What Is A Tea Pet? 17 Common Types & Their Meanings

HomeTeawareWhat Is A Tea Pet? 17 Common Types & Their Meanings

Last Updated on 08/28/2023 by Desmond

If you have a friend who deeply loves Chinese tea culture, you might see a little figurine on his tea tray. He called it Tea Pet, a tea mate of him. Take good care of it, and it may bring good luck and fortune to you. Actually, a tea pet is not a simple decoration. If you are going to buy one for fun, you should keep reading this article; a wrong choice may influence your fortune badly.

What Is A Tea Pet?

A tea pet is usually seen in the traditional Chinese Gongfu Tea ceremony. It’s a small decoration on the tea tray, typically made from clay. Describing it as a mate may be more exact because it is neither a usual teaware nor a necessity in the tea ceremony.

It’s hard to find out the origin of the tea pets. It was said the earliest tea pet arose in the Tang Dynasty(618-907), the age when Lu Yu, the Sage of Tea, promoted the tea culture and made it popular. People set a little figurine of him on the tea tray to remember, and water it with tea for sacrificing. The tea merchants also took it as an add-on while selling tea. This custom became popular with the tea-drinking trend. 

Another saying is that Yixing is the tea pet’s birthplace because most are made from Zisha. The local craftsmen might make some small animals with the leftover material for fun, and some tea lovers buy them away when choosing teawares. Then, tea pets became known more by people.

Initially, people set a tea pet on a tea tray just to have more fun during tea drinking. When the chatting gets awkward-silent, taking a shower with the tea pet with tea may defuse embarrassment. Or just take it as a negotiation strategy, like Vito Corleone played with the cat when talking with Bonasera.

Later, along with tea pets becoming popular, there came more and more styles. People started to set various styles of tea pets for decorating the tea tray. Along with the superstitious climate involved, some ancient monsters styled tea pets, which with Fengshui theory meanings, also appeared. Like every idolatry act of every religion on the earth, people shape the tea pet into what their beliefs symbolize. And hope to get what they want by praying in the “raising” way. Of course, the same goes true in the teapot’s case; some tea lovers just raise a tea pet to prove how much they love tea.

Nowadays, tea pets commonly come in the following types:

  • Animals, primarily are the twelve Chinese zodiac signs;
  • Monsters in the ancient Chinese myths;
  • Buddhist roles like Maitreya or little monks;
  • Some modern cartoon characters;

Is Tea Pet Also Popular In Japanese Sado?

I suppose not. A tea pet is not a necessary implement even in the Chinese Gongfu Tea Ceremony. It’s more like a personal and leisure hobby. Japanese Sado is a very traditional and formal performance, and the funny little tea pet has no chance to take place. Japanese Sado also doesn’t have a custom of watering the teawares; it may be regarded as an indecent behavior in Sado, but most of the time, it’s stylish in the Chinese Gongfu Tea Ceremony.

Common Tea Pets Materials

While making tea, people will water the tea pet with wastewater or the cooldown tea in the fair cup. They will wipe it gently and casually when chatting over cups of tea with friends. As the days pass, the tea pet’s color will change to the same as the tea because the tea-nourished(or you can say it’s the tea stain accumulation); people call it “raising a tea pet.”

So, tea pets will not affect the tea in your cup during the whole tea drinking. Thus, compared with teawares, it has more choices in the materials. But to match the tea set style, tea pets are typically made from the following:


Most tea pets are made from clay; among them, Zisha(purple sand) is the most welcome, and they all have an original earth color. The most common Gongfu teawares include teapots, tea trays, and teacups, which are made from clay because of its excellent insulation performance. To unify the style, tea pets follow the same material. Besides, the many tiny pores on the clay wares’ surface help the “raising” job better and will not be a visual conflict between the clay and tea color.


The porcelain tea pets have many color glazes, look more elegant and beautiful than the clay ones with original earth color. But they are not much more popular than the clay ones in the traditional tea lovers groups. Because the smooth surface makes it more difficult for the tea pet to raise, and once it gets the tea color, it will also look uncomfortable. Suppose you have no plan to raise a tea pet, then the porcelain one is also a nice choice.

Related ReadingThe difference between ceramic teaware and porcelain teaware.


It’s not the ordinary sand from the beach; it’s the silt from the Yellow River, which has been through processing and is also called Chengni. The sand tea pet’s surface is rough but looks full East style.


Resin is a modern chemical material with great plasticity and low cost. In the beginning, people made tea pets with resin because they wanted to imitate the style and texture of jade; the real jade was too expensive and could not resist the high temperature. Later, people found that adding some temperature-sensitive materials to the resin can make it color-changing when heated with hot water, and back into the original color after cooling down. It can make more fun during tea drinking and help judge the water temperature according to the color-changing.


Metal tea pets are hard to see because they can easily oxidize. Most of the time, metal tea pets are just taken as decorations on the tea tray, and you can not shower them.

Common Tea Pet Types & What Their Symbolisms – Not Only For Good Luck

In China, you can see one person’s character and what he desired from the tea pet he set on the tea tray. If you want to buy a tea pet, you’d better know what the style’s symbolism is, or your friends may misunderstand your character and desire.


