The tradition of keeping a tea pet to accompany your daily tea originated in ancient China, when the Yuan dynasty ruled the nation.
But what is a tea pet? A tea pet is a small clay figurine that becomes a part of your every day tea ritual. The tea pets first came to be as small clay toys that hot tea could be poured onto to ensure that the clay would not crack in the heat. If the tea pet survived, the tea was ready to be poured out into the traditional cups. After the first few successful trials, the tea pet became a part of the traditional tea set and was made of the same clay.
The significance of the tea pet is that you never have to take tea alone ever again.
Over time, tea pets have evolved into a rather interesting and more recently, a naughty ritual around tea. To add an element of humour, some tea pets are designed to react to the hot water poured over them. The Pee-Pee Boy is among the best-selling tea pets in China now.
However, not all tea pets come with spout functions, some can change colour or blow bubbles among other displayable impacts of hot water. The ones with spout functions have found the greatest attention and are the ones that are believed to bring you good tea luck: May your cup never be empty. A spouting Dragon may not be as funny as the Pee Pee Boy but is certain to bring you good health and happiness.
Tea pets were traditionally made of three kinds of clay: purple, red and green. Sometimes a mix of the clay types produced new colours and densities. There is no fixed size for the tea pet, as long as it fits on the wooden tea tray. ‘Raising a tea pet’ involves nourishing the pet with leftover tea and warm water every day. In time, the clay will soak in the tea and carry the distinct aroma of teas that you have consumed.
A tea pet requires quite a bit of nurturing and hot water. It is best to be careful and attentive around these pets and remember to handle them carefully as with years, tea pets acquire a visible shiny patina from tea accumulating on the clay. The shinier the tea pet, the more faithful it has been to its owner. The traditional tea pets were unglazed and it took them years of regular tea service to acquire a sheen. The tea pets were initially made of the same clay as the tea pots to demonstrate the effect of water and tea on them.
There are a few rules to keep in mind while using a tea pet, keep it facing you on the tea tray. Never away. It’s almost like having another person to take tea with you.
The second thing, is to never let your tea pet go thirsty. Keep them well served with the excess hot water and leftover tea. A special tea brush can help stay clean and they should be rinsed only with clean water without any chemicals or soap.
The use of tea pets is known to decrease stress levels and enhance the benefits of drinking your everyday tea.
Although there are several fancy tea pets that one can get at a Chinese store, the older tea pets revolved around Chinese mythology, Zodiac signs and a few historical figurines. While you can always choose a dragon, or a laughing Buddha that you can rub the belly of while sipping your tea. There are some special Maitreya figurines that are believed to bestow good fortune with regular care. The green figurines are among the most emphatic, and have the greatest effect when hot water is poured on them.
Some figurines have hidden symbols in them which can be seen clearly when the hot water is poured on them!
Such was the fascination of the tea pets that tea lovers in the West were not quite content without them. As late as 1967, the Red Rose Tea Company made quite the impact by introducing tiny glazed animal figurines with their tea, as a promotion. After the success in England, the promotion was taken to the United States in 1983. Many tea lovers might remember this prized collection of figurines!
While the tea pets have come a long way and changed a lot in their appearance, many tea lovers are known to carry their tea pets with them when they travel. made of clay, and sometimes too tiny to attract any attention, some tea pets have accompanied owners to their faraway journeys. So, we’re told. The fact is, it is very easy to get attached to the tea pets. They are adorable and more than luck, they bring a whole new gamut of emotions to the simplest tea rituals.
More and more tea lovers have added a tea pet to their tea trays and are happier for it.
Share your tea pet pictures with us. We’d love to know more about them and where they are from.
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