Tea Trivia: What is a Tea Pet?

October 03, 2016

No, it’s not a misspelling of teapot or a new breed of animal. It’s actually more similar to a pet rock. A tea pet is a small figure made out of clay that is used as decoration or for good luck. It is also sometimes used to test the water temperature when making tea.

Image by darkthursday.com

Image by darkthursday.com

History of Tea Pets

Tea pets have been around since the early 13th century and are thought to originate from Yixing, China. The region is known for its pottery and clay, which is called Yixing clay. The prized and vibrant clay is used to make teapots, teaware, and, as you guessed, tea pets.

Image by common tea via Instagram

Yixing clay has a special property where it can absorb some of the liquid poured onto it. Yixing teapots and teaware are unglazed for this reason; the more they are used, the more the tea is absorbed and the flavor gradually becomes deeper. Tea pets made of Yixing clay are also unglazed to keep with this tradition.

Brings of Luck and Happiness

Tea pets come in a few shapes and sizes, though they tend to be on the small side. Chinese zodiac animals, mystical creatures, or historical figures are commonly depicted. Many tea pets are for show and decorate tea trays rather nicely. Some, however, serve a more practical purpose.

Shaped like small children, these tea pets are used to tell when the water is hot enough to prepare tea. They are hollow with only a single, tiny opening. First, they are filled halfway with cold water. Next, hot water is poured over the tea pet. If it is hot enough, water will shoot out through the small opening. The higher the temperature, the farther the water shoots.

Unglazed tea pets display the natural colors of Yixing clay, which come in red, purple, or green. The colors can also be mixed and combined to produce an even broader palette.

Care and Nurture


Like real pets, tea pets must also be cared for. When a tea party is over, do not throw away the remaining tea. Save the leftover tea and pour it over the tea pet. Eventually, after many pours, the tea pet will naturally become glossier and retain the pleasant aroma of the tea. It is therefore recommended that you use only one kind of tea per tea pet. Due to the absorbing quality of the clay, no soaps or detergents should be used during cleaning. Simply rinse and clean with water.

As you ready the tea tray and measure out the leaves, don’t forget the cheerful little mascot waiting in the wings. He sits there patiently, waiting for everyone to finish enjoying their tea. The guests leave and he sits a bit straighter; finally, it is his turn. Reward him by pouring some tea over him, and watch as he glistens his thanks.

The post Tea Trivia: What is a Tea Pet? appeared first on YUNOMI.

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