History and Archaeology of Teaware

By Ásfríðr Ulfvíðardóttir/ Rebecca Lucas.

What is meant by a tea set?

The 'tea set' (cha-gi, 다기) can be as simple as a teapot and cup, to all of the equipment required for a tea ceremony -- from the table the items are set out on, to the small cloth used to wipe up any spills that may occur.
In the photograph below, by Mai-Linh Doan, I have labelled most of the items that could be considered part of the tea set. Of all of these components, only teacups, bowls, kettles, teapots, tea caddies, and the tea table shall be mentioned. Only because I have not been able to find historic information, or examples, of the other utensils in English.

Click on image to enlarge.  

Teaware is said to have reached its' height in sophistication and beauty in the 12th century, which is also the period from which a lot of these items have been preserved. (Choi, 1997) The highest quality teapots and bowls were reserved for presenting to images of the Buddha, filled with the freshly harvested and prepared tealeaves from nearby fields. (Choi, 1997) Teaware became more austere during the Joseon dynasty, and after the invasion of Japan at the end of the 16th century, Korean potters made teaware for the Japanese market. This is because while in Korea they were being created for everyday use, their 'rustic simplicity' appealed to practicioners of the wabi (aesthetic appreciation of poverty) style of tea ceremony, and so became an expensive investment in tea sets. (Tokyo National Museum, 2008) In Japan, these imported items are known as Kōraimono (高麗物).

Cups and Bowls (Chat-jjan, 찻잔, 茶盞)

Like the problem of determining the difference between a wine ewer and a teapot, the differences in shape and style of wine cups and tea cups also eludes me. If anyone reading this knows how these items are categorised, I would love it if you contacted me!

Goryeo era cupGoryeo era cupGoryeo era cupGoryeo era cup

Row One, Left to Right:
Goryeo-era cup. Amore Museum, 차문화전시실
11-12th century celadon tea bowl. Amore Museum, Ceramic Craft Gallery.
12th century, lidded celadon teacups. Amore Museum, 차문화전시실
12th century, crazed celadon-glaze teacup. Amore Museum, 차문화전시실
Goryeo era cupGoryeo era cupGoryeo era cupGoryeo era cup

Row Two, Left to Right:
Two styles of 12th century teacups, with stands. Amore Museum, 차문화전시실
12-13th century, gold-plated teacup and stand. Amore Museum, 차문화전시실
13th century, inlaid celadon teacup and stand. Amore Museum, Tea Culture Exhibition
Goryeo era cup

Row Three:
15th century footed cup, Amore Museum, Tea Culture Exhibition.

See Also:

Cooling Bowl (suk-u, 숙우, 熟盂)

The lipped bowl, used for cooling the temperature of the water between the kettle and teapot, surprisingly appears to have been an innovation from at least the end of the Goryeo dynasty. This bowl is used, because the tea is usually prepared with water well below boiling point, so that the green teas' flavour is at its' best. There is also the practical aspect, of drinking from cups that are usually without handles, so you need to be able to comfortably hold and drink from them.

14th century, celadon spouted bowl from the late Goryeo/early Joseon dynasties.
Photograph from the Amore Museum, 차문화전시실.
Click on image to enlarge.


...Its murmur,like water boiling
in a stone pot, evoking
the wind-rusted pine.
~Yi Chae-hyon, Late Koryo Dynasty.  

If you look at photographs and videos of Korean tea ceremonies, it appears at first that it is performed using two kettles, but it is actually a teapot for brewing tea, and a kettle for heating water. In the Goguryeo era, kettles were similar to european cauldrons.

5th century kettle, from the 3 Kingdoms/Goguryeo period.
Photograph from Wikipedia.
Click on image to enlarge.

Waste Water Bowl (Toesu-gi, 퇴수기, 退水器)

This appears, at least modernly, to simply be a large bowl used to pour waste water in to.

See Also

Tea Caddies (Cha-ho, 차호, 茶壺)

According to Castile, the katatsuki (肩衝) style of tea-caddy, was originally made in Korea for daily home use. He implies that this 'high shouldered' looking bowl was taken back to Japan were it was integrated in chado ceremony. (Castile, 1971; 194-5) However, photographs of items from the Freer gallery seem to imply that any bowl, with a tight-fitting lid, could be used as a tea caddy.


Traditional and Historic Tea Pots (Cha-Gwan, 다관, 茶罐)

The traditional teapot used in tea ceremonies, have a straight, side-handle, that makes it easier to pour tea if you're pouring into cups that are to the side of the pot. However, it appears that this style is based off the Japanese kyusu teapots which were only invented in the 19th century. (Heiss and Heiss, 2007; 320) This also correlates with the time of Cho-ŭi's writings about tea, which are credited with reviving the art form into the 20th century. Could it be that this 'Korean' teapot is only traditional from the 19th century on?

