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]

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    

C1920 Chinese Sterling Silver Enamel Jade Pagoda Temple Form Tea Caddy Jar BoxA Chinese Yixing Teapot Cash Symbols Marked ' China' Chen Ding He? 20thcSolid Silver Islamic Dallah Coffee Tea Pot Arabic Indian Kutch Zanzibar Oman Old Chinese Yixing Zisha Teapot With MarkFine 19th C Chinese Porcelain Dragons Teapot - MarkedSolid Silver Islamic Dallah Coffee Tea Pot Arabic Indian Kutch Zanzibar Oman B291: Chinese Pottery Tea Bowl. Popular Nogime-tenmoku-chawan W/boxVintage Signed Chinese Pottery Red Clay Yixing Teapot CalligraphyUnusual Chinese Early 20th C Famille Verte Scholars Tea Caddy - Signed KangxiOld Chinese Yixing Zisha Teapot With MarkV-fine Large Chinese Carved Bamboo Vase Pot Bitong Tea Caddy And Cover 19th CFine Chinese Porcelain Tea-dush Bottle Vase 19th Century - 20cmGreat Set 2x Chinese Porcelain Shipwreck Tea-cups 17th C. Chenghua MarkedOld Chinese Large Yixing Zisha Teapot With MarkChinese Yixing Brown Pottery Teapot With Incised Chinese CharactersA Set Of Chinese Republic Period Antique Yixing Zisha Teapot And Two CupsCentury Chinese Yixing Small Classically Shaped TeapotOld Chinese Yixing Zisha Hundred-fruit Covered TeapotFine Quality Chinese 18th C Qianlong Period Famille Rose Canton Tea CaddyPair Of Old Chinese Yixing Zisha Tea Caddies With Mark On BottomAntique 19th C Chinese Porcelain Famille Verte Wucai Puzzle Teapot Ewer & CoverA Very Rare And High Quality Chinese Yxing Tea Pot , With Calligraphy All SidesSuperb Chinese Porcelain Tea-dust Triple Neck Vase 19th C. Top!B375: Japanese Kuro-raku Pottery Tea Bowl By Greatest Kichizaemon Konyu With BoxKangxi 1662 - 1722 Chinese Porcelain Blue And White Moulded TeapotBeautiflul Chinese 20th C Turquoise Lotus Ground Bats Teapot - Signed QianlongChinese Export Silver Tea Set Dragons 35 OzAntique Yixing Teapot Circular Bamboo Spout, Handle, Etc. Impressed Mark To BaseBeautiful Chinese Porcelain B/w Tea-caddy 18th C. Chenghua Mark 19cmRare Chinese Famille Rose Teapot And 4 Cups With Tray RepublicChinese Export Silver Tea Bowl Chrysanthemum Quality Chinese 18th C Kangxi Period Imari Flowers Iron Red Teapot18th C Chinese Porcelain Qianlong Puce Floral TeapotBeautiflul Chinese 20th C Turquoise Ground Butterflies Teapot - Signed GuangxuNice Old Chinese Yixing Red Clay Tea Pot.Yixing Clay Teapot With Brass Trim, Vintage B369: Japanese Kuro-raku Pottery Tea Bowl By Greatest Kichizaemon Raku With BoxA Chinese Famille Rose Birthday Tea Bowl Cup Trio Guangxu Mark 19th/20thcAntique 20thc Indian Solid Silver Repousse Tea Caddy Box, Madras C.1910Old Chinese Pewter And Yixing Zisha Teapot With Mark18thc Chinese Nanking Cargo Blue & White Porcelain Tea Bowl & Saucer C1752 K062: Japanese Agano Pottery Tea Bowl By Famous Takuho Shirakawa With Box B367: Chinese Pottery Ware Tea Bowl Of Popular Tenmoku-chawan With Fukurin RimAntique Vintage Yixing Teapot With Incised Calligraphy And Flowers - MarkedVintage Yixing Teapot With Overglaze Enamels 民國時期 宜興紫砂茶壺壹個Chinese Export Silver Tea Cup & Saucer My Collection Fine C19 Chinese Antique Famille Rose Calligraphy Poem Teapot, Sealmark To BaseOld Chinese Antique Teapot W/ Signed Asian ChinaA Set Of Chinese Republic Period Antique Yixing Zisha Teapot And Two CupsAntique Chinese Yixing Teapot Pewter Dragon, Impressed Chop & Touch Marks 19th COld Chinese Yixing Zisha TeapotTwo Good Chinese 19th C Blue & White Prunus Tea Caddy Jars - Kangxi Marks B368: Korean Joseon Dynasty Style Pottery Tea Bowl Of Traditional Kobiki GlazeB563 Chinese Pottery Tea Bowl Popular Tenmoku-chawan With Appropriate Good GlazeJapanese Tea Ceremony Scroll : Daitoku-ji Ohashi Korin "bamboo" W/box @c29919th C Chinese Porcelain Canton Famille Rose Cylindrical Teapot - 13Antique Chinese Foo Dog Yi Xing Tea-potAntique Handmade Signed Chinese Yixing Zisha Pottery Teapot W/ Polychrome GlazeB405: Japanese Kutani Pottery Tea Bowl With Fantastic Painting By Gakuyo SumidaGood Quality Chinese Qing Period Pewter Teapot & Tea Caddy