In countries like China and Japan, tea is more than something you serve to guests on chilly days, more than simply an accompaniment to an afternoon meal. You don’t just put on a teapot and grab random mugs out of your cabinet. Tea is a ritual, or a religious ceremony, reflecting the principles and practices of Zen Buddhism. The process of making and serving the tea, and the dishes and utensils used in the ceremony, are as important as the drinking of the tea itself—nothing about it is casual or careless.

Tea was first discovered in ancient China, where it was consumed for medicinal purposes and then for pleasure. In the 9th century, a Chinese author Lu Yu, strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism, wrote “The Classic of Tea,” which detailed the correct way to cultivate and prepare tea. This book had a tremendous influence on what is now known as Tea Culture, or “The Way of Tea,” in China and Japan.

In China, ceremonial tea, or “cha dao,” is served for many specific reasons, including to show respect for an elder or superior, to celebrate a family gathering, to apologize or show regret or submission, or, during a wedding, to unite the two sides of the family. Chinese tea sets may have tea containers, bamboo cushions, tea bowls (cha hai and cha he), a serving pitcher (gong dao bei), tea strainer, tea pot or kettle, aroma cup, taste cup, and gaiwan (covered bowl). Chinese tea tools include a needle for dredging the tea pot, tweezers, scoop (cha zhe), tea spoon, and tea funnel.

Tea migrated to Japan through Buddhist monks around the 12th century, and “The Way of Tea,” also known as chado, had a tremendous influence on Japanese culture. The tea ceremony, called “chanoyu,” has rigid rules regarding the tools and procedures, and the purpose of the ceremony is to bring the participants into the moment, so they focus on the details and aesthetics of the utensils, the serving dishes, the flavors and scents, and the ambiance of the room.

Over the years, a while range of tea schools emerged, including aristocratic, warrior, sencha (Chinese-style green tea), and merchant, but “wabi cha” is the most popular. In the 1400s, Sen Rikyu developed this school, intended to be humble and rustic. The idea was to remove the experience of tea from everyday life. The ideal tea room would have a small door requiring men to crouch to get through it, so that even warriors and aristocrats would be humbled. They would leave the trappings of their status—watches, jewelry, swords, and military regalia—outside.

A Japanese tea room features scrolls, a brazier, a kettle, a water pitcher, a slop bowl, a tea caddy, a water pourer, a bamboo whisk, a bamboo tea scoop, and the tea bowl. In “wabi cha,” all participants at a tea drink from the same tea bowl, while in “sencha,” each gets his own.

Tea utensils are stored in boxes within boxes, with handwritten labels. Boxes signed by a tea master are considered much more value than those that are unsigned—signed tea boxes indicate that the tools inside are of highest quality and craftsmanship. However, in some cases, it’s possible financial “gifts of gratitude” to the tea master might have had something to do with why they were signed.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj

Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj

“Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj” was the title of a 2008 exhibition at Columbia University’s Mi… [read review or visit site]

Asian Art Museum

Asian Art Museum

You can get happily lost searching through the 10,000 or so objects on the Asian Art Museum's website. For example,… [read review or visit site]

Gotheborg.com

Gotheborg.com

Jan-Erik Nilsson's extensive reference on antique Chinese porcelain. Jam-packed with information (e.g. on porcelain… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Rare C1900 Chinese Sing Fat Sterling Silver Tea Set Teapot Jug Sugar Bowl & Case19th C Chinese Pewter Cased Yixing Calligrapy Jade Teapot - Marked InsideTop Rare! Marked! Chinese Tongzhi 1862-74 Antiques Porcelain Famille Rose TeapotRare 17c Chinese Kangxi Turquoise Blue Crackle Glazed Peach Form Cadogan TeapotGreat C1890 Chinese Guangxu Famille Rose Cloisonne Enamel Bronze Dragon TeapotRare 17c Chinese Kangxi Blue White Bird Scenic Miniature Wine Pot Teapot SignedAntique 20thc Persian Solid Silver Exceptional Signed Tea & Coffee Set C.1910V.fine Signed Chinese Cinnabar & Tea Green Lacquer Imperial Boy Riding Qilin BoxChinese Yixing Stoneware Lobed 'lion' Teapot And Cover Qing Dynasty 19th CenturyRare 19thc Signed Chinese Qing Famille Rose Ruby Enamel Peach Finial TeapotLarge Antique Chinese Porcelain Famille Rose Figures Teapot - MarkedStunning Lot! 19th & 20th C Meng Chen Chinese Yixing Zisha Clay Teapots Marked V.fine 18/19thc Chinese Tea Dust White Black Glazed Carved Porcelain Bottle VaseChinese Yixing Zisha Clay Teapot With Inscriptions And Chrysanthemum ThemeVery Nice Chinese Porcelain Teapot Wu Shuang Pu 19th C.Pair Of 18thc Chinese Famille Rose Mandarin Porcelain Tea Bowls & SaucersChinese Export Silver Tea Set Rare Maker M.k. C1850Chinese Yixing Pottery Teapot 19thcTop Set! 18c Qianlong Chinese Porcelain Bird Export Tea Bowl Cup Saucer QingFine C1725 Chinese Yongzheng Blue White Ca Mau Shipwreck Porcelain Lotus TeapotChinese Export Silver Teapot Tea Kettle 47 Oz Tuck ChangChinese Export Silver Tea Set Tray Dragons Signed Ml7: Japanese Large Tea Bowl By Seigan Yamane, Kyusetsu Miwa Style, Dia. 6.5"Kangxi Marked, V-fine Chinese Blue And White Tea Set , Antiques PorcelainA389: Japanese Mino-o Pottery Ware Teapot For Sencha By Famous Yukinori Matsuda.Antique Chinese Nanking Cargo Batavian Tea Bowl & Saucer Pair Circa 1750s (no:3)Antique 20thc Persian Solid Silver Exceptional Teapot, Vartan, Isfahan C.1910Mc7: Japanese Tea Bowl, Hagi Ware By Famous Seigan Yamane, 3 Color GlazesMm2: Vintage Japanese Hand-shaped Pottery Tea Bowl Of Seto Ware19thc 20thc Guangxu Chinese Tea Cup Soup Bowl Set Millefleur Famille Rose MarkedChinese Export Silver Tea Cup & Saucer Tea Set Cobra Dragon Md9: Japanese Hagi Ware Tea Bowl With Notched Foot By Seigan Yamane, Oni-hagiJapanese Satsuma Oriental Pottery - Geisha & Immortals Sake Tea Pot - Lovely!Top Quality! 19c Chinese Red Clay Cylinderic Shape Yixing Zisha Teapot Mark QingFantastic Antique Chinese Silver Wine/teapot And CupMs1 Japanese Tea Bowl, Seto Ware With Artistic Glazes, Famous Potter, Eichi KatoJapanese Lacquer Wooden Tea Caddy Bamboo Forest Makie Natsume By Souin (1120)Original Antique 18thc Chinese Export Famille Rose Blue & White Tea CupMeiji Taisho Bronze Tea Ceremony Altar Flower Kannon Bottle Vase Japan Nr YqzMe4: Japanese Celadon Tea Cup, Kyo Ware By Famous Potter, Toshio FurukawaAn Exceptional Japanese Kutani Tea Bowl, Chawan - First Half 20th CenturyElegant Qianlong 1736-95 Pair Of Famille Rose Tea Bowls Chinese AntiquesJapanese Wajima Lacquer Wooden Tea Caddy Oimatsu Makie Natsume (0126)A428: Japanese Full Set Of Tea Things With Classy Wooden Teabox Chabako, ShifukuNice Quality! 19c Miniature Chinese Dark Clay Bell Yixing Zisha Teapot Mark QingAntique Chinese Teapot SetMh8: Vintage Japanese Celadon Tea Bowl By Famous Potter, Seiho HibinoC1752 Antique Chinese Nanking Cargo Blue & White Pine Tree Pattern Tea Bowl CupJapanese Sterling Tea Set Davis 1880 Cranes Dragonfly DuckJapanese Traditional Tsugaru Lacquer Wooden Tea Caddy Natsume (0126)Japanese Lacquer Wooden Tea Caddy Fan Face Makie O-hira Natsume (0126)Antique Rice Grain Chinese Blue White Porcelain Tea Soup Bowl Dish Lid Spoon SetMd8: Japanese Tea Bowl Of Hagi Ware By Famous Potter, Seigan Yamane, Blue GlazeMj8 Vintage Japanese High-class Teaspoon, Chashaku With Bamboo Box, Tea CeremonyMf9: Vintage Japanese Tea Bowl, Raku Ware By 1st Class Potter, Shoraku SasakiSuperb 18th Century Yixing Teapot With Reticulated Buffalo Lid Floral DecorationNice Quality! 20th C Chinese Red Clay Round Shape Yixing Zisha Teapot Mark BaseAntique 18th C Chinese Export Porcelain Tea PotJapanese Iga Ware Tea Caddy Chaire W/signed Box/ Very Nice Glaze/ 2134Fine Quality Chinese Famille Rose Mandarin 18th C Tea Bowl & Saucer