Herb is a tea pet. What’s a tea pet, you might be asking? Well, it’s a long story, and—honestly—one I haven’t taken much interest in. Until now.
There is no clear origin story about how tea pets came to be. The only consensus that exists is on what they are, and—by extension—where they’re from. Tea pets are small figurines made of clay that originally hail from the region in China associated with clay tea pots; the Yixing region of Jiangsu province. The rest of their origin is pure conjecture.
Some say they were added to the cha xi (tea play) experience as a sign or symbol of good luck. Others considered them clay garnish to the overall Gong Fu Cha experience. Some tea pets are hollowed out to allow for tea to be poured into them, others are made of special clay that change color when tea is poured on them. Some bubble from the mouth, some pee, some . . . lactate. (Don’t ask.)
There was even a Toy Story-like movie made about them.
No, I haven’t seen it.
I’m no stranger to owning tea pets. I have a few, including a clay slug I named Mortimer. However . . .
In my care, he lost an eye.
Then I got a message from tea friend, Michell Hovey. She wanted to pass on a tea pet she made, for me to have a session with. The above turtle named Herb.
He wasn’t the first turtle she’d crafted. Using stoneware clay from Kentucky Mud Works, a whole family of Herbs was created. However, Herb was the first to be drafted for a community “project”, of sorts. She and her husband Derek felt that the tea community was one of the most tightly knit on the Internet, and she wanted to contribute to it in some way. A traveling tea pet was the answer.
And for some reason, I was drafted to be the first Herb parent. Originally, I declined. I’m the last person to care for a tea pet. Just look at poor Mortimer. That and I rarely cluttered my tea tray with extra garnish. Gaiwan, Cha Hai, cup, catch; that’s it—function over form. However, as I went through my day, I . . . caved.
A week later, Herb arrived at my mailbox, along with a leather-bound, leaf-embossed notebook.
I opened the notebook to find very detailed instructions on how to take care of Herb.
Short version: have tea, pour tea on Herb, let Herb dry, post the Herb-sesh to Instagram, leave an Herbecdote in the notebook, and then send Herb to another tea nerd. The project sounded fun. The Hoveys even sent a couple of prospective teas to session with. The one that caught my eye was called “Ostfriesen Breakfast” from Blue Willow Tea.
I tucked Herb and the notebook away in the cubby of my tea table, and . . .
Forgot about them for two whole months.
Michell sent me a message some time in July to remind me that Herb was a-waitin’. To which, I apologized profusely, and found time in my weird schedule to do a tea session with Herb in tow. It was a late-afternoon on a weekday, I was already sufficiently caffeinated, but it felt like the right time.
I gongfooled around with the black tea blend, steeped it three times, and displayed Herb on the tray.
By steep two, I remembered I had to pour some over Herb’s shell, something that felt . . . oddly satisfying, to be honest.
After doing that, I felt more at ease than I had prior to the session. I, then, remembered the notebook, and scrawled a chicken-scratchy entry.
Geoff Norman in Portland, OR.
I’m not usually a tea pet kind of guy, but it’s really difficult to resist Herb’s charms. I’m just sorry it took so long for me to get to a session with him.
I gave him his second tea bath with Blue Willow’s Ostfriesien blend. Really malty, woody, and floral black, hearty too. (Pardon my very terrible handwriting.)
For a little while, I played around with the little guy, imagining him as a tea braggart like me.
Following the session, I packed him up the best I could, and—the following week(s)—sent him on his way to another potential tea-bather.
I’m still not much of a tea pet guy, but I do finally “get” why people like having them around. In a tumultuous world, it is difficult to find pockets of whimsy. Even our tea experiences sometimes can’t remain unfettered from the troubled times we live in. But tea pets, whether as a sign of good fortune or merely a peace-loving trinket, they provide additional joy for some tea drinkers amidst the chaos of it all.
I can’t wait to see what another person gets out of their visit with Herb the Traveling Tea Turtle.
Not all of these blogs are about dirty jokes, weird teas, or heady topics.
To keep tabs on Herb, go HERE.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the next one he visits.