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Turtle Tea Pets and the Potter Who Creates Them

Meet the potter who creates turtle tea pets that have brought so much joy to the tea community.

Herb, the Instagram-Famous Tea Turtle

If you follow tea accounts on Instagram, you may have seen the handiwork of potter Michell Hovey. She created the ceramic tea pet, Herb, and a number of other turtle tea pets that show up in the Instagram photos of various tea lovers.

A tiny, smiling ceramic turtle teapet with unglazed shell perched on top of a blue and gold gaiwan. A magenta flower is in the background.
Bonsai, a sibling of Herb, on top of my gaiwan. Bonsai is one of two micro-turtle tea pets created by Michell Hovey.

Michell created Herb–the OG traveling tea pet–and sent him and a journal to a tea lover with the request to document Herb’s experience and then pass him along to another tea lover of their choosing. The host who has Herb when his journal pages run out is asked to return him to Michell. Drawing on public posts shared by his hosts, Michell chronicles Herb’s adventures and travels on Instagram at @HerbTheTravelingTeaTurtle. The account also shares Herb’s current location. I was lucky enough to host Herb in the spring of 2022.

(Not sure what tea pets are and/or would like to learn more about Herb’s backstory and see photos of him? Checkout my post “What Can a Tea Pet Add to Your Practice.”)

Tea Turtles with Unglazed Shells

While hosting Herb, and since then, I have enjoyed interacting with Michell, who affectionately thinks of herself as the “mom” of the turtles she has created. Michell came up with the idea to make ceramic turtles with unglazed shells. (The rest of their body is glazed.) This way, their creamy white shells darken and change color over time as they are showered with tea. The first turtle hatchlings were born in Kentucky, but more recent turtles were born in Washington state, where Michell and her family moved.

Through my interactions with Michell, and my heartfelt appreciation of some tiny turtles she posted in a photo, I was incredibly honored to receive one of her creations. Bonsai is a smol (and mighty, she would like you to know!) younger sibling of Herb. She fits almost perfectly on a fingertip and is about the size of a U.S. quarter. Michell sent Bonsai to me with some tea and a little birth certificate that listed her name and her birthday–AKA the day she emerged from the kiln. My first tea pet, Rocco (a ram), and I are so grateful to have a friend like Bonsai to share our home, too.

Bonsai, one of the tiny turtle