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Tea pets were originally made for good-luck magic, which the Chinese call feng shui. Artisans have always made them with the same materials used to make teapots, which is the quality clay.  The other name for the tea pets is the “tea play”, a tea nourished pet, meaning fortune, wealth and auspicious and people use it to beautify and decorate their tea tables. 

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We can trace the history of tea pets to the Yuan dynasty (between 1206 and 1368). Artisans have always used Yixing clay or Zisha from the Yixing within the Jiangsu Province of China to make them. More like the Yixing teapots, which are made of clay, the tea pets are supplied unglazed so they are usually monochromatic and boasting a very rough surface. To raise their tea pets, Chinese tea lovers place them on tea trays during their tea times and pour out some leftover tea or the water they use to clean their teaware on their surface. 

The pee-pee boy has remained the most popular tea pet figure and people use it to judge whether the water they use to make tea is hot enough. Artisans also mould tea pets into Chinese mythical creatures and zodiac animals. You will find dragons, Qilins, Pixius and other common creatures in the Chinese culture. Most of them symbolise fortune, good luck and happiness. 

Origin of the tea pets

Yixing is the birthplace of tea pets. They came into being during the Song dynasty (around 960-1279). With the increasing popularity of Yixing clay teapots, Yixing became the centre of production for teaware. Teapot artisans in the centre started changing clay into various shapes some depicting common animals and other mythical creatures.


Unfortunately, the available literature on the development of tea pets in China's history is limited. With technological advancements, artisans are using other materials in place of the Yixing clay to make tea pets. However, the production is still concentrated within the Yixing region. 


So, what are tea pets?

This is among the first questions most people will ask whenever they come across the phrase “tea pet” online. It might sound silly to some but to others, it sounds special. The name “tea pet” cannot be literal. That is the key reason some people think that they are reading it wrong each time they come across it. However, when they see the pictures, they realize that it is the right thing. At that point, they might decide to buy or leave it. 

A tea pet is simply a companion for tea times. Traditionally, the Chinese made them as clay figurines, which they placed on their tea tables to accompany them when enjoying their tea. Artisans are now producing tea pets made of various materials but the Yixing tea pets are made of the same clay and they are unglazed. They have a rough surface to facilitate better absorption of tea and hot water. 


Types of tea pets 

Tea pets are made of Zisha (Yixing Clay) and they are unglazed, which mean that they usually retain the natural colour of clay. They exist in three types - red clay, purple clay and green clay. Artists use one or a mixture of the three to make different colours. Here are the available types. 

Fortune-associated tea pets  

The commonest fortune-associated pets are pixiu, Golden toad, and some other mythical creatures. The creatures are related to treasure, happiness and best wishes in the Chinese culture. 

Water spraying tea pets 

The pee-pee boy might be the most popular figure in this category. It is usually a around 3 inches tall and featuring a red-brown colour. Any hot water poured on the pee-pee boy’s head makes him to pee – it pees only when the water is hot enough. More and more artists are creating similar items such as water-breathing dragons and water-spraying longevity tortoise. 

Colour changeable tea pets 

Pets in this category are made of resins and they can change their colour according to the rise of temperatures and restore their original colour when the temperature reduces. 

Funny tea pets 

Artisans use clay to make funny tea pets. They are usually red, red or purple and provide an exploited feeling. If you care for them properly and rinse them with tea, they will become adorable and provide the fragrance of tea. 


The available tea pet figures 

In the market, you are likely to find tea pets depicting various mythical creatures, animals and other things. Here are the commonest. 

Buddha tea Pet

The meditating Buddha is among the popular choices and was in the 2015 Toronto Tea Festival at the Zhen Tea’s booth. If you need a perfect tea pet, it is the one to go for. Even though it does not do anything else other than drinking much of your tea, it will change its appearance over time and get a better fragrance. The tea play will remain one of the favourites.

Pig Tea Pet 

One of the things that you will notice after removing the Pig Tea Pet from the package is the huge nose. It is a good choice for people who do not want flowers in their homes. Unlike some people who opt for them due to their good appearance, others go for them due to their representation. You will also realize that the pig has two holes in the mouth. They are not for shooting out tea but for blowing tea bubbles when you are sharing your steeps. 

Bird tea pet 

The bird tea pet has a large length and you will definitely love the details on the perch and bird. Even though it does not have any effects after you have fed it with tea, it features two small indents on its side that allow the leftover tea to collect in a pool. You can name the bird tea pet how you want. 

The pee-pee boy 

The pee-pee boy is another popular tea play choice among tea lovers. It features a 3 inches height and a red-brown colour, which will make it look great on your tea table. One of the things that make it very popular is its ability to judge the temperature of tea or water. To do that, tea lovers immerse it in some cold water until it is full. They then shake it to be sure that it is 50 percent full. After that, they pour some hot water on it so that it can start peeing. It will only pee when the water is it. 

If you want it to pee further, you will have to make the water hotter. To pee, the tea pet relies on the thermal air expansion principle. The producers design it to be hollow and include a single tiny opening for the water to flow into the pee boy slowly. The water does not drip out until the user pours adequate hot water on the head. 

The hot water poured on the pee-pee boy’s head causes the air in it to expand and as a result, the water squeezes out though the small opening. Simulation and experimental results based on fluid mechanics principles and thermodynamics have shown that the device is able to measure the temperature effectively. The feature made the pee-pee boy a go-for for most tea pet lovers. More recently, artisans started using the technology on the other figures of tea pets such as water-spraying tortoises and water-breathing dragons. That way, tea loves are getting more choices. 


How to use a tea pet 

After buying the tea pet, you will have to use it and that is the fun part. When steeping some tea for your family or friends, you will have the chance of feeding the tea pet some too. The process will make it more like one of your real pets – one of the things you have to raise and care for. The caring process is simple. You just need to pour some hot water on it, ensuring that you have covered it completely. If necessary, you can take your tea brush and brush its surface to distribute the hot tea evenly. That way, it will change its colour continuously and get a more pleasant fragrance.  


What can you feed your tea pet?

Tea pet lovers pour various types of liquid on it. You can pour the warm water you use on your teaware before the tea session. The other liquids you can pour on the figure are the leftover tea and the water you use to rinse your tea leaves. After pouring the liquid, your pet will absorb or drink it and with time, you will realize that the scent and colour have changed.

Today, the market offers large, medium and small tea pets. The designs are many, but you will have to feed them the same way. Never allow them to go thirsty. Depending on the tea you feed them, some will be more than aesthetics. If the pet has some holes, you should expect it to squirt out the tea you pour on it or throw some bubbles. 


Maintenance 

Tea lovers raise their tea pets in the same way they maintain it. The maintenance process is not time-consuming. Some people mostly pour the leftover tea in the tea pets and then use their tea brush to wipe its surfaces so that it can absorb this leftover tea evenly. When it comes to maintenance, you should only rinse it with clean water. Do not use dishwashing liquid or any type of soap so that you can get a progressive increase in tea colour and fragrance in your home. After a few months, the tea pet absorbs tea and the colour changes. It becomes glossier and gets a tea aroma. 


Conclusion 

When choosing a tea pet, go for the moderate-sized because the oversized ones are inconvenient to carry. After that, pour only one type of tea on it for better colour and fragrance. The market offers many types but regardless of the type you choose, Pu’er, black tea and Oolong will result in faster colour change. Green tea will provide a slower colour change. Treat it with the leftover tea, brush it and use a napkin to clean it. Never soak it in water to prevent colour loss. 

Start your day right with a cup of tea