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 Chinese Famille Rose Mandarin Palette Ewer Teapot Qianlong 18thcFine! Antique Chinese Kangxi (1662-1722) Imperial Figures Porcelain Tea CaddyRare 18th/19th Century Antique Chinese Yixing Hexagonal Teapot/wine Pot E694: Chinese Pottery Ware Tea Bowl Of Popular Konoha-tenmoku-chawan With BoxMeiji Kamban Carved Wood Lacquer Shop Sign Advertising Matcha Tea Ceremony YqzA Set Of 3 Chinese Rice Pattern Tea Bowls, Stands & Covers Kangxi Mrk 19th/20thcChinese Yixing Zisha Clay Teapot With Curvy ShapeChinese Famille Rose Porcelain Antique TeapotJapanese Lacquer Wooden Tea Caddy Iris Makie Silver Leaf Chu-natsume (0319)Chinese Yixing Zisha Clay Tea Cup And Saucer Sets Of FourJapanese Lacquer Wooden Tea Caddy Sumiyoshi Makie Chu-natsume (0310)Good Genuine Antique Qing Period Enamel Yixing Teapot. Four Character Mark.Chinese Export Silver Teapot Sing Fat Dragons Bamboo Beautiful Fully Marked Unique Antique C1900 Meiji Japanese Arita Makuzu Kozan Porcelain Tea / Wine PotChinese Yixing Zisha Clay Teapot With Colorful Glaze PrunusChina 1900's Yixing Zisha Rare Blue Body Tea Pot Scholar Style Kung-fu Cha YqzAntique 19thc Indian Cutch Solid Silver Repousse Teapot, Jaram Bachur C.1890Exquisite Antique Chinese 20thc Yixing Teapot By Master Artist 林訴 Lin SuLarge!! Fantastic Antique 19th C. Chinese Famille Verte Porcelain Tea Set Antique Rare Chinese Yixing Pottery Teapot Signed-marked Carved Marks 18-19th C.Fine Antique 19/20thc Chinese Yixing Zisha Ming Hu Runji Shaoshan Medium Tea PotOld Chinese Yixing Zisha Pottery Teapot Marked Zhouyongchang Wg293Finely Painted 19th C. Chinese Export Porcelain Rose Mandarin TeapotChinese Clay Tea Pot From Estate, Yixing ?, Signed - Leaves & Brances, Very Fine Guangxu Chinese Tea Cup With Mark, Painted With Quails Stunning Antique 19thc Chinese Lidded Pewter Tea Caddy By Kut Hing, Swatow 1890Chinese Yixing Zisha Clay Teapot With Prunus ThemeExquisite Rare Vintage Japanese 3p Sake Tea Cups Set W Sterling Silver InsertsAntique Early 19th Cent China Yixing Pottery Teapot Enamel Bird Plum BlossomsFine Antique 19/20thc Chinese Yixing Famille Rose Flowers Medium Tea PotVintage Child Toy Tea Set Blue Willow Occupied Japan Tea Pot Sugar Bowl CupsChinese Yixing Teapot Enamel Glaze Vines And Flowers Old 5 CupsAntique Chinese 19thc Gilt Lacquer Tea Caddy Box ChestAntique Chinese Teapot With ScriptAntique Meiji Japanese Satsuma Tea Trio '1000 Butterflies' Pattern Artist SignedAntique 1920s Chinese Basket Enamel Porcelain Tea Pot Cup Picnic Ceremony SetJapanese Traditional Lacquer Wooden Tea Caddy Camellia Makie Natsume (0313)Good Rare Chinese Incised 18th Famille Verte Tea Bowl - Enamel And Gilt Parrot E755: Popular Japanese Bamboo Ware Tea Spoon Sago For Sencha Of Monchiku StyleChinese Song Dynasty Style Pottery Glazed Hare's Fur Tea BowlChinese Yixing Earthenware Terracotta Teapot China Marks To BaseJapanese Manju Netsuke Chagama Tea Kettle Meiji Jidai N/rAntique Chinese Pewter Tea Pot Ornate Inlay Chinese Flowers.Signed Japanese Porcelain Satsuma/fukagawa Lidded Persimmon Box-tea Caddy/kogoAntique Chinese Famille Rose Porcelain Tea BowlAntique Cantonese Chinese Oriental Famille Rose Miniature Teapot - Unusual!Japanese "tsugaru Nuri" Tea-caddy And Tea-spoon Set #001Chinese Antique Porcelain Tea Plate 清中期 粉彩人物方盤 1850-1899E855: Popular Real Japanese Pure Silver Ware Tea Spoon Sago For Green Tea SenchaAntique Oriental Blue & White Chinese Porcelain - Bat & Script Teapot In BasketA99: 1930's Japanese Tin Sidearm Teapot Plum Pine Sculpture Suzuhan Made SenchaTea Ceremony Scroll : Daitoku-ji Fukumoto Sekio "calligraphy" W/box @w687E739: Japanese Wajima Lacquer Ware Tea Spoon For Tea Ceremony With Makie, Box.Fine Antique Chinese Yixing Teapot Decorated Leaves And Vines Signed To BaseBeautiful Miniature Chinese Yixing Teapot, C.1900Ko-shigaraki Mizusashi For Japanese Tea CeremonyAntique Rare Chinese Yixing Pottery Teapot Signed-marked Carved Marks 18-19th CUnusual Chinese Yixing Teapot, C.190015 Pc. Betson Dragonware Handpainted Teapot Cream Sugar Demitasse Cups SaucersQing Antique Ca Mau Cargo Shipwreck Blue & White China Cherry Blossom Tea Plate