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

Last Updated on 06/30/2022 by Desmond

If you got a friend who loves deeply Chinese tea culture, you might see there is a little doll on his tea tray. He called it Tea Pet, a mate he is drinking tea with. 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 also want to buy one for fun, you must keep reading this article; a wrong selection may influence your fortune badly.

What It A Tea Pet?

A tea pet is usually seen in the traditional Chinese tea ceremony. It’s a small decoration on the tea tray, typically made from clay. To describe it as a playmate may be more exact because it is not a usual teaware nor a necessity in the tea ceremony. There common tea pets style are:

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

Common Tea Pets Materials

People typically shower the tea pet with the wastewater from washing the tea and teaware or the cooldown tea infusion in the fair cup. Then wiping it gently 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; people call it “raising.”

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 for matching the tea sets style, tea pets are typically made from the following:

Clay

Most tea pets are made from clay; among them, Zisha(purple sand) is the most welcome, and they all got an original earth color. Most common Gongfu teawares include teapots, tea trays, teacups, and the fair cup are made from clay because of the 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.

Porcelain

The porcelain tea pets got 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 not such comfortable. 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.

Sand

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

Resin is a modern chemical material with great plasticity and low cost. In the beginning, people made tea pets with resin because want 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 other special chemical material to the resin can make it color-changing when heated with hot water, and back into the original color after cooling down. It can not only make more fun during tea drinking and can help judge the water temperature according to the color-changing.

Metal

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

What Is A Tea Pet Used For?

There aren’t any historical records that tell when did Chinese start to play with tea pets. Yixing is regarded as the tea pet’s birthplace because most of them 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 got known more by people.

In the beginning, 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 to 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 getting popular, there came more and more styles. 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 with that in the teapot’s case, some tea lovers just raise a tea pet to prove how they love tea.

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

In China, you can see how is one people’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.

Zodiac

Chinese use twelve animals to mark the years. It’s called twelve zodiacs, and people also use it to introduce the year they were born. 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 east 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 hardworking, endeavor, and strives in Chinese culture;
  • Sheep. Without any special 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 loyal. But people choose a dog tea pet typically is because it is lovely;
  • Pig. The fatty and cutely little pig means rich and happy;

Maitreya

Buddhism has a big influence in China. If the tea pet is in the style of Bodhidharma, Buddha, Maitreya, or little monk, that may mean the host is a Buddhist; or perhaps he is a people like quiet and meditation. There is also a kind of tea pet, a Buddha’s foot, and what is praying for is rich.

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.

  • 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 the 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 blessing, and exorcise evil spirits.
Kylin style
Kylin style

Ordinary Animals

Some ordinary animals like elephants, lions, and cats, even though they don’t belong to the twelve zodiacs and mythic monsters, tea pets in their style are also popular. Elephants symbolize rich, and lions help exorcise evil spirits. Although cats can also bring fortune, the most reason people love them is their cute look.

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 with a marvelous design. Its body is empty inside. Suppose you add water in before drinking tea and shower it with the 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 combine 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 the ordinary times, making it become 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;
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2 thoughts on “What Is A Tea Pet? 17 Common Types & Their Meanings”

  1. Barry Malkin

    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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