I hear this question a lot. Why are tea scoops and tea ceremony utensils so expensive? What makes them so valuable? If you for example, look at a tea scoop, it’s just a piece of bamboo. What is so special about it and why does it cost so much?

[Watch the video which this article is a transcription of]

Let me know in the comments what your most favorite or most valuable tea ceremony possession is.

Tea Scoops Inspection

valuable tea scoops

Let’s have a look at this tea scoop together and try to figure out what causes it to be not just expensive, but actually valuable. What determines the value of this tea scoop?

It comes in a paper box and inside is a wooden box. This wooden box again contains a tube. This tube contains the tea scoop. Now as you can see, there’s an inscription on the tube and there is also an inscription on the back of the lid of the box of the tea scoop.

So for a simple piece of bamboo as this, we have a protective tube. We have a protective wooden box to contain the tube, and then we have a cardboard box to protect the box.

Care and Protection

Now, why all this protection and why all this care? First of all, what we see here is that someone created the tea scoop, a bamboo artisan, or just a tea practitioner himself.

This person would usually also have created the bamboo tube in a similar material. And then someone else has done the box work. On the lid of the box and on the tube is an inscription by usually a very well known zen priest. To come to this product we see that three people have been involved, three people to make a tea scoop and all its possessions, all its belongings.

What to look at on Tea Scoops?

bowl of the tea scoop

Now is the tea scoop interesting? Absolutely. Look at the beauty of its bowl. The curve. Look at the tip. Look at the back of the tip, the back of the tea scoop, the node, the cut on the back end, and then simply the bamboo material. The node, the difference in color.

Everything is interesting about this tea scoop. We look at the tea scoop, thinking, what has the craftsman done to it to make it special, to make it nice? What type of bamboo material did he choose? How did he come about finding this bamboo material? Because this bamboo material is natural, the motifs on it is not created. It’s a natural pattern.

Tea Scoops Crafting

tea scoops tip

So he has chosen this pattern to fit with the tea scoop. How did he make it work? How did he finish the node? What does the node look like? How did he finish the bowl of the tea scoop where it has the curve. How did he bend it? The bending of the teas scoop is very difficult.

And then in the end, how did he finish it here? With a cut on the tip. These things are already things that you look at at a tea scoop, which makes it very interesting. And there’s way more to look at than you would actually think in the beginning.

The Name of Tea Scoops

If we don’t provide any information with it, we don’t know who made it, we don’t know when it was made, where it came from, etc. And so with contemporary tea scoops even, there’s always a tube to keep the tea scoop in and to keep this information on. This one was inscribed with the name Iwa-shimizu (岩清水). It’s a stream of fresh water over the rocks.

It’s a very beautiful naming. It brings to mind a very cool and refreshing scenery, and this inscription was done by a priest of a zen temple in Kyoto. On the side is also the name of the craftsman who made the tea scoop. So the tube contains all the information that we need to know about the teas scoop in order for us to be able to tell something about it.

Valuable information

If it’s just a tea scoop, there’s nothing much to say. But if we know who made it, when it was made, if it has a name, we can talk about the name, we can talk about the poetic background. We can connect it to the season that we are using it in. And so all this information is very important in the tea ceremony because that adds the value to the tea scoop and it also preserves the knowledge that we have about it.

So we wouldn’t want anything to happen to the tube. That is why we have a box, which again contains the same information. The name of the tea scoop, name of the craftsman, and the person who inscribed the tube and the box. So this box will help to keep the tube safe, which contains the information for the tea scoop.

Collaboration Art

So for just the simple tea scoop, several people are involved in creating it, and a lot of care goes into preserving the information that we have about it. Now, that really is where the value lies of this teas scoop. It’s not, I found a piece of bamboo and I did some crafting with it. No, The craftsman of the tea scoop really thought of what he wanted to make.

The person who inscribed the box, thought of something that would fit the appearance of the tea scoop. And so all these little things add to the value of tea scoop.

The Cost and Value of Tea Scoops

tea scoops collaboration

And of course, because several people have worked on it together, that increases the cost of it as well. Even contemporary tea scoops that are made new would range between $200 to $500 in price.

I would say it makes very much sense because of the exclusivity and the artwork that people have put into it. And because they are one-off unique pieces. These are not made twice. The teas scoop is not made twice. The box is not made twice. And even if the same person would inscribe it with the same things exactly again, it will never be the same because it is all hand-work. And that is one of the reasons why tea ceremony utensils are so valuable.

Emotional value vs. Material value

They are unique, one-off pieces that carry a story, a background. And so the emotional value of a tea utensil is actually greater than the material value of it itself.

And now I’ve shown you a contemporary piece. But when these pieces start aging, the value only increase. Say that this tea scoop was not carved by someone from this age, but it was carved, or even only if the box was inscribed by Sen Rikyu, then this tea scoop would be immensely valuable.

Sen Rikyu will not be making teas scoops anymore. The ones that he has made, the ones that circulate in this world are limited. And the amount of people that want them are tremendous.

The Role of a Tea Practitioner

So that makes these tea scoops so valuable. And for those aged tea scoops, or not only tea scoops, but tea utensils in general, I as a tea practitioner, see it as my job to create that connection from past to future.

A contemporary tea practitioner is someone who practices the tea ceremony in the current, today. But the tradition is ages old, and the culture needs to be passed on for ages from here on. The real purpose of a tea practitioner today is to create that bridge; to become that shackle in that chain of people who have been part of this tradition and who have passed it on to the next generations.

tea ceremony artifacts
Two authentic 17th Century tea bowls


Building on that heritage of culture and tradition that we’ve already seen for the past 400+ years, we need to become the caretakers of those artifacts that still exist and pass them on to the next generation. And I don’t mean that in a way, as in being a museum where you put old items behind glass and people can come and look at them.

No. The beauty of tea ceremony is that you can actually take old objects in your hands. You learn how to care for them properly and you learn how to use them. We believe in tea ceremony that even utensils have a soul and have feelings, and if you don’t take them out for a long time or if you don’t use them, they start to seem rather sad. And the more you give them the opportunity to show, the more you bring them out, the more they will shine and they will become brighter.

Connection to the Future

And so our task as a tea practitioner is to use these ancient artifacts to give them a place in the present to use them, to give them a purpose, and then to pass them on to the next generation so they can continue fulfilling that purpose for ages from here on.

And that is what I see is the value of tea utensils. And only if you can become a caretaker. And if you can become that link in the chain of key practitioners, then it is valuable for you to look for ancient artifacts and to look for old tea utensils that you can now care for and pass on.

Leave a Comment!

So again, if you have any tea utensils that you think are very valuable, or if you have an ancient tea object that you are caring for, let me know in the comments below what it is and what is so special about it.

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