Blast From the Past: Tea Pets and the Value of Aesthetics

Blast From the Past: Tea Pets and the Value of Aesthetics


Many of the best-loved tools used in tea will never touch your lips, but they will touch your heart. Tea pets are small, generally ceramic animals, traditionally placed on a tea table during a gongfu cha ceremony, or any intense preparation of tea. They can be simple or complex, beautiful, adorable or all of these things at once. The most common animals represented are frogs, dogs, and water buffalo, but many others exist.

During a gongfu cha ceremony, the first wash of a tea is not drinkable, at least for humans. A tea pet will be very grateful for you to pour your wash onto it. Often, tea pets are made out of unglazed ceramic, which can allow them to absorb a tiny amount of the tea you’re drinking. They exist as a record to many cups. A separate utilitarian property of tea pets is to prevent the shock of hot water from cracking a tea table (through the heat conducting powers of ceramic). Some pets contain a clever hollow inside themselves, and with the application of hot water will blow bubbles, due to the heated, expanding air that leaves them.

To sum it up, a quote from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:

Charlie Bucket: Candy doesn’t have to have a point. That’s why it’s candy.

 Why does this apply? Because not everything in a tea experience is about flavour or temperature, aesthetics is just as important. If looking at a cute, bubbling frog makes you happy, then it improves your experience.

Looking at a tea experience holistically can be dangerous. A flimsy disposable cup with a bag of faded-label Lipton, topped off with a run to catch a bus added together equals a bad time. However, a small cup of something fresh and green out of a modest but pretty tin, poured from an heirloom teapot onto a tea pet while watching a thunderstorm blow outside, composes a lovely memory.

Photo “IMG_4314” is copyright under Creative Commons Attribution Generic License 2.0 to the photographer Christina Xu and is being posted unaltered (source

Originally posted by Ben Dane in January 2016



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