Chinese use twelve animals to mark the years. It’s called twelve zodiacs; people also use it to introduce their birth year. (You can see what zodiac you belong here.) Most of the time, the animal tea pet on the tea tray is the same as the host’s zodiac. Each animal symbolizes:

  • Rat. Rat’s Chinese pronunciation is similar to “SHU“(counting), which means the endless wealth;
  • Ox. Everybody might hear the word “Niubi“(ox), which shows admiration in Chinese. Now, in the stock market, everyone loves the bull market;
  • Tiger. It is for showing stateliness. Typically, traditional people won’t take it as a tea pet or just select a cartoon style;
  • Rabbit. Without any special meaning, it just looks cute;
  • Dragon. Dragon is the Chinese totem and means a lot. It brings hope, safety, and can exorcise evil spirits. When you shower the hot tea on the dragon tea pet, it looks like floating on a cloud;
  • Snake. Both in the West and the Eastern culture, snake all means cunning and evil. Except for the one who is born in the snake year, no others will take a snake-style tea pet;
  • Horse. The horse represents hard work, endeavor, and striving in Chinese culture;
  • Sheep. Without any particular meaning;
  • Monkey. In Chinese culture, monkey means dexterous and wisdom;
  • Rooster. Without any particular meaning. Still, someone thought it meant hope;
  • Dog. The dog represents loyalty. But people choose a dog tea pet typically because it is lovely;
  • Pig. The fatty and cutely little pig means rich and happy;


Buddhism has a big influence in China. Suppose the tea pet is in the style of Bodhidharma, Buddha, Maitreya, or little monk. That may mean the host is a Buddhist, or he is a person who likes quiet and meditation. There is also a kind of tea pet, a Buddha’s foot, and what he wants to tell himself is to be satisfied with the wealth he owns.

Ancient Monsters

The monsters in the ancient Chinese myths are most popular in the tea pet designer groups. Except for their symbolism, in another traditional Chinese culture – Feng Shui, they also mean a lot.

According to Feng Shui, the mythic monster tea pets must be set at the right place and angle. Like the host’s birthday, property, name, the direction of windows and door, etc., it’s very complicated. Setting a tea pet in the wrong place is said to be counter-productive to what you pray for. Of course, they exist when you believe and vice versa. Sanely thinking about it, you absolutely won’t become rich just because you set a golden toad on your tea tray; this is just a spiritual self-encouragement.

  • Pi Xiu. In the myth, Pi Xiu is the ninth son of the Dragon. It doesn’t have an anus and loves to eat jewelry, only intake but not excrete. So, people regarded it as a symbol of accumulated wealth. Many businessmen set a Pi Xiu tea pet on their tea tray and pray that it will make them rich. Besides, Pi Xiu is believed that it could protect the house, too.
  • Golden Toad. It is a golden toad with a coin in its mouth, has only three legs, and is also for praying wealth. The coin in most golden toad tea pet’s mouths is rotatable. It brings more fun, and in Chinese, it also means keeping the money running forever.
  • Kylin. Kylin is a kind monster; its style combines the dragon head, deer body, bull tail, and horse hoof. Kylin is as important as Dragon in Chinese culture. It can also bring people good luck, fertility blessings, and exorcise evil spirits.
Kylin style
Kylin style

Ordinary Animals

Some ordinary animals like elephants, lions, and cats, tea pets in their styles are popular even if they do not belong to the zodiac. Some of them also have special meanings. Such as, the elephant symbolizes earning wealth, the lion helps exorcise evil spirits, and the turtle symbolizes longevity. A cat tea pet also helps bring fortune, but the primary reason is the lovely look.

Besides, a cabbage-style tea pet is also common. Although it is a vegetable, its Chinese pronunciation is the same as fortune and good omens, so people like it much. Most cabbage tea pet is made from white resin with temperature-sensitive material. It will turn green after hot water showering, just like a real cabbage.

Little Kids

Some tea pets are also in the adorable kid’s style; they are for good luck. The most famous one is the pee-pee boy, which has a marvelous design. Its body is empty inside. Suppose you add water in before drinking tea and shower it with hot infusion. In that case, the water will jet out through the little boy’s wiener because of the pressure differential, like peeing.

There are still many tea pets in various styles, like the peach, a symbol of long-living. Some of them even combined the function of other teawares like tea tools six gentlemen and got some practicality.

Maintain, How To Raise A Tea Pet

Raising a tea pet doesn’t mean feeding it with food. Except for showering it when drinking tea, it must be maintained well as the other teawares in ordinary times, making it more unique. Tea lovers summed up 4 tips from their years tea pet raising experiences:

  1. Typically, after buying a Zisha teapot home, we may put it in a pot cooking with water for a while to remove the earthy smell. But tea pet will not touch the tea we drink directly; it does not need to do this. And the boiling water may make the tea pet roll in the pot and break its delicate carving;
  2. We need to shower the tea pet with tea infusion for raising, but it doesn’t mean doing it like washing a car. The shower action must be gentle. Remember to scrub it with a brush or towel and let the infusion cover the tea pet’s surface equally. Imagine that you are massaging it;
  3. The deep-fermented tea with a darker color, like black tea and dark tea, can make the tea pet get the tea color faster than other teas. If possible, it will be better just to shower a tea pet with one type of tea. Showering a tea pet with different teas often may make it a disunity color and looks ugly;
  4. Never steep the tea pet in the infusion for a long time attempt to let it get the color soon. Doing this way, all you will get is just a thick and ugly tea stain and a bad smell;
Just a tea lover. Like to try different types of tea. Do not matter if the brewing is perfect, only enjoy the various charming taste.
  1. Thank you for this entertaining article about tea pets, an aspect of Chinese tea drinking culture I previously didn’t know anything about. Coincidentally, a major American tea producer, Red Rose Tea, has been including little Wade porcelain figures in their tea boxes since 1967. They would make very nice tea pets.


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