Q - What are these things?
A - They are Tea Pets! You probably already know Shu Shu T. Dragon from this blog. He's pictured above at eleven o'clock. FUN FACT: Shu Shu is actually a Pixiu (貔貅) but I call him a dragon because that's his last name. The other four you'll meet someday when you visit Phoenix Tea in person.
Q - What are they for?
A - They sit on a tea tray and get hot water and hot tea poured over them. Most Tea Pets are made of porous clay which will absorb the essential oils of the tea adding luster and color over time. One of the tea pets, pictured above at six o'clock (his name is Rex) is made out of a special material that turns yellow when he gets hot.
Q - Is this a very common practice?
A - The Tea Pet trend started in Asia as a lucky and whimsical addition to tea brewing. During my travels around Taiwan, San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver, I've seen many different examples including turtles, dragons, bats and feet. The most common tea pets I've come across are frogs with coins in their mouths (aka jinchan / 金蟾). The tea pet phenomenon is not for everyone, but there's no doubt it is spreading to tea lovers all around the world.