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What Is a Tea Pet? And Why You Should Get One!

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A tea pet is a must-have accessory for all tea lovers. While they don’t have anything to do with how you drink your tea, they can make the tea-drinking experience a little more fun.

Take some time to pour over everything you need to know regarding the phenomenon known as the tea pet.

I’m about to tell you all about these creatures — their history, where to buy them, and how to use them. And at the end of this guide, I will also let you meet my own tea pet!

History of Tea Pets

Don’t let the name fool you. A tea pet doesn’t necessarily have to take on a “pet” form.

A tea pet is a small clay figure that acts as your constant companion while sipping your favorite teas. The lore behind tea pets is that they bring good luck!

So, where did the tradition of using tea pets start?

Anyone who is familiar with tea culture may know about a region of China called Yixing that is famed for its clay teapots made from unique clay called zisha clay.

Tea pets are traditionally made using the same unglazed technique as the famed teapots of Yixing. Traditional tea pets are distinguished by their rough surface, monochromatic appearance, and uniqueness.

making zisha teapot
Tea pets are traditionally made with zisha clay

Although using tea pets may seem trendy due to the Internet popularity of these captivating clay creatures, their existence goes back to ancient times.

The truth is that not a lot is known about the history of tea pets. One thing that is known is that tea pets go all the way back to the Yuan Dynasty of 13th-century China.

Types of Tea Pets

While tea pets are often made using unglazed clay, they still show off tons of brilliance. That’s because the colorfulness of Yixing clay allows artisans to get very creative when sculpting tea pets.

The big thing to know about Yixing clay is that it’s actually found in three colors. As a result, tea pets can be made from red, purple, or green clay.

turtle tea pet
A turtle tea pet made of Yixing clay

However, there’s more to the story because artists will actually mix the three colors to create different colors. Some artists also use alternative materials.

Here’s a quick look at different tea pet materials:

  • Purple Clay: Purple clay is considered the primary clay among Yixing hues. Once it is fired up, purple clay will generally take on either a red or brown appearance.
  • Red Clay: Red clay turns into a stunning vermillion after being fired up.
  • Green Clay: Green Yixing clay often gets compared to the color of an eggshell of a duck. Once it’s fired up, green clay will take on an off-white hue. Green is considered a rare and expensive option for making tea pets.
  • Color-Changing Resin or Glass: Some artists use color-changing resin or glass capable of transforming during the ritualistic pouring of the tea that we’ll cover in just a bit!
  • Jade: Jade is highly prized in Chinese culture because it’s symbolic of virtue, wisdom, truth, justice, and the heavens. As a result, some people choose tea pets carved from jade.

Tea pets don’t just vary in color. Artists mold Yixing clay into a variety of different mystical figures, zodiac signs, and historic figures holding deep significance in Chinese culture.

Common forms of tea pets include:

  • Dragon: The only mythical creature among the Chinese zodiac signs, the dragon represents good luck, strength, health, and the male element of Yang.
  • Pig: The pig represents luck, overall good fortune, wealth, and prosperity.
  • Dog: The dog represents loyalty, honesty, friendliness, and sincerity.
  • Frog: The frog represents healing, immortality, and good fortune.
  • Turtle: The turtle is a symbol of longevity, symbolizing long life.
  • Buddha: The Buddha represents enlightenment.
  • Guanyin: This religious figure is known as the “goddess of mercy.”
  • Zhuge Liang: This historical figure was a Chinese statesman and military strategist during the Three Kingdoms Era.
  • Pee-Pee Boy: Considered the most famous type of tea pet, the pee-pee boy is designed to squirt water once hot water is poured over it.

Here’s a bit more information about using the famous pee-pee boy:

The design of the pee-pee boy is hollow to allow for the figure to be filled up when immersed in cold water. Next, hot water is poured over the figure to activate its “peeing” feature. Using hotter water causes the pee to spray farther.

Although this tea pet seems like a fun gimmick, it actually shows off the principle of thermal expansion due to the way a single opening in a hollow structure causes air expansion to allow water to squeeze out.

Check out this video to see the pee-pee boy in action:

How the Chinese ‘Pee-Pee Boy’ Thermometer Works

How to Use a Tea Pet

While tea pets can be seen as highly spiritual, symbolic, and formal, the truth is that they are simply fun to use!

Using a tea pet doesn’t require any type of complicated skill. Simply place the tea pet on a tea tray when it’s time to relax with your favorite cup.

Next, pour some tea over the tea pet. The unglazed nature of the tea pet causes it to absorb some of the tea.

The properties of the tea will cause the tea pet to change its color over time. In many cases, the tea pet will begin to develop an attractive tea scent.

Say Hello to My Tea Pet!

Now, I want to introduce my tea pet to you. So here it is!

my tea pet
My lucky toad tea pet

This color-changing lucky toad with a coin in its mouth symbolizes prosperity and wealth.

It has a nice dark green color that resembles jade crystal. When you give it a hot shower it turns into bright light green.

my tea pet after color change
My tea pet after the color change

My tea pet is new and it doesn’t have a name yet. If you have a suggestion, please post it in the comments section below!

Where to Buy a Tea Pet

So now you must already excited to get your own tea pet!

There are many online stores where you can find them. Here are my two favorite options:

Final Thoughts – Should You Get a Tea Pet?

Any aspiring tea snob can look forward to getting some extra credibility by whipping out a tea pet at the next “sip and meet.” The truth is that the best part about discovering tea pets is actually sharing the knowledge with others.

Collecting an entire squad of tea pets can also be a fun pastime because you’ll have a reason to dip into a tea room in any city you visit in the world!

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