About Tea Pets

Tea Pet or Tea Lover’s Pet, also known as Chachong, is a small pottery figure that some tea drinkers keep for good luck, companionship, or as a decorative piece during tea drinking. It is more than just decoration and requires a bit more care. The focus of this article is on tea pets made from Yixing or unglazed clay, as they require the most care and consideration compared to other materials.

A tea pet is usually placed on a tea tray designed to catch water or tea. During tea time, the pet is “fed” by pouring or brushing hot tea over its entire surface. As this process is repeated over time, the clay absorbs some of the tea, and the color of the clay begins to shift and develop a pleasant aroma of the teas you drink most often. For this reason, it is recommended to use the same tea per pet, especially if it’s made from unglazed clay. For other materials, there can be more versatile choices of tea since they do not absorb liquids as easily, if at all.

To ensure convenience in carrying and handling, the size of the tea pet should be small to moderate-sized. An oversized tea pet may not be practical to transport, and it would require a lot more tea unless it is purely for decoration purposes and not portable.

Types of Tea Pets

Tea pets are handmade figurines typically crafted from unglazed Yixing clay, which retains the clay’s natural color. They can also be made from other materials such as glazed ceramics, porcelain, resin, stone, metal, plastic, etc. Some even use temperature-reactive materials that change color when in contact with hot or cold tea.

One type of tea pet that is particularly fun is the kind that spits out tea or water when you pour it over the figurine. These tea pets have a hollow structure with only one tiny opening. When you pour hot water over its head, the air in the pet expands, which squeezes the water out through the small opening. In recent years, artisans have used this technology on other tea pets, such as water-breathing dragons, spitting frogs, and water-spraying longevity tortoises. Some tea drinkers use this pet to test for the right temperature of water for tea.

To use this type of tea pet, you need to dunk it in a container of room-temperature water and then position it on the tea tray. After boiling water and letting it cool slightly, pour it over the tea pet’s head. If the water temperature is just right, the figurine will release a thin, powerful spray of water that shoots out in a long arch. While it’s fun to watch, it can also be messy!

Choosing the Right Tea for Your Tea Pet

When it comes to choosing tea for your pet, it’s important to select high-quality tea that’s free from impurities and additives. This will help avoid any harm to your pet’s surface over time. Some popular tea choices for feeding tea pets include green tea, oolong tea, Pu’er, and black tea.

There are many tea options available nowadays outside of the traditional Eastern teas. For instance, butterfly pea flower tea has become popular among tea drinkers due to its vibrant blue hues that can change to pink or purple when mixed with something acidic. Black wolfberries (also known as black goji berries) also create deep shades of vibrant blues and purples. These blends, when used for a long time, can create an unusual and unique patina/staining, so it’s essential to keep track of the ingredients you use and how much of them you use to create specific colors. So if you’re interested in bolder colors, feel free to try tea blends with ingredients that naturally offer an interesting tint.

Fruits can add unique fragrances to your tea pet. Though many fruits are naturally sweet, it isn’t an issue as they are already dried and there’s not a lot of it in a batch. However, if you’re unsure, avoid using fruits that are naturally high in sugar. Teas with spices can add a sweet smell to your tea pet without adding sugars. These blends can also create interesting patina effects over time.

For nonporous materials such as resin, glazed ceramics, and others, you can use multiple types of tea. For metal tea pets, avoid teas that may cause a chemical reaction, such as rusting or unwanted stains.

Additives such as sugars, syrups, and artificial sweeteners are not recommended. They may encourage bacteria and other harmful things to thrive on sugars, and they can get sticky over time. If you want to add sweetness, use good quality honey, which has natural antibacterial properties. Be careful not to add too much of it before giving it to your tea pet, though, as it can still make things sticky over time.

In summary, choose high-quality tea, avoid additives, keep track of the ingredients you use, and use good-quality honey.

Maintenance & Care

Caring for tea pets requires different maintenance depending on the material they are made of and whether they are sealed or not. Unglazed clay requires special attention as it is porous and will absorb tea. However, other materials like glazed ones may need less maintenance since they do not absorb tea as readily or at all.

It is important to store your tea pet in a cool and dry place when not in use to prevent damage. Avoid storing it in a humid or rapidly changing temperature environment or direct sunlight as it can cause the pet’s surface to crack and fade. Ideally, keep the pet in its original or designated box or wrap it in a soft cloth for protection.

Cleaning your tea pet is a crucial step in its maintenance. Tea residues and oils can build up over time, causing the pet to look dull and dirty. To clean it, you will need a soft cloth, warm purified or distilled water, and mild soap, preferably unscented and made with natural ingredients. Dip the cloth in the soap and water solution and gently scrub the surface of the pet. Rinse the pet thoroughly with purified or distilled water to remove all soap residue. Note that tap water is not recommended for unglazed clay as it may contain chemicals or deposits that can affect the tea pet’s quality. However, it should be okay for nonporous materials.

  1. It is recommended to use only one type of tea, preferably in the same category of tea (white, green, or black), to maintain the purity of color and fragrance. While all types of tea can be used to nourish tea pets, Pu’er tea is the most effective. Generally, black tea, Pu’er, and Oolong result in faster changes, while green tea has a relatively slower effect. Positive changes may occur in 1-2 months when raising with Pu’er tea. After six months, a pleasant shine can be seen on the surface.
  2. There are two ways to raise newly acquired tea pets: artificial fermentation and natural fermentation. Artificial fermentation involves tossing the new pets into the tea bucket, simmering them for 1-4 days according to your preference, and then removing them. Natural fermentation is a slower process that involves feeding your pet and allowing time to form the desired effect.
  3. While many people use leftover tea to feed their pets, it is recommended to “shower” them with hot tea water and rub them with a tea cloth regularly. Although it is quicker to raise pets by soaking them in tea, the effect is not as good, and tea pets need to “breathe”.
  4. After prolonged moisturizing and care, the color of the tea pet will slowly be released, and the surface will present a subtle and soft matte color, which is known as “patina”. This is considered a symbol of the cultivation of purple sand tea pets. Occasionally, a brush specifically used for tea should be used to clean the tea pet with a tea napkin or soft material.