For centuries, having a nice cup of tea hasn’t only been limited to curbing thirst. The beverage has got some amazing ceremonious aspects linked to it. Have you ever come across a small ceramic or clay figure placed atop a tea tray? Adding to the overall experience of having tea, those structures are tea pets.
Here’s a quick guide that takes you through everything you need to know about tea pets.
What is a tea pet?
Exactly what it sounds like, a tea pet is a winsome companion for our tea-time moments. Traditionally, tea pets are figurines made of clay and are usually placed on the tea tables. They are crafted out of a range of materials, but quite like Yixing clay teapots, they are often worked up with the same clay. They are left unglazed and have got a rough surface that works wonders for the absorption of tea.
What that means for a quality tea pet is that, the more someone feeds their tea pet, the more beautiful it gets by taking on a unique shine. In some years, the tea pet will achieve an inner luster that can’t be manufactured. Apart from the glow, it will take on the fragrances and hues of the tea that’s poured over it.
There’s a broad spectrum of tea pets available out there. They come in large, medium and small sizes while featuring simple structures as well as detailed designs. Although, people prefer small tea pets so that they can maintain them effortlessly as well as carry them along while traveling.
Craftsmen make them in some wonderful shapes inspired by bugs, mythical creatures, animals and people. The most common tea pets include pigs, elephants, toads, dragons, some traditional Buddhist characters, pee-pee kids and more. Each of the forms usually comes with its unique significance.
Related Article: 10 Traditional Tea Pets and Their Meanings
History of Tea Pets
The idea of tea pets dates back to ancient China and is associated with the Yuan tradition. They originated in Yixing during the 13th century, as Yixing was popular for its wonderful zisha clay which was used to craft beautiful teaware.
Some teapot artisans utilized extra bits of clay to create interesting animal shapes. Those shapes were then fired alongside cups and teapots, creating an added mascot for the complete tea set.
Tea pets that were crafted from yixing clay are unglazed and porous, thereby exhibiting great water-absorbing properties. And the ancient tea masters believed that a tea pet has no soul when you adopt it. However, tea was believed to have a soul, and pouring tea over the tea pet gives the little molded shape a soul too.
Tea pets have been nourished during the gongfu tea ceremony for ages by pouring leftover tea over them. It’s believed that when you pour tea over the tea pet in a way that it’s covered throughout, it absorbs the tea. Some see it as tea pets drinking the tea, while also absorbing the fragrance and color of the tea over time.
Purpose of Tea Pets
Undoubtedly, the charming appearances of tea pets make them a beloved element among tea lovers. While some use them for decorative purposes, others find it very interesting that tea pets crafted from Yixing clay gradually change their hues when presented to hot tea.
However, tea pets are believed to bring in fortune, bliss and good luck too! And that’s why they are molted into some legendary animal forms, characters or zodiac creatures.
Apart from the traditional aspects, tea pets are also utilized to determine whether the water is hot enough to prepare tea. To serve this purpose, people usually go for one of the most popular forms of tea pets, the pee-pee kid. Tea pets come with a tiny hole in them which allows you to check the temperature of the water.
When it comes to pee-pee boy, you immerse the pet in cold water in a way that fills him up half-way, further pouring hot tea water on top. If the water is hot enough, the pee-pee boy starts peeing. However, it’s essential to make sure that the brewing water is not extremely hot.
How to use a Tea Pet?
Using a tea pet is all about feeding your companion when you steep yourself some tea. They actually become more like our pets that we raise and take good care of. Not only do they look absolutely adorable, but are also easy to use, while enhancing the whole vibe of your tea sessions. You simply pour tea over the tea pet and cover it entirely, and that’s all!
When it comes to the kind of liquid you can pour on them, there are three different options you can go for :
- The hot water used to warm up the teaware
- The tea leaves rinse
- Any leftover steeped tea that you get after filling the cups
Your tea pet then absorbs the color and aroma of the tea, exhibiting noticeable differences in its appearance over time when you feed it regularly.
Tea Pet Maintenance
Just like our real pets, even tea pets call for much attention. Apart from pouring leftover tea over them on a regular basis, you need to clean the tea pet from outside using a tea brush so that the tea spreads equitably. Every once in a while, clean it with a soft tea napkin.
In order to make sure that the tea pet always features a lovely color and scent, it’s recommended to rinse them with pure water later on. However, they must never be treated with any dishwashing liquid or cleansers.
Preferably, always treating your tea pet with only one type of tea will contribute so much more to the purity of the shades that it develops. Although pu-erh tea works wonders for most tea pets, oolong and black tea bring out the changes quicker. On the other hand, green tea is known to affect the appearance of tea pets relatively slowly because of the material of their composition.
A thing to keep in mind is that you must never soak the tea pet in tea water to avoid it from getting a subdued color. Over a few months of regular maintenance, your little tea companion will absorb different elements of the tea, turning more and more glossier and aromatic over time.