The intricacies of Chinese tea ceremony and culture may seem enigmatic to us Westerners, but that doesn’t mean we can’t incorporate some of its beauty into our own traditions and lives. One easy way to appreciate and enjoy the charm of Chinese tea culture is with your own Chinese tea table, or chaji. (Fun fact: the Chinese word for tea, cha, is where we get our word “Chai” tea from!)
Original authentic tea tables were first made from Chinese hardwoods, known as “rosewoods”. These dense woods made sturdier, durable furniture that were also very fragrant and deeper and richer in color. Chinese furniture makers still produce rosewood tea tables to this day, and you can even find them in the States.
Tea tables were invented towards the end of the Ming dynasty in China, and were usually placed between two armchairs in the main hall of the home. The tea ceremony became very important to Chinese culture, and as such, tea tables often held objects of religious importance.
Of course, after so many centuries, we don’t usually drink tea for religious reasons (even if we do drink it religiously!). Tea has never lost its mass appeal, and like so many good ideas, through the years, the tea table has spread all over East Asia as well as across the globe, taking on many new forms and shapes as tea table lovers change the table to their own design preferences and home needs. Many modern Chinese, Japanese and Korean homes have their own versions of tea tables, updated with a new look and feel.
Like so many pieces we adorn our living spaces with, the tea table is as much valued for its aesthetic value as for its utility. So, it may not surprise you to hear about the thoughtfulness with which tea tables have been built through the ages. The first tea tables, as well as many professionally and traditionally built tea tables today, are meant to showcase the tree from which it was built. For example, when a great hardwood tree dies of its own accord, master Chinese carpenters will carefully harvest the old roots from the ground, and imitate their natural form in constructing the tea table, using their utmost efforts to retain all of the original burls and knots of the wood. These kinds of tea tables are usually not available for purchase due to the wood’s value, but you can admire them for their beauty in many traditional Chinese shops, or even at many American art museums such as the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.