According to Clark (1989; 26), the teapot would only have been developed after tea-making had developed into using loose tea leaves (as distinct from powdered or compressed tea), as they would need to be brewed before pouring the tea drink into a cup. Suk (1997) says that leaf tea was drunk from the Goryeo period onwards (918-1392), which would at first imply that these teapot-shaped items would have been used for brewing tea. However, through the vaugaries of translation, 'teapot' also can mean wine and water ewers and jugs. So while a Goryeo-era ewer may look similar to a modern teapot, there is no guarentee that it may have been used for the brewing and serving of tea. To confuse the matter even further, it is possible to buy 'tea sets' with the teapot based on these ewers.

(For an example, compare the bamboo shoot-shaped ewer, Accession number 50.966, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the teapot sold at Korean-Arts.com)

It appears the main difference between tea and wine ewers is size, with tea pots approximately half the size of a wine ewer. However many of the photographs online do not come with any scale (Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2009). These ewers, whether for wine or tea, were kept warm by filling a bowl-shaped stand with hot water, and then placing the ewer in it. (Melon-shaped Wine Ewer, 2006) It seems to be implied that the stand for the teapot lid is a modern invention. (An and Hong, 2007; 44)

Figure 2: Goryeo Ewer Figure 3: Goryeo Ewer Figure 4: Goryeo Ewer
Row One, left to right:
12th century Goryeo-era ewer. Source: mharrsch.
Late 12th century (?) Goryeo-era ewer. Source: Wikipedia. See a similar ewer at the Freer Gallery of Art.
12-13th century ewer, from the Freer Gallery of Art. Source: Wikipedia
12-13th century ewer or 'teapot.' Sources: Amore Museum, 차문화전시실 and Ceramic Craft.

Figure 5: Goryeo Ewer Figure 6: Goryeo Ewer Figure 7: Joseon Teapot Figure 8: Kyusu Teapot
Row Two, left to right:
13th century melon-shaped ewer(?). Source: Wikipedia.
13th century melon-shaped ewer(?). Source: Wikipedia.
15th century 'teapot.' Source: Amore Museum, 차문화전시실.
Modern Japanese kyusu teapot. Source: J. Michael
Click on images to enlarge.

See Also:

The Table

All of this equipment sits upon the tea table, according to a Chinese envoy who travelled to Koryo, Xu Jing, the tea table was red in colour, with a red silk cloth covering the implements. (Jung, 1997)



  • An Sonjae (Brother Anthony of Taize) and Hong Kyeong-hae The Korean Way of Tea: An Introductory Guide (Seoul: Seoul Selection, 2007) ISBN: 978-89-91913-17-2
  • Anonymous Korean Tea Culture
    Website last accessed: 10th February, 2009
  • Anonymous "Melon-shaped wine ewer [Korea] (1996.471)". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2006).
    Website last accessed: 13th February, 2009
  • Amore Museum 차문화전시실 [Tea Culture Exhibition]
    Website last accessed: 10th February, 2009
  • Amore Museum Ceramic Craft Gallery.
    Website last accessed: 20th September, 2009
  • Castile, Rand The Way of Tea (Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1971)
  • Choi Ha-Rim "Tea Ceremony and Implements" Koreana (11)4 1997 pp.22-27
  • Clark, Garth The Eccentric Teapot: Four Hundered Years of Invention (New York: Abbeville Press, 1989)
  • Freer Gallery of Art Korean Art Collection
    Website last accessed 17th February, 2009.
  • Jung, Young-sun "Characteristics of Korean Tea Culture" Koreana (11)4 1997
  • Minneapolis Institute of Arts Ceramics
    Compare the dimensions of a Northern Sung Dynasty wine ewer and basin (99.125a-c), and a Northern Sung ewer and cover (2000.83.2a,b).
  • Suk Yong-un "History and Philosophy of Korean Tea Art" Koreana (11)4 1997
  • Tokyo National Museum Korean Tea Bowls from the Joseon Dynasty: Tuesday, April 4 - Sunday, July 27, 2008
    Website last accessed 17th February, 2009.
  • Yellin, Robert "The Mystery and the Mastery" The Japan Times [October 10th, 2001]
    Website last accessed 23rd February, 2009
  • Yoo Yang-Seok (Fred) The Book of Korean Tea (Seoul: The Myung Won Cultural Foundation, 2007) ISBN: 978-89-955021-2-9