The act of drinking tea is a lesson in mindfulness. Patience is required while the water boils and as the tea steeps, unfurling and releasing its aroma. It is the antithesis of drinking two shots of espresso and rushing somewhere.

Adding a tea pet to this routine is a fun and easy way to extend the ritual of tea-making. For the uninitiated, tea pets are typically clay figurines that live on tea trays and date back thousands of years to ancient China. They were crafted from the excess of clay used to make teaware and became wonderful, albeit silent, companions to drink tea with.

Although, yes, they’re very cute, tea pets do much more than sit pretty. “In Gongfu tea ceremonies, you have to first rinse the tea to get rid of impurities and dust,” Leo Lukidi, owner of Las Vegas tea shop, Tea and Whisk, explains. “The idea is that once you rinse the tea, instead of just dumping it into a bowl, you feed it to your tea pet.” The first rinse of tea is not only for washing the tea and cleaning it, but it also allows the tea leaves to bloom and deliver a stronger flavor. At Lukidi’s shop in Vegas, tea pets adorn the shelves and live scattered atop a tea table in the center in the showroom, where guests who visit for tastings sit. There, they can feed the pets that call the tea shop home and adopt their own.

Tea pets may change color over time or absorb the scent of teas as they continue to be fed. “Every time you pour hot tea over it, that’s when it comes alive the most, which is delightful,” Amy Truong, co-owner of San Diego–based Paru Tea, says.

It’s the reason why she, too, decided to carry tea pets in her shop: to spread a little joy and also add routine to the tea ceremony and a method of measuring how much tea one consumes in a lifetime. “It’s kind of fun to think that the tea pet has drank the same amount of tea you’ve been drinking years ago. It could also be considered an heirloom that you can pass down through generations, which I find really powerful.”