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    

Very Fine Antique Japanese Meiji Porcelain TeapotEstate Lot Chinese Kangxi Qianlong Blue White Dragon Wine Cup Jar Vase Tea CaddyLarge 18th C. Antique Chinese Yixing Teapot Foo Lion FinialAntique Chinese Glazed Yixing Zisha Ware Pottery Teapot With Dragon Seal, 19th C10te Japanese Tea Ceremony Set W/ Kiri Wood Box Tea Bowl Chawan Chasen ChashakuRare Large Chinese Antique Famille Rose Qing Dynasty Qianlong Tea Bowl Cup #1020th Century Chinese Yixing Teapot Reddish Inscribed Stoneware PotteryEdwardian Antique Repousse Indian Silver Tea Caddy J Manikrai Karachi 165 GC1725 Late Kangxi Early Yongzheng Ca Mau Shipwreck Deer Pattern Tea Bowl/saucer18th C Chinese Qianlong Porcelain Mandarin Figures TeapotStunning Chinese Porcelain Tea-caddy + Cover 18th C. Kangxi Chenghua MarkUnusual Antique Chinese Pewter Tea Cannister Caddy Vase Hand EngravedAntique Signed Chinese Clay Yixing Enamel Teapot Flowers Pink Blue White YellowFine Old Chinese Bronze Figural Swan Form Scholar's Teapot SignedFine Antique Chinese Qing Hardwood Tea Ceremony Small Presentation Table TrayGood Antique Chinese Yixing Pottery Teapot And Cover With MarkingsA Rare Chinese Porcelain Blue And White Teapot, Kangxi Period. 1622-1722Late 19thc Chinese Yixing Teapot Rare Overhead Handle Stoneware PotteryFine Old Chinese Silver Plated Archaic Turtle Dragon Form Scholars Teapot SignedAntique 18thc Chinese Qianlong Famille Rose Mandarin Porcelain Tea Bowl & CupSuperb Antique 18th Century Yixing Teapot With Raised Floral Decoration Estate Lot 18/19thc Chinese Qianlong Famille Rose Teapot Bowl Vase Cup DishAntique Islamicindian Persian Ottoman Copper Kashmir Samovar / Teapot Late 19th C. Chinese Famille Rose Enamel Tea Jar With Famille Jaune EnamelsJapanese Lacquer Wooden Tea Caddy Chinkin Makie Hira-natsume(1021)Antique Chinese Yixing Redware Teapot With Moulded Panels Circa 1675 - 1700 Antique Chinese Yixing Zisha Teapot Calligraphy NrPerfect Chinese Porcelain Colored Teapot Ca. 1900 Signed / MarkedEarly 20th C Chinese Yixing Teapot W/ Creamer Sugar Set Stoneware Pottery17thc Chinese Antique Blue&white Tea Bowl Cup Ming Dynasty Wanli (c1563-1620) #3Japanese Wajima Lacquer Wooden Tea Caddy Bonbori & Shell Makie Natsume(1021)Japanese Wajima Lacquer Wooden Tea Caddy Willow Makie Natsume (1021)5p Finest Antique 1920's Japanese Arts & Crafts Sterling Silver Sake Tea Cup SetJapanese Traditional Lacquer Wooden Tea Caddy Camellia Makie Natsume (1021)Fine Antique Chinese Famille Rose Medallion Polychrome Teapot China C1890Great 19thc Japanese Signed Banko Ware Enamel Teapot Sumida Gawa Antique Hand Painted Chinese Tea Bowl & Saucer Figural 4 Character Mark KangxiAntiq Armorial Crested Chinese Export Porcelain Tea Caddy Blue Gilt 18th/19thcSuperb Quality! Qianlong1736-1795 Famille Rose Tea Bowl, Chinese AntiquesImpressive Qianlong1736-1796 Blue And White Dish & Tea Bowl, Chinese Antiques18thc Chinese Export Qianlong Armorial Tureen Lid Tea Caddy Jar Cup Dish TraySuperb Perfect Chinese Porcelain Tea-bowl + Cover 19th C. Qianlong MarkYb3: Japanese Tea Bowl Of Hagi Ware By Famous, Seigan Yamane, Drift Ice GlazeYm3: Vintage Japanese Hand-shaped Tea Bowl Of Raku Ware With Signed Wooden BoxChinese Export Silver Tea Set. Hung Chong Co. Shanghai. 1880sVery Fine Antique Chinese 18thc Qing Yongzheng Blue & White Export Tea Cup BowlGreat 19th Century Chinese Export Canton Nanking Tea Caddy With CoverLate 19th Early 20th C. Chinese Square Tea Caddy With Turquoise GlazeFine Chinese Signed Kangxi 1622-1722 Blue + White Porcelain Tea Bowl And Dish #2Antique Chinese Export Lacquer Tea Caddy Fitted With 2 Pewter Canisters 1840Superb Set Chinese Porcelain Ming 'birds' Tea Bowls Chenghua Mark 17th C.Yn9: Japanese Tea Bowl, Shino Ware By 1st Class Potter, Takeharu KobayashiYm6: Vintage Japanese Hand-shaped Tea Bowl, Raku Ware With Signed Wooden BoxAntq Armorial Chinese Export Porcelain Teapot Branch Handle Blue Gilt 18th/19thcChinese Kangxi Blue And White & Cafe Au Lait Tea Bowl & Saucer C1700Yixing Teapot With Chinese Poem Ca. 192017thc Chinese Antique Blue&white Tea Bowl Cup Ming Dynasty Wanli (c1563-1620) #44 Antique Porcelain Tea Pots Vases China Japan Imari Satsuma Famille Rose EtcA Fine 19c. Chinese Famille Rose Porcelain Wushuangpu TeapotYb6: Japanese Tea Bowl Of Hagi Ware By Famous Seigan Yamane, Artistic Glazes