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    

Fine Chinese Carved And Signed Yixing Zisha TeapotChinese Tea Dust Glaze Large Ovoid Lizard Vase - Daoguang Mark LargeA Chinese Duanni Type Yixing Teapot Calligraphy Republic 20th C Stunning Antique Yixing Zisha Cobalt Enamel Large Lotus Form Teapot 19th CChinese Coffee Pot Teapot Blue And White Porcelain Antique 18th Century QianlongRare, Japanese Meiji Period Cloisonné Enamel Tea Set & Footed TrayLarge 19th Century Chinese Brown Clay Yixing Teapot Japanese Minoh Ware Tea Bowl W/signed Box By Famous Kizan Matsuda/ Foliage/ 6768Antique Chinese Porcelain Imari Fluted Teapot. Chinese Antique Pewter Tea Caddy With Engraved Bird Prunus Design E Heng SwatowCp7: Japanese Tea Bowl, Raku Ware By Famous Potter, Waraku Kawasaki, Kuro Raku20th C. Chinese Inset Silver Set Of Seven Rose Millefleurs Tea Set18thc Chinese Tea-bowl With River Scenes In ReservesCk2: Japanese Tea Bowl By Great Human Cultural Treasure, The 13th Gagyu YokoishiLate 19c Chinese Blue & White Porcelain Vase Tea Caddy Bamboo Garden Scene18thc Gilded Chinese Tea-bowl With Bird, Flowers And Bamboo DecorationFine Vintage Chinese Gilt Enameled Metal Teapot On Lamp Burner Stand 1900sAntique Islamic Bedouin Dallah Coffee Tea Pot Brass Dallah Coffee PotE296: Japanese Ohi Pottery Tea Bowl With Sign Of Great Chozaemon Ohi W/boxSuperb 19c Kangxi Mark Antique Chinese Blue & White Tea Jar, Perfect, Wood StandSigned Chinese Pottery Yixing TeapotCj3: Japanese Hand-painted Tea Bowl, Kutani Ware By Famous Potter, Shoryu KutaniEarly 19th Century Chinese Brown Clay Yixing Teapot 82459# Japanese Tea Ceremony / Tea Bowl / Shino Glaze / Sakura / Chawan Antique Chinese Pewter Tea Pot Marked Rare Old Chinese Silver Tea Cup & Saucer Dish Flower & Butterfly MarkedJapanese Tea Ceremony Scroll : Daitoku-ji Sato Bokudo "enso" W/box @c689Cd9: Japanese Tea Bowl, Seto Ware By Famous Potter, Echi Kato, Shining OceanChinese Imari Floral Teapot 19th CCf8: Vintage Japanese Tea Bowl Of Shino Ware By Famous Potter, Naohisa KatoCl6: Japanese Tea Bowl Of Raku Ware By Famous Potter, Shoraku Sasaki, Aka RakuTea Ceremony Scrolls 4 Pcs : Daitoku-ji Soen,kaido,katsudo,gozan W/box @b51782345# Japanese Ceramics / Kyusu (tea Pot) / Blue & White Porcelain / Bamboo82349# Japanese Tea Ceremony / Tea Whisk & Stand Set82251# Japanese Tea Ceremony / Tea Whisk & Stand Set / Chasen / Naoshi Cd3: Vintage Chinese Yixing Clay Unglazed Pottery Tea PotCp3: Japanese Pottery Tea Cups, Karatsu Ware By Famous Potter, Seiho OishiFine Antique Chinese Famille Verte Porcelain Flat Form Puzzle Teapot Tea Ceremony Scrolls 4 Pcs : Daitoku-ji Priests And Tofuku-ji Bunjo W/box @b51682285# Japanese Tea Ceremony / Kashibako (lacquer Sweets Box) / Pine Leaf / Maki82292# Japanese Tea Ceremony / Nezumi-shino Chawan (tea Bowl) / Artist's Work82265# Japanese Tea Ceremony / Chakago (tea Bowl Basket) Cg2: Vintage Japanese Tea Bowl, Mashiko Ware By Famous Potter, Yoji Miyake82402# Japanese Tea Ceremony / Lacquered Stacking Sweets Box Large Chinese 18th C Export Porcelain Antique TeapotAntique Chinese Wooden Lacquered Gold Gilt Hand Painted Tea Caddy Box C1870 .Cf2: Vintage Chinese Natural Stone Tea Caddy, Light Green Stone, Jade82233# Japanese Tea Ceremony / Lacquered Stacking Sweets BoxRare Old Chinese Cloisonne Square Teapot With Ducks & Grasshopper82464# Japanese Tea Ceremony / Tea Bowl / Shino Chawan 82179# Japanese Tea Ceremony / Kaishi Ire (case) / Abstract FlowerCe1: Japanese Tea Cup, Hagi Ware By Famous Potter, Seigan Yamane, Height 4.4"82455# Japanese Ceramics / Tea Set / Ume Blossom82440# Japanese Tea Ceremony / Lacquered Servng Plate 5 Designs Set / Makie / FlFine Old Japanese Pottery Geese Decorated Bamboo Wrapped Handle Teapot82399# Japanese Tea Ceremony / Hanging Flower Vase / Keito Kato82467# Japanese Tea Ceremony / Tea Bowl / Kyo Ware / By Zuiun / Sprrow / Gold / 82236# Japanese Tea Ceremony / E-shino Chawan (tea Bowl) Ce2: Japanese Pottery Tea Cups, Karatsu Ware By Famous Potter, Toyomi Tsuruta82288# Japanese Tea Ceremony / Flower Vase With Stand / Wajima Lacquer / Bamboo