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    

Superb Perfect Chinese Porcelain Iron-red Tea Bowl 19th C. MarkedFine Quality Qianlong Chinese Export Crane Famille Rose Enamel Tea Bowl & SaucerNice Rare Yixing Red Clay Teapot, Kangxi Period, Ca. 1700! KylinsFine Quality Qianlong Chinese Export Crane Famille Rose Enamel Tea Bowl & SaucerChinese Export Silver Tea Caddy Spoon Liberty Co. & Woshing 1896Nice Rare Fine Yixing Red Clay Teapot, Square Shape, 18th Century!9-7 Antique Chinese Yixing Tea Cup ɉNice Rare Fine Yixing Red Clay Teapot, Hexagonal Shape, 18th Century!Chinese Export Silver Tea Set Dragon Signed 62 Oz Very Rare, Antique Four Faceted Yixing Zisha Teapot By Dai Guobao Of TiehuaxuanRare Domed Top Antique Chinese Canton Enamel Famille Rose Teapot China DzNice Rare Fine Yixing Red Clay Teapot, Openworked Decoration, 18th Century!Japanese Sterling Silver Iced Tea Straw Spoons Set 55grams Ca1950sTop Rare! Pair Of Qianlong 1736-1796 Famille Rose Tea Bowl, Chinese AntiquesVfine C1820 Chinese Gold Gilt Lacquer Imperial Figures Double Tea Caddy Box CaseOld Japanese Samurai Sword Kozuka Handle With Knife Tea CeremonyFine Quality Qianlong Chinese Export Bird Famille Rose Enamel Tea Bowl Antique20th. Chinese Yixing Mellon Form Teapot With Vines And Bats, Potter's MarkA Yellow Yixing Zisha Cylindrical Teapot By Xuan Shucheng, Late 19th C Period An Antique Chinese Yixing Teapot, 19th Century.Vfine Signd Chinese Red Tea Green Cinnabar Lacquer Imperial Boy Fu Lion Box BowlVery Rare Yixing Zisha Teapot With Cover By Wu Desheng, Republic Period 9-10 Antique Chinese Yixing Inscription Tea Ceremony Kensui Mark Of KangxiAn Antique Chinese Yixing Teapot 18th Century9-9 Antique Chinese Yixing Han Tile Tea Cup ȷ20th. Chinese Yixing Teapot Two Potter's Marks On Base, InscribedAntique Chinese Yixing Teapot And CoverRare & Beautiful Chinese 1850s Porcelain Antiques Famille Rose TeapotA Yellow Yixing Clay Melon-form (foshougua) Teapot W/ €Antique Tall Globular Yixing Zisha Teapot W/ Cover, Chen Dinghe, Republic PeriodPair Late 19th C. Chinese Blue And White Tea Or Ginger Jars, Vine DecorationV-fine 1850s Cantonese Famille Rose Tea Dish And Cup, Chinese Porcelain AntiquesG303: Japanese Old Pottery Ware Raku Tea Bowl By Great Dohachi Kachutei W/box.Antique Hand Painted Chinese Tea Bowl & Saucer Figural 4 Character Mark No ResStunning Signed Oriental Korean Solid Sterling Silver Enamel Tea Caddy Jar BoxSuperb Small Miniature Chinese Yixing Ware Signed Poem Wine Pot Teapot Ca Mau Shipwreck Chinese Export Porcelain Blue & White Pear Shaped Teapot 1735 BA Superb Chinese 18c Blue&white Notched Teapot/cover-kangxiAntique Chinese Famile Rose Porcelain Teapot People & Cockerel Fighting SceneG304: Japanese Old Kyoto Ware Tea Bowl By Great Kenzan Ogata With Judgment Box.Japanese Lacquer Wooden Tea Caddy Red Dragonfly Makie Kinrinji-natsume (822)A Small Yixing Zisha Sugar Pot For Tea, W/ €Very Fine Old Chinese Yi Hsing Teapot W/squirrels In Trees Chinese Teapot.Museum Quality Hand Crafted Vintage Japanese Sterling Silver Wood Tea Tray W BoxOld Chinese Yixing Zisha Teapot Cao Wan FenGrey Shino-oribe Chawan - Japanese Bowl For Tea Ceremony G375: Real Japanese Old Imari Blue-and-white Porcelain Five Tea Cups For Sencha.Antique Chinese Porcelain Tea Bowl Qianlong Circa 1750Chinese Old 899 Gram Silver Gilt Enamel Tea Pagoda Caddy Box ( Silver Marked ) Chinese Yixing Teapot ŮA Very Fine Famille Rose Enameled Yixing Zisha Teapot, Early 20th C, SignedVintage Engraved Pewter Tea Caddies Containers Asian Hong Kong China No ReserveLarge 19thc Chinese Qing Dynasty Etched Pewter Tea Caddy Jar Lidded Bowl*choice* Japanese Wajima Lacquer Wooden Tea Caddy Noshi Makie Natsume (826)Irabo Chawan - Japanese Bowl For Tea Ceremony Ca Mau Shipwreck Chinese Export Porcelain Blue & White Pear Shaped Teapot 1735 AA €Japanese Traditional Lacquer Wooden Tea Caddy Oimatsu Makie Fubuki-natsume (822)Colorful Yixing Chinese Tea Pot Glazed Calligraphy Bird Excellent Condition NrAntique Purple Yixing Zisha Teapot With €