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What is a Tea Pet?

You could drink tea for decades without ever hearing of a tea pet, but these interesting little clay figures have been a part of tea ceremony rituals for centuries. Tea pets have been around since the 13th century in China. 

Tea pets are small clay figures that are treated with tea each time a tea ceremony is performed. Over time this changes the patina and the scent of the tea pet. Tea pets have traditionally been considered symbols of good luck, and pouring tea over them is considered an invitation to prosperity. 

Tea pets are a charming addition to your tea set, but different tea pet figures can have different meanings. Read on to learn more about tea pets and how they are used in tea ceremonies. 

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What Is the Point of a Tea Pet?

The main purpose of including a tea pet in your tea ceremony or morning tea ritual is that they’re supposed to bring the tea drinker good luck. Tea pets are also a way for tea drinkers to customize their tea set and make it personal since different tea pet figurines can have different meanings. 

In many ways, a tea pet is a way to focus your good intentions to try and attract good fortune to your life. By focusing on an object intended to bring you prosperity, you become more aware of the prosperity you already have in your life. 

History of Tea Pets

While tea pets seem like they might be a modern-day fad, these clay figurines actually date back thousands of years to ancient China. Originally, these figures featured as a part of Chinese geomancy and feng shui. Treating the tea pets with tea was thought to help influence the chi surrounding the tea ceremony and attract good fortune to the home. 

How Do You Use a Chinese Tea Pet

Using a Chinese tea pet is a relatively simple process. Whenever you do a tea ceremony and you have your teapot out ready to serve tea, just pour a bit of the tea over the tea pet before serving it out into cups. 

When you pour the tea over the tea pet, the clay of the tea pet will absorb the tea and take on some of its color and fragrance over time. It’s easy to tell how long some tea drinkers have had a tea pet based on how stained by past tea sessions it is. 

crocodile tea pet

This cute crocodile tea pet on Etsy makes me smile!

What Are Tea Pets Made Of?

Traditionally, tea pets are made of Yixing clay. This is the region of China that made tea pets popular to begin with. Tea pets are made of the following types of clay

  • Zisha clay: Zisha clay is a dark eggplant purple clay that made the Yixing region famous. This clay is especially porous, making it especially good for creating both tea pets and teapots. The taste of the tea settles into the material of the teapot, making even weaker pots of tea taste stronger for peasants who couldn’t use as many tea leaves.
  • Hongni clay: Hongni clay is a red-colored clay also used for making tea pets. It results in a finished figurine with a bright burnt orange color. It is slightly less porous than Zisha clay.
  • Lüni clay: Luni clay is a green-colored clay that is the rarest of the common Zisha clay types. It is a popular clay for creating tea frogs since it fires to a yellow-green color. 

The main quality that all three of these clays have that make them useful in tea pets is their porosity. This allows the tea pets to “drink” the tea poured onto them. 

what is a tea pet

What Do Tea Pets Look Like?

Tea pets come in several different varieties with different symbolic meanings attached to them. Each tea pet represents something different. Here are a few of the most common tea pet types and what they symbolize : 

  •  Turtle: The turtle is a symbol of longevity, auspiciousness and tranquility.
  • Peeing boy: It might seem silly, but the peeing boy tea pet has a practical purpose. These tea pets are used to verify the temperature of the tea before it’s poured to guests.
  • Toad: Toads, especially the three-legged golden toad, are a popular motif in Chinese art. Toads are traditionally a symbol of prosperity and good fortune in Chinese culture.
  • Elephant: Elephants are considered lucky in Chinese culture because the symbol for elephant in the Chinese language is the same as the symbol for auspiciousness.
  • Pig: The pig is a popular tea pet because it symbolizes the prosperity of hearth and home. Without a pig, traditional Chinese homesteads were not even considered a complete household. 

These are only a handful of the different images that tea pets can represent. Each type of tea pet has its own symbolism attached that helps tie it to the personality of the person it belongs to. 

purple clay tea pet thinking cat

This thinking cat tea pet on Etsy is made of raw ore purple sand clay.

How Do You Maintain a Tea Pet?

Other than pouring a little tea over your tea pet each time you make a pot, there isn’t much else that goes into maintaining a tea pet. Preferably it should be kept inside a container such as a carved wooden box to keep it from getting dusty. During each tea session, use a soft brush to brush a little tea over the entire tea pet to soak it.

One important maintenance tip to note is that just like with clay teapots, tea pets should not be washed with soap or liquid detergent. This is because the porous nature of the clay will cause the tea to take on a soapy aftertaste. Soap will also remove any built-up tea fragrance on your tea pet. 

Where Do You Get a Tea Pet? 

Online is probably the easiest place to acquire a tea pet if you don’t already know about a local tea shop that sells a selection of them. This is for several reasons: 

  • Variety: Online stores give you the largest selection of different tea pet figurines. You also get the option to purchase a tea pet directly from Yixing if you choose.
  • Convenience: With online shipping, you can have your tea pet delivered right to your front door.
  • Accessories: Along with a tea pet, online tea markets also give you access to many other useful tea ceremony accessories. 

Online markets such as Amazon and eBay are a good place to look for unique tea pets, but you should also poke around in some artisan marketplaces. Markets like Etsy can give you access to a selection of hand-crafted tea pets in figurines that you wouldn’t necessarily find in traditional settings. You might even be able to commission a custom tea pet for your tea set! 

Tea Pets Are a Fun Addition to Tea Ceremonies

Even though you don’t have to have a tea pet to brew a pot of tea, everybody can use a little bit of extra luck. The type of tea pet you choose for your tea ritual says a lot about you and can help add a personal touch to your brewing ceremony. Get a tea pet of your own and you’ll see why this is a tradition that has remained popular for hundreds of years! 

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