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    

Six Chinese Export Porcelain Tea Bowls & Saucers Kangxi Yu Marking C.1800 (#1)Six Chinese Export Porcelain Tea Bowls & Saucers Kangxi Yu Marking C.1800 (#2)18/19thc Chinese Qianlong Famille Rose Tea Caddy Salt Dishes Shrimp Bowl PlateChinese Yixing Teapot Calligraphy 20thcA Chinese Porcelain Famille Rose Yongzheng Period Tea Bowl And Saucer, BirdsA Wonderful Chinese Porcelain Yongzheng Period Famille Rose TeapotSuperb Rare 19thc Doucai Tray Dish Teapot Stand Bowl Precious Objects Figural19th Century Meiji Era Japanese Sterling Silver Teapot W/plum Marked ǴChinese Chrysanthemum Yixing Teapot 19thcQuality Antique Chinese Kangxi Period 1662-1722 Prunus Pattern Tea Caddy / VaseChinese Export Silver Tea Caddy Dragon Wang Hing Very Fine Interesting Chinese Yixing Ware Teapot Wine Pot Set Cups Saucers TraySmall Chinese Yixing Pottery Tea Pot With Script On Base & A Deep Red Body 19thcQuality Antique Chinese 19th Century Canton Famille Rose TeapotF274: Chinese Pottery Ware Tea Bowl Of Popular Tenmoku-chawan With Exclusive BoxLot Chinese Iron Splashed Vase Crackle Glazed Cups Bowl Yixing Ware Wine TeapotF184: Japanese Iga Pottery Tea Caddy By Famous Rohzan Sakamoto W/shifuku, Box.Old Japanese Gilt Dragon Satsuma Part Tea Coffee Set Inc Pots Plates Sugar JapanQuality Antique Chinese 19th Century Canton Famille Rose TeapotSuperb Antique Chinese Silver Tea Strainer - Wang Hing - Dragon & PearlA Wonderful Perfect Marked Chinese Porcelain Kangxi Blue Tea Cup / BowlA Perfect Chinese Porcelain Marked Kangxi Period Bright Blue Tea CupAntique 19thc Aesthetic Period Chinese Export Imari Porcelain Teapot, Sugar BowlEstate 18/19thc Chinese Blue White Lotus Scenic Teapot Bowl Covered Dish Jar18thc Chinese Qianlong Blue White Enamel Armorial Plate Teapot Dish Bowls CupsOld Chinese Yixing Teapot Vintage Porcelain China Bat Enamel 20th C AntiqueJapanese Tea Ceremony Scroll : Daitoku-ji Kobayashi Taigen "enso" W/box @k31719th. Chinese Yixing Teapot Two Potter's Marks On BaseTeavana Imperial Dragon Cast Iron 44oz Teapot NewFine Old Chinese Yixing Pottery Clay Teapot Signed Estate Lot 3 18thc Chinese Qianlong Famille Rose Armorial Tea Caddy Jars Boxes19th C. Or Early 20th C. Chinese Teapot Of Root And Floral Form PottingVintage Chinese Yixing Clay Teapot With Writing And Cherry Blossom18thc Chinese Qianlong Export Grisaille Castle Scenic Tea Bowls Cups Saucers Quality Pair Of Antique Chinese 19th Century Canton Famille Rose TeapotsA Wonderful Chinese Porcelain Kangxi Period Blue & White Floral TeapotAntique Chinese Export Canton Famille Rose Porcelain Tea Tray Plate Dish C1880A Wonderful Chinese Porcelain Yongzheng Period Famille Rose & Noire TeapotOld Chinese Yixing Zisha Teapot Qi TaoAntique Chinese Cloisonne Teapot Winepot/ Early 20th Cent./very Old Collect.18th Century Chinese Export European Mythological Subject Polychrome Tea BowlEstate Lot 18thc Chinese Qianlong Famille Rose Armorial Plate Tea Bowl Jug Dish2 Great 19thc Japanese Signed Banko Ware Enamel Crane Bird TeapotsA Wonderful Chinese Porcelain Floral Kangxi Period Teapot From Ca 1700Vintage Chinese Signed Yixing Pewter & Jade Teapot With Figures Estate Lot 3 Unusual Chinese Yixing Ware Pottery Wine Pot TeapotsVintage Chinese Yixing Teapot Incised Decoration And Calligraphy SignedEstate Lot 3 Interesting Chinese Yixing Ware Yellow Enamel Wine Pot Teapots18th Century Chinese Export European Subject Dutch-decorated Grisaille Tea BowlAntique Silver Asian Bamboo Tea Strainer Ls Hallmark Chinese Japanese 800 FloralTeavana Imperial Dragon Cast Iron 44oz Teapot NewEstate Lot 18c Chinese Famille Rose Armorial Blue White Plate Dish Tea Bowl JugA Wonderful Large Rabbit Marked Chinese Porcelain Kangxi Blue & White Tea Cup F349: Japanese Tea Spoon For Green Tea Sencha Made From Quality Material Ln9: Japanese Hand-shaped Tea Bowl, Shigaraki Ware By Famous Potter, Kosei ImuraLot: (3) Vintage Chinese Yixing Teapots Signed/markedAntique Chinese Yixing Early 20th Century Pair Of Tea Cups (2) 20th C. Chinese Blue And White Tea Jar With Fruit And FlowersPair Late 19th C. Chinese Six Sided Tea Caddies With Blue And White PanelsSolid Silver Islamic Dallah Arabia Arab Arabic Arabian Coffee Tea Pot Turkish