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    

Good Antique Chinese Famille Rose Porcelain Teapot And Cover, Tongzhi Mk & PdImportant1800 Chinese Yixing Zisha Juan Blue Flambe Glaze Teapot By Ge MingxiangLate 19th Century Chinese Bamboo Tea Caddy BoxAntique 1899 Chinese Export Porcelain Tea Pot Cheng Wenhuan Late Qing DynastyA Beautiful Antique Chinese Yellow Yixing Teapot 吳忻南 Wu XinnanInteresting Signed Chinese Yixing Zisha Clay Carved Wine Pot TeapotG343: Japanese Old Kyoto Pottery Tea Bowl By Great Dohachi Ninami. W/box18th Century Chinese Yixing TeapotLb7: Japanese Tea Bowl, Ohi Ware By Great Potter, Choraku Ohi, Kintsugi RepairInteresting Signed Chinese Yixing Zisha Clay Carved Wine Pot TeapotEstate Fresh Signed Chinese Yixing Zisha Spotted Clay Wine Pot TeapotAntique Chinese 18th/19th Century Miniature Yixing Pottery Teapot Clouds /flames19th Century Chinese Blue And White Tea BowlLate 19th Century Chinese Brown Clay Yixing TeapotEarly 20th Century Chinese Brown Clay Yixing Teapot Yixing Tea Pot Teapot Chinese Pottery Branch 19th Century Antique Landscape TextChinese Antique Wucai Tea Bowl Birds & Flowers 18th Century Famille Verte QingVintage Signed Chinese Yixing Calligraphy Teapot W/ SealChinese Nanking Cargo Shipwreck "tea Bowl & Saucer" Circa 1750 Christies LabelsChinese Famille Rose Porcelain Tea Teapot Crane Calligraphy Chirography Poem MkEarly 20c Chinese Turquoise Enamel Yixing Zisha Tea Caddy Fu Lion Ears 鐵畫軒款?Yongzheng 18th Cent. Chinese Export European Subj. Polychrome 3-piece Tea SetAntique Japanese Oriental Bronze & Pewter Large Tea Caddy Meiji PeriodG388 Great Korean Joseon Dynasty Pottery Tea Bowl Of Ao-ido-chawan W/double Box.A Beautiful Antique Chinese Porcelain Famille Rose Tea Pot 吳 錦泰 Wu Jintai 1908Lk9: Antique Old Korean Pottery Tea Bowl, 19c, JoseonGreat 19c Chinese Famille Verte Enamel Figural Puzzle Wine Ewer Teapot Kangxi MkRare Antique Chinese Hand Painted Enamel Yixing Teapot Signed Authenticity SealLe8: Japanese Tea Bowl, Kyo Ware By Human Cultural Treasure, Yasutaka ShimizuPair 18th Century Chinese Porcelain Small Octagonal Tea BowlsFine Old Chinese Enamel Covered Copper Elephant & Immortals Decorated Tea Tray4 Fine Chinese Decorated Blue,white,gold 19th C Coffee; Tea Cup Twin HandledVintage Chinese Yixing Zisha Teapot Calligraphy Chirography Sg 冶石銘 陳岩製陶 330ccChinese Republic Tea Pot Iron Red Dog Of Foo & InscriptionQing Dynasty Chinese Antique Octagonal Teapot - 17th Century - Kangxi Blue WhiteFine Small 19th C Japanese Satsuma Figures Teapot - SignedFine Antique 18th C Chinese Porcelain Ribbed Teapot Imari ColorsQianlong 18th Century Chinese Export European Subject Grisaille Tea Poy MintLa7: Japanese Hagi Ware Tea Bowl With Notched Foot By Seigan Yamane, Oni-hagiEarly 19th Century Chinese Enamelled Brown Clay Yixing Teapot Antique Japanese Meiji Satsuma Decorated Dragon Teapot Marked Antique Chinese 20th Century Yixing Pottery Teapot Bamboo Form Signed BaseEarly 20th C Century Chinese Pottery Bell Shaped Yixing Teapot Tea Pot AntiqueLf3 Japanese Tea Bowl, Shino Ware, National Human Treasure Potter, Toko NakamuraTea Ceremony Scroll 4 Pcs : Daitoku-ji Priests And Tofuku-ji Bunjo W/box @c508Chinese Rose Medallion Porcelain Teapot And BoxG345: Japanese Old Seto Pottery Tasteful Tea Bowl Traditional Ki-seto. W/boxVintage Chinese Yixing Zisha Teapot Cup Saucer 9 Pc Tea Set Bamboo Sg 應龍勤 320ccSet Of Antique Chinese Canton Famille Rose Stacking Nesting Pots Tea CaddiesTea Ceremony Scroll 4 Pcs : Daitoku-ji Kando,taido,yodo,and Kanshu W/box @c509Small Yixing Chinese Asian Oriental Teapot Signed Antique 18th Century Chinese Tea Caddy Very RareLa8: Japanese Tea Bowl, Hagi Ware By Famous Potter, Seigan Yamane, Blue GlazeAntique 18th Century Transfer Printed Blue & White Tea Bowl & Saucer C1780 NrChinese Antique 18th C. Poreclain Export TeapotChinese Antique Celadpn Porcelain Emgraving Picotee Tea Bowl Chawan D114 G220: Japanese Raku Pottery Tea Bowl Of Daruma Painting With Sign Of Raku Tea Ceremony Scroll : Rinzai Sect Seki Seisetsu "kumo / Cloud" W/box @c513Yixing Teapot Chinese Pottery Tea Pot Signed Marked Bottom Inside Lid CharactersTea Ceremony Scroll : Myoshin-ji Matsuyama Banmitsu "mujinzo" @f577m