Tea pets are special figurines designed to keep you company on your gongfu tea table. You might also see them referred to as tea mascots or companions. Animals of all shapes and sizes are the most common motif but there are many different designs that can be found.
They are usually made out of porous clay but other materials like ceramic or resin can be used. Over time the clay will absorb tea and develop a patina. In the case of those that have a Ru Yao glaze, tea will gradually stain the crackles in the finish.
What is the Purpose of Tea Pets?
The main purpose is to pour your tea over them. I often get messages from curious tea drinkers wondering what the purpose is. It’s really just for fun, so you don’t have to take them too seriously. Some tea pets do special things like squirt water or change color. I even recently purchased a pug who farts bubbles!
I immediately fell in love when I first learned about tea pets. I think it was because I collected the Wade figurines that came with Red Rose teabags when I was a kid. Does anyone else remember those?
Here’s a video that I made last year explaining a bit about them and showing my collection.
When Were They Invented?
No one really knows exactly when tea pets were invented, and there aren’t very many written records about them. The general belief is that they came to be when clay teapot makers made figurines with leftover clay bits. Authentic yixing clay is far too precious to have been used in this way, so they are more likely to be made with other less expensive clay types. Many websites claim that tea pets date back to the 13th century, but I have not been able to find any references to back that up.
How Do You Use Them?
Simply put, all you have to do is pour your tea on top of tea pets. It’s helpful to have a tea table that can drain to avoid making a mess. You also use a deeper plate or bowl. It’s totally up to you how much tea you share with your tea pet. Some people only share the rinse, while others will pour tea on their little friends throughout a tea session. Others don’t pour tea on their pets at all, especially when they are made out of a material that doesn’t stand up well to hot water.
How Do You Take Care of Them?
Many tea pets are made from clay or ceramic so that they can be fragile. As long as they are handled with care, your new friend should be around for many years. They do not have to be dedicated to a particular tea type because you aren’t drinking from them. That being said, I have a pig who I swear only blows bubbles when he gets sheng puerh. I tend to use lighter-colored tea pets with darker teas because the visual effects develop more quickly.
I recommend avoiding detergents or cleansers when cleaning tea pets since they will absorb chemicals in the same way they take in tea. If they’re starting to look dingy, rubbing them with a clean cloth or melamine sponge will usually do the trick. Allow them to air dry completely before storing away to avoid mold. This step is essential if you live in a region with high humidity.
Where Can You Buy Tea Pets?
Tea pets have become quite popular with modern tea drinkers so they can be purchased from many tea companies. I’m always seeing new designs pop up in my Instagram feed. Here are some of the ones that I have purchased them from:
Amazon, Etsy, eBay, and AliExpress also have tea pets available for sale.
Do you have an tea pets? Tell me about them in the comments below!
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