Never-Before-Seen Tea by Tea Artist Kim Dambi
Fresh. Experimental. These are the thoughts that came to my mind as tea artist Kim Dambi handed me her blended tea during a workshop. If you are curious about the most contemporary tea of today, you should meet Kim Dambi. We talked about tea and her other interests in various areas with Kim, a tea person of the millennials.
Wearing a black mask that contrasts with the clear weather, we headed to a building named Mumokjeok, meaning ‘no purpose’ in English, located in Seochon, northern Seoul. To be exact, we went to a white-walled gallery on the third floor of that exposed concrete structure. As we walked in through the glass door, we heard ambient music in the background that sounded like some sort of signal sound. In a glass-paneled room in the center were a pair of sneakers and a set of dumbbells along with pieces of papers depicting the structure of a human body attached randomly on one of the walls. We spotted a person on the other side of a table in the room. She had her short hair pulled back in a ponytail and sported a casual training look and matching sneakers. Tea artist Kim Dambi greeted us.
Tea Artist Born in 1990
Kim Dambi runs an intangible tea room called ‘DAMBI's tea room’ on Instagram and directs experience-focused workshops, exhibitions, and events on the themes of tea, incense, music, and meditation. Born in Korea, the tea artist is active in Seoul and Berlin, Germany. As with the rest of the millennial generation, she absorbs a vast amount of information regarding the world’s multicultures through the web and uses it to understand the culture of tea and create her own realm. “We grew up in the midst of an enormous amount of information and knowledge. Whatever we were interested in could be learned or acquired through the Internet. I also constantly searched for something in the online world. That’s how I formed connections with people.” She does not get hindered by traditions and stale, fixed ideas. She has presented tea ceremonies at a design biennale in Finland and at a museum in Berlin, Germany. She often mixes ingredients from Korea and other countries to create her own blends. Sometimes herbs from the West and the East get mixed, other times medicinal herbs turn into a tea. “I don’t think we should treat tea in just a customary way. I wanted to try different ideas with tea and share ideas with people from different regions by having tea together.”
Why did she change her career from a DJ in Berlin to a tea artist? “While DJing, I also had a lot of extra work. I was in my mid-20s, and had an urge to look deeper inside myself. I guess I was looking for a way to train my inner side. I got into playing the geomungo (Korean zither) and naturally took an interest in tea.” Kim Dambi studied Chinese tea and incense ceremonies in 2016 and really got involved with the tea culture. Since 2017 to now, She has been reinterpreting tea in a modern sense. “I think tea is more important and necessary today than before. Focusing on artificial aspects of life makes people unsubstantial. There is something lacking inside of them. That can be made complete by having a personal time, a time to look back on oneself. Tea helps that.”
Building Strong Inside and Out
Kim Dambi tends to delve into something that she takes an interest in. Having presented workshops where participants drink tea and smell incense while relaxing with meditation and ambient music playing in the background, Kim opened a workshop on the theme of ‘health care.’ She recently launched ‘2020 DAMBI’s Health Center’ at Mumokjeok Gallery. She’s starting to pay attention to the exterior after having concentrated on the interior, represented by tea, incense, music, and meditation. On DAMBI’s Tea Room Instagram, she posted photographs of her workshops held in Berlin, Germany; Marseille, France; and Nara and Kyoto, Japan. There are also images of woods, plants, Earth, virus, and the structure of a human body. Like her curation of Instagram feeds, Kim categorizes her interests that share the common ground of tea. Since last year, she's been learning about environmental issues through news articles, observing her body, exercising, eating colorful food, and studying science. “To begin with, I was not healthy. Traditionally speaking, women in Asian cultures are required to sit quietly, brew tea, and look pretty. There were some harsh standards of beauty in society. I believe in 2020 women should have stronger muscles and a healthier body.”
‘2020 DAMBI’s Health Center’ is a workshop where you can freely discuss how to lead a healthy, balanced life in regards to your inside and out, spirit and body, “from a modern and futuristic perspective” in this world faced with natural disasters like the Australian wildfire and the COVID-19 pandemic. “I think it was last year that I started to think I should change. The massive wildfire that threatened Australia got me thinking I shouldn’t just sit idly. ‘Retro’ has been a trend for some time, but I feel that being forward-thinking and proactive is what is needed now.” Her workshop has two programs. Being involved in her workshop makes you feel you’re part of an artist’s performance. One of the programs titled ‘DAMBI’s Healthy Bar Experience’ goes like this: first, you do three sets of 10 squats as a light exercise; drink ‘Energy Boost’ tea topped with cordyceps and eat protein cookies made with no flour and butter; and as the last step, you watch videos on climate change, virus, and diseases before taking the time to think about our way of life in the future. “Having conversations with people through these workshops is how I want to inspire them to change their lifestyle or look at their lives from a different point of view.”
Kim Dambi says tools are not important in enjoying tea. “There is something I always tell my class whether it’s tea or incense. What matters is not the object, but what goes inside of it.” Forms and methods may change, but tea is essentially tea. With the tea artist, we can sense she has a strongly-built inner side through all her experiences dealing with tea, incense, meditation, and music. Her biggest interests now are the environment and anatomy. “The more you learn about your body, the better you see that it is full of wonders. Body is a type of ability that we can work on to strengthen. That possibility should stay open. A human life is a continuation of developing and challenging, isn’t it? A human life goes on in a way that enables everyone to coexist.” For our last question, we asked her how she would define modern tea. “I’m working on it right now.”(laugh) Perhaps in the future we would watch James Bond drinking Kim Dambi’s Energy Boost tea, instead of a dry martini, to fight the enemy. You can check her Instagram at DAMBI's tea room and learn more about her efforts and challenges as well as her tea stories.