Quite literally, a Tea Pet is a tiny companion on your tea tray that is usually made of porous and unglazed Yixing clay. It has been a part of the tea ceremony for many years. Raising and nourishing these tea pets have become a tradition for many tea lovers.
Read on and find out what each tea pet symbolizes and how to choose the right one for you.
What is a tea pet?
The Yuan Dynasty was incredible in terms of its size, humble beginnings, paper money, largest armadas, technology, massive overspending, massive natural disasters, and tea pets!
Clay tea pets first appeared in Yixing during the Yuan dynasty in 13th century China. Yixing is famous for its clay (zisha) and teaware made from it.
Tea pets can take any shape. Choosing one with a meaning that resonates with you may well be as engaging as taking care of your tea pet and the tradition of the tea ceremony itself.
The little pets are porous and unglazed and made of Yixing clay just like the zisha teapots and they tend to absorb a lot of water.
What is a tea pet used for?
Tea pets are usually placed atop the tea tray during a traditional Chinese tea ceremony. It functions not only as decoration or for good fortune but also has a more practical use such as testing the water for the right temperature.
A tea pet is a tiny clay or ceramic figurine, usually molded into the image of an animal from the Chinese zodiac. In other instances, they’re designed after historical figures or mythical creatures.
The zodiac is based on a sixty-year cycle, with each animal representing a different year. The lunar calendar established the order of the Chinese zodiac animals.
There are 12 Chinese zodiac signs. Each sign is named after an animal, and each animal has its own unique characteristics. Here they are below:
Some tea pets have a small holes in them that tea masters use to check the water temperature. In the case of the tea pet “Pee-pee boy, if the water is hot enough pee-pee boy will start peeing. 😂
If this is not hilarious, I don’t know what is.
How do you feed your tea pet?
During tea time, a tea pet is traditionally placed on a tray. You pour some tea over your tea pet as you sip it.
Feeding tea pets is a ritual to rinse the tea leaves before the first infusion to get rid of impurities. The tea is often poured over the tea pets instead of throwing them away. Any leftover steeped tea from the ceremony is also “fed” to the tea pet in the same manner.
You will be able to see how the color and scent of your tea pet has changed over time. Your pet can serve as a reminder of all the delicious cups of tea you've had.
How does a Tea pet look before & after usage?
Tea pets are usually made from a porous and unglazed material called Zisha. Zisha is also the type of clay most Chinese teapots are made of and they can get pretty expensive.
Because tea pets are not glazed it absorbs some tea.
After a while of nourishing the tea pets with tea, their material will absorb the tea’s color and aroma. It will eventually develop its own unique color and scent.
Over time, the tea pets will develop a glossy surface. This makes the tea pets even more valuable as collectibles.
Here’s a Reddit post about how a tea pet can change over time.
You can see the difference between these two tiger tea pets. The one on the left looks matte while the one on the right is pretty shiny. I can’t help but imagine how fragrant the tiger tea pet on the right must be!
Traditional Chinese tea pets and their meaning
Now that we know the significance and purpose of tea pets, here are some of the traditional Chinese tea pets and their meaning. 👇
The Pee Pee Boy
As I mentioned earlier Pee-pee boy is a very popular design for tea pets. Its main function (and a funny one) is to tell if the water has the right temperature for brewing tea. This tea pet is hollow with one tiny opening.
Here’s a listing of a Pee Pee Boy on eBay.
It is first filled halfway with cold water followed by hot water. The hotter the water poured over pee-pee boy, the further the tea pet squirts out cold water.
Keeping in mind the principles of thermodynamics and fluid mechanics, the pee-pee boy functions by dripping out water from within itself through the tiny opening when enough hot water is poured over its head and the air within it expands.
Three-Legged Golden Toad
There was a tale of one of the gods of wealth in Chinese folklore, Liu Hai, where he saved a golden toad from being trapped in a well. He did this by throwing gold coins into it and the story ends with him acquiring immortality from this deed.
So, Three-Legged Golden Toad tea pets are not only believed to attract wealth but they are also known for warding off evil. When the toad has a coin held in its mouth, turning the coin symbolizes making money. It is important to face this tea pet towards you in this state.
In contrast, if the tea pet toad lacks a coin in its mouth it represents wealth and it should never face the door directly. One should also take note that outsiders should best not play with this tea pet so that they do not disturb its spirit.
Qilin Tea Pet
Qilin is a one-horned mythical creature with the head of a dragon and its body is a combination of a lion and an ox or a horse. It is believed to reveal itself only during times of peace, making it the symbol of peace and longevity.
You can say a Qilin is some sort of unicorn. Chinese mythology also says that it often coincides with the imminent birth or death of a sage or illustrious ruler.
