Updated: Nov 4, 2019
Many people, especially those who don't drink tea or know little about traditional Chinese tea arts, may not have heard of tea pets before. Tea pets first appeared in study rooms of ancient Chinese people as a decoration. From the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), they came to find their way onto tea trays.
As people's living standards improved and interest in traditional Chinese culture has grown in recent years, tea pets have become more popular among tea lovers.
When pouring boiled tea on them, some can change color, while others even spray water, adding a little fun to tea drinking.
Made of purple clay, porcelain or resin, tea pets come in many forms and shapes, including fairy children, auspicious animals and little Buddha.
Tea pets in the form of pi xiu - a mythical animal akin to a Chinese unicorn - are very popular among businessmen. In traditional Chinese culture, pi xiu, the ninth son of a dragon, can bring fortune to people. It only takes money as food and never lets it out. Moreover, it is believed that pi xiu can protect a house from evil spirits.
Another popular tea pet is toad. The tea pet toad is not like the ones that live in a pond, but are mythical creatures with only three legs. In Chinese myths, three legged toads spit money from their mouth and help the poor. Thus, it has been considered an auspicious animal for a long time in Chinese culture. What's more, if a person is a fan of Harry Potter series, this little toad might be a good reminder of Hogwarts and magic.
Little foot with a spider
In the shape of a little fat foot with a spider on it, this tea pet might look weird to non-Chinese speakers. In Chinese language, spider is zhi zhu and foot zu. When the two pronunciations are combined, it would be a homophone for "satisfied" in Chinese. The tea pet is designed to remind people of having a satisfied attitude towards life and being grateful for every little gain.
Water, in traditional Chinese culture, represents fortune. Since elephants are good at using their long nose to suck water, tea pets in the form of elephants are also many tea lovers' first choice. Chinese people believe in fengshui also considered elephants mild and nice creatures that can bless all the members of a family.
Fairy children symbolize good fortune and happiness in Chinese myths. With chubby, smiling faces and an air of innocence, a fairy boy and a fairy girl are often sculptured together as a tea pet.
In traditional Chinese culture, pigs are a symbol of riches. Many Chinese women want to have a baby born in the Year of the Pig to give the child a blessing of a fortunate future. Tea pets in the form of pigs are also cute and loveable.
Tea pets in forms of Maitreya Buddha are the most common ones. The Buddha always smiles and in many Buddhist texts, he stands for happiness and can also bless people. Other animal figures, such as lions and rhinos, are also popular tea pets.
How to raise a tea pet
Like purple clay tea pots, long period of usage can add value to a tea pet. Pu'er tea is the best choice to raise a tea pet. Here are other tips about raising tea pets.
1. The best way to raise a tea pet is to brush it with the fresh tea you are drinking. You can also pour tea on it, as long as it is freshly made.
2. Only use one kind of tea to pour on a tea pet, rather than many kinds.
3. Oolong, such as Tie Guanyin, and green tea are better choices to raise a tea pet apart from Pu'er tea.