luke and I turned to each other and nodded, almost confused by his kindness. We walked towards another temple building, removed our shoes and went inside. We followed his lead, sitting in a circle together around a large, green porcelain bowl.
After filling up the kettle, he plucked a bag of coffee beans from a vast collection of coffees and teas that lined the floor, and poured them into a hand grinder.
He passed the grinder to Luke and began preparing the filter and mugs.
When the water was boiled he poured some into the bottom of the pot before placing the filter gently into its place and dumping in Luke’s freshly ground beans.
He poured once, twice, a third time and then a final short pour around different parts of the coffee before finally draining the remainder of the water in a clockwise motion around the filter.
He let it run through the coffee grounds while we watched in silence.
On top of the porcelain bowl laid a flat ceramic plate, the same color as the bowl. It had a few small holes around the outside and one large hole in the middle. He placed the mugs on top of the flat surface and began filling them with the coffee.
We lifted our cups, doing as he did, afraid of making any social faux pas. He made a cheers motion, bringing the mug halfway to the middle, before saying a few quick words in Korean, then he bowed his head to us and began drinking the coffee.
“Don’t forget to smell it” he said as we brought it to our lips, “the smell is very important”.
It was scalding hot and I was still sweating from the day’s excursion. I let the steam roll over my face as I breathed in the smell of the coffee. I looked up to watch the monk. He was taking small sips, holding the handle with his right hand and cupping the bottom of the mug with his left.
We talked of world travel, of our time in Korea and his time in Nepal and China. We talked of wars and world politics and his desire for everyone to be equal, starting with how we all treat one another.
We were nearing the bottom of our cups; I could feel our time here was almost up.
We had a ferry to catch, he had others to greet. Before we left, he told us he wanted to give us a gift. He got up and went into another room. When he came back he held two scrolls out to us.
He nodded for us to open them.
We unrolled the scrolls, a piece of cream fabric held at both ends by wooden cylinders. On the fabric a Buddha had been painted. Next to it in Chinese lettering was the name of the temple.
“What does this say” Luke asked, pointing to the writing.
“It is about a man on a mountain.”
All we had to offer him was some of our honey bread that we had bought in Tongyeong the night before. It felt like a feeble gift, but we nibbled on them as we finished our coffee.
“Is this your lunch?” he asked us.
“Yes” we laughed, a little embarrassed. We had been hiking all day and had foolishly thought the island would have more to offer in the way of restaurants.
He stood and walked over to his refrigerator. He came back with a loaf of bread and held it out to us, “I’m sorry I don’t have anything to go with it.”
Eventually, we had to leave. We headed to the door, put on our shoes and strapped our backpacks around our waists. Thank you didn’t seem like enough, but it was all we had left to offer. We bowed and silently made our way to the ferry terminal.