Kids like to be involved in traditions, routines, and ceremonies that they see their parents participate in so when we realized how much our children enjoy this particular activity, we just had to share. In Chinese culture tea plays a significant role in everyday life. One small aspect of preparing tea is to pour a little over a small figurine commonly called a tea pet “茶宠 (chá chǒng)”. You may also hear it called ‘a tea lover’s pet’ or ‘tea friend’. If you are imagining a miniature dog or cat that joins you for tea, it’s not what you think.
It’s is a miniature clay figure that some tea drinkers keep for good luck. They’re commonly made of Zisha, or Yixing clay, which comes from a location near Yixing in China’s Jiangsu province. Tea pets are unglazed, monochromatic, and have a rough surface, similar to Yixing teapots made of the same clay.
1.宠 chǒng: spoil, favor, pamper, dote
2.茶 chá: tea
3.倒 dào: pour
4.宠物 chǒngwù: pet
What makes it so appealing is that during tea time, a tea pet is usually placed on a tea tray and tea is poured over it. Because the tea pet is not glazed, part of the tea is absorbed by the figure, causing the tea pet to change color and develop a tea aroma over time. While adults are patient to see the tea pet darken and change over time children enjoy giving it a drink or giving it a tea bath for the sake of playing with their little friend everyday.
The kinds of tea pets are numerous. You may have seen the adorable “pee-pee boy”. He squirts out water which was absorbed after being drenched in cold water and then washed with hot water. It is one of the most well known tea pet models. Tea pets can also be shaped as zodiac animals or Chinese legendary creatures like dragons, pixiu, and qilin to represent good luck, fortune, and happiness, as well as historical or mythical figures.
Yixing clay comes in three colors: purple, red, and green. A tea pet can be constructed from one of these clays, or a combination of the two for a variety of colors. One idea is to let your child choose their own pet theat they need to take care of. It’s easier than a real pet and can teach them routine and responsibility.
Kids can learn words in Chinese and they will also enjoy choosing a Chinese name for their pet. It’s a great activity overall. Encourage your child to speak to the tea pet in Chinese as well since that’s the only language it understands…wink, wink.
Easy example sentences to teach your child during tea time:
Nǐ kě ma?
你 渴 吗？
Are you thirsty?
Tā xǐhuān chá.
他 喜欢 茶。
He likes tea.
Jīntiān nǐ yào gànshénme?
今天 你 要 干什么？
What are you doing today?
Nǐ yào bàobào ma?
你 要 抱抱 吗？
Do you need a hug?
Zhège hěn yǒuqù!
这个 很 有趣！
This is fun!
Hǎo hǎo xiūxi!
好 好 休息！
Giving your child an inanimate object to practice speaking with eases the pressure some children face when speaking their target language with a teacher, parent, or other children. Once your child sees how much fun it is to interact with their tea pet, they will gain confidence in speaking aloud to other children as well.
Try it out an let us know what your child named their new pet. If you need help with names or where to get your very own figurine, let us know!