Qilin is also linked to nobility, kindness, and good fortune. It is placed facing towards a door or a window.
Buddha Tea Pet
This tea pet is usually designed with a big belly, which is believed to be able to accommodate hardships and challenges that people find difficult to endure.
The term Buddha means "enlightened." The religion's founder, Buddha, is regarded as a remarkable being but not a god.
The belief here is that the path to enlightenment is achieved through morality, meditation, and wisdom. Buddhists frequently meditate because they believe it aids in the awakening of truth.
Buddha tea pets are also usually portrayed with relaxed faces and positions as if spreading good vibes. Usually, its smiling face is faced by guests.
Pig Tea Pet
A pig represents luck, overall good fortune, wealth, honesty, and general prosperity symbolizing a hardworking, peace-loving individual.
The pig is believed to be truthful, generous, indulgent, patient, dependable, trusting, sincere, giving, and sociable. He is equipped with a keen sense of humour and understanding.
Pig-shaped tea pets usually face the door or a window to bring in good fortune and wealth. But it is best to have it face you if it is decorated with coins, just as how it is for the golden toad tea pet.
Tiger Tea Pet
Tigers are one of the most popular kinds of tea pets in China, with it being the third zodiac animal in Chinese astrology and being associated with courage and strength.
The tiger tea pet's meaning is strength and power.
Tiger tea pets are to be placed on the left or right corner while facing towards you for it to grant you courage and willpower. However, if you’re wishing for protection, placing it towards the door would be best.
Elephant Tea Pet
An elephant tea pet is another popular choice for Chinese tea lovers, and they see it as a representative of an intelligent, gentle, peaceful, yet strong personality.
In Fengshui, it is also believed to symbolize wealth. This is due to its long trunk that is believed to take in copious amounts of water, another symbol of fortune.
Bai Cai (Chinese Cabbage)
The pronunciation of this tea pet in Chinese sounds a lot like “ one hundred kinds of wealth.”
The jade variety of the Bai Cai means “coming across a lot of money”. There is, however, a contradiction with the meaning of this tea pet, since its name can also refer to the term “cabbage” or “cheap” price.
Yes, the Chinese really value wealth in their culture.
Pixiu is another notable figure in Chinese culture. He is believed to be the ninth son of a dragon who feeds on gold and silver. It is believed that its belly is a treasure chest and represents endless-flowing fortune.
The word Pixiu can be translated as "fierce beast" or "brave warrior."
It was used as a symbol on battle flags and banners. Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty declared that the Pixiu who obtained and guarded the Master's gold would be known as the "Treasure of the Emperor" for the rest of his life.
Having a Pixiu tea pet is also regarded to be able to drive away agitation and vanity within people’s ears and invite good prospects and tranquility instead.
Turtle Tea Pet
Turtles represent longevity and are believed to absorb the aura and spirits of mountains and rivers, bringing in auspiciousness and tranquility.
It has also become the spirit of the leading prophet, able to balance Yin and Yang. Placing this tea pet on the back of another turtle tea pet will mean blessings for generations to come.
Tea pets are pretty interesting and complete your tea-time experience. Take a look at this farting pug tea pet.
If you are thinking of getting yourself a tea pet, here are some of the frequently asked questions to get you more informed.
Do you wash tea pets?
There is no need to wash the tea pets with detergent. Pouring water or tea on these tiny figurines is the exact way of maintaining them.
Since tea pets are made of clay, the chemicals in the products you use can get absorbed is not good for you.
Your beloved tea pets should be only rinsed with water. There is really no need to use soap or any dishwashing liquid. Skipping soap will also ensure a progressive darkening of the tea pets.
Are tea pets Chinese or Japanese?
Tea pets are definitely Chinese.
The tea pets were first mass-produced in Yixing, Southern Jiangsu Province, China.
Tea pets are also made from the same Yixing clay and have been used in Chinese tea ceremonies since the Song Dynasty.
Can tea pets be metal?
Technically, tea pets can be made of anything.
However, you wouldn’t have the same satisfaction or value that comes from a clay tea pet changing color or scent over time.
Pouring water or tea on metal tea pets would also hasten their oxidation. Yikes! So they’re much better for just functioning as decorations on the tea tray.
Yixing clay has three colors: purple, red, and green.
Why you should get a tea pet
Tea pets are definitely a great addition to your tea rituals; may it be for decoration purposes, practical application, or for various blessings and good fortune. It has been a long-withstanding tradition for Chinese tea ceremonies.
Appreciating tea definitely becomes so much better with a tiny friend you’ve picked to accompany you, especially for such a feel-good activity.