What Is A Tea Pet?
If you have taken part in a traditional tea ceremony in East Asia, especially China, you might have spotted a little clay figure sitting by the main pot on your tea table, on top of the teapot, or even in a small clay container of its own. But really what is a tea pet?
This amazing little companion is what is known as a ‘tea pet’. They are usually a red-brown color, although that may vary depending on what kind of clay it is made from.
In recent years, they have captured the hearts of many tea lovers around the world, with their charming designs, and often cheeky features.
This includes the humorous and appropriately named ‘pee-pee-boy’. They have become a staple of many Chinese tea shops across the world.
So, to learn a little more about these interesting little tea companions, here is our guide to tea pets!
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What Exactly Is A Tea Pet?
So, to give a very basic summary of this age-old tradition, a Tea Pet is kind of exactly what it sounds like: A little figure, typically made from clay, that you keep by you while you are drinking tea.
That might sound almost too simple for some, but that is the truth! Sometimes, these kinds of objects and traditions are as easy to understand as they sound.
However, just because it’s easy to understand, does not mean that they aren’t important, or have plenty of meaning behind them.
Often, a tea pet will be kept by your side during a tea-drinking ceremony, but it is also common for people to have them by them in personal tea-drinking seasons.
Having a tea pet during those important moments is said to bring good luck to the person who owns or brings the tea.
Traditionally, tea pets are typically made of clay from the Yixing area in China, in the Jiangsu province, and have long been associated with the Yixing teapot tradition that comes with the regional history (a topic we will go into detail more about in the next section).
While a tea pet has usually been a small clay man or boy of some design or other, it is also pretty common to see tea pets that are animals too. From frogs to cats, to pigs, to birds, and even mythological animals.
History Of The Tea Pet
In Chinese culture, there are many different types of lucky charms that people use to bring them luck and happiness and can be used for a whole range of situations and occasions. The tea pet is just one of these symbols.
To learn more, we must travel back in time to the Yixing area in the Jiangsu province of China, during the Song dynasty of the 10th century CE in China. Teapot making was taking off in the region and becoming incredibly popular around this time.
Alongside the traditional teapots that were made in the area, small clay figurines were made alongside these famous makes of teapots.
As time went on, many types of clay figurines, now known as tea pets, would be made into many popular shapes and figures amongst Chinese tea culture, from pigs to dragons!
Interestingly, although the Yixing region of China is well-known for its clay teapot making, tea pets are very rarely mentioned in historical records, if ever. It’s only in the last few years that they have become popular and recognized across the world.
How To Use And Take Care Of A Tea Pet
So, we know what a tea pet is, and we have a little context as to when and why they were made in Chinese history.
Now comes the part that every tea enthusiast is eager to hear: how to use and treat your tea pet!
As we’ve already mentioned, the tea pet is often present at tea ceremonies in the Jiangsu province, often using the same type of clay that you would find in traditional Yixing clay teapots and decorations.
Usually, while the main tea ceremony takes place, a small amount of leftover hot water will be poured into the tea pet, and allowed to sit whilst the tea ceremony takes place.
Cleaning out these clay figurines is very simple too. Simply using plain water or cold water will be enough to clean them out, and soap is very rarely if ever necessary.
These little figures are typically placed on top of cups of tea or coffee to bring you good fortune. It is believed that if you drank your tea while a tea pet was present, then good luck and fortune would be brought to the drinker of the tea.
This would especially be the case depending on what form the tea pet takes.
If the tea pet is a pig, which is considered a very lucky animal in China, then that good fortune is meant to be bestowed upon whoever takes part in the ceremony, making it a popular figure to feature in many designs.
Mythical creatures are also a popular choice to be chosen as tea pets by their tea masters. The dragon is another popular clay figure for many tea tables, as dragons are symbols of great wisdom and nobility throughout most of China.
Can Anything Be A Tea Pet?
So, as we touched on earlier, tea pets come in a variety of forms. They can be made to look like humans, animals, or creatures of folklore.
They can even be historical figures that have importance to the owner or manufacturer. Models of Buddha are a very popular design for tea pets.
With so many designs, this starts to beg the question: Can anything be a tea pet?
Well, to tell you the truth, the answer can be a little hazy.
For a start, you can find a whole range of different sizes of tea pets out there. Some are pretty large, bigger than 3 inches, which can be considered to be a pretty standard size, or much smaller.
The main distinction that seems to be the most important feature for tea pets, and what separates them from other ornaments, is that they are made from clay of some kind. Ideally the same as the teapot the tea pet would be served with.
Although the Yixing clay is their original home, they have since become a popular fixture around the world, and have long since outgrown their humble origins.
Still, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a connection between these clay figurine symbols and their home region, and gifting one of these original, with their natural colors of clay red and brown, is a beautiful git that any tea lover would be thrilled to receive.
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A tea pet is not just any old ornament, but something special.
A symbol that is representative of the craftsmanship in the tea industry, as well as a reminder of the love and care given to the plant material before it’s processed into such a delicious beverage.
And, as we’ve hopefully shown, a symbol of good fortune to come for everyone involved.
Now, whether you use a real teapot with a tea pet in it, or opt for a more modern version, either way, we hope that you get the chance to experience them for yourself.
If you found this guide informative and interesting, we hope that you take this knowledge with you in all your future tea-related endeavors!