While not being limited to animals, tea pets are small clay figures used during gong fu cha for various purposes. Most often, they are used by tea drinkers as decoration, but also for good luck, or to test water for the right temperature.
Tea pets have a long history, dating back to the Yuan Dynasty (13th century China). Tea pets are not only used for aesthetic purposes. Their meanings and positioning are actually closely intertwined with feng shui.
What Is Feng Shui?
Fengshui (Chinese geomancy) is a practice originating from ancient China. Nowadays, it is naturally practiced across many homes in Eastern Asian countries. Furthermore, this philosophy has steadily spread to many other countries all over the world.
Literally, Feng Shui means “wind-water.” It is a practice that aims to connect people with their natural surroundings, harmonizing the body and soul.
The principals of Feng Shui use energy, otherwise known as Qi (like in cha qi). It is how we utilize this energy (contained in our bodies, nature, and objects), which will influence our overall well-being.
Whether you practice Feng Shui in your daily life or not, tea pets are always a fun and cute way to brighten up any tea ceremony!
The Meaning of Tea Pets
Animal Tea Pets:
Pig Tea Pet
Coming from the Chinese zodiac, in China, the pig has always been a symbol of wealth, good fortune, and generosity. The pig’s plump shape is attractive and cute. It is undoubtedly one of our favorite tea animals!
You can see our Yixing Clay Tea Pet here.
Monkey Tea Pet
Another Chinese zodiac sign. The monkey represents curiosity, wit, and intelligence. Most commonly, this tea pet is expressed in the form of The Three Wise Monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. While the image of The Three Wise Monkeys originated in Japan, it is known to be based on Confucian teachings, which are deeply tied into Chinese culture.
Turtle Tea Pet
The turtle is the perfect balance between yin and yang. With its long years, it represents longevity and health. A turtle standing on another turtle’s back represents blessings for generations to come.
Rabbit Tea Pet
The rabbit is yet another auspicious symbol of the Chinese horoscope. It represents good virtues such as kindness and grace.
You can see our Zen Rabbit Tea Pet here.
Carp Tea Pet
The carp is seen adorning many traditional Chinese and Japanese homes and business establishments. It is no surprise this fish swam its way onto the chaban (tea tray!). The carp is the ultimate symbol of good luck and is always present during many festivals and celebrations.
Bat Tea Pet
While in the west, the bat isn’t always associated with good fortune and positivity, in Chinese culture, it is a symbol of great luck. The “fu” in “bianfu” (bat) is pronounced the same as the “fu” meaning good luck in Chinese. Let’s change our negative connotations associated with this peaceful creature and perhaps even put one atop our tea table!
Elephant Tea Pet
The elephant is one of the most popular tea pets in the gong fu tea world. These animals are strong, kind, gentle, and peaceful. According to Feng Shui, elephants symbolize water and wealth. It is no wonder they are such a desired tea pet on the tea table where tea and water should flow freely and abundantly!
According to FengShui, elephants should be placed in prosperous places, full of light, life, and plants. The cha ban is a perfect place for the elephant to rest.
Mystical Tea Pets:
Qilin — The Lion Dragon Tea Pet
This mystical creature stemming from Chinese mythology has the head of a dragon and the body of a lion, with a horn on its head. It is known to only appear at times of peace, thus placing it on the tea table is meant to bring peace and kindness into our lives.
Three-Legged Golden Toad (Coin Frog Tea Pet)
Surely the Lucky Frog is seen adorning almost any prosperous Chinese establishment! This auspicious creature is called the “Gold Toad” (also meaning money in Chinese) and is often a golden color. As a tea pet, it is commonly made of yixing clay. The Lucky Frog usually has a coin in his mouth. This three-legged creature is the optimal symbol for attracting wealth.
The Coin Frog is very particular as to where it should live. Never place the toad facing the door! If the frog is holding a coin in its mouth — place it facing you during the tea ceremony. If there is no coin — it should be facing the same direction as you, meaning it will wait and attract wealth to come. The Golden Toad is a particular creature and doesn’t like to be touched by those who are not his owner!
Buddhist Tea Pets:
Maitreya Buddha Tea Pet
You have probably seen this Buddha many times and have smiled from his presence. He is a fat-bellied Buddha with a broad smile on his face. Maitreya Buddha is all-tolerating and relaxed. With his big smile, he attracts a happy and joyous tomorrow.
If enjoying a tea ceremony in the company of friends, it is a nice gesture to have the Buddha tea pet facing your guests, so that he can share his joy with everyone!
Vegetable Tea Pets:
Chinese Cabbage Tea Pet
It is hard to see vegetables as a tea “pet” per se. However, they have become popular items on the tea table throughout recent years.
This vegetable in Chinese is pronounced “Pak Choy.” “Pak” means a hundred, and “choy” means wealth. Thus it is the symbol of a hundred years of wealth. In FengShui, the Bok Choi is a familiar statue to adorn business establishments with. It is usually made of precious stones like jade and not clay.
Peanuts Tea Pet
Because one of the Chinese characters for “peanuts” in Chinese means “birth”, peanuts are naturally associated with fertility. Having a tea pet in the form of peanuts does not only represent fertility but is also a unique form of art that is interesting to look at. This tea pet is not as popular as the before-mentioned ones but is quite artistic in its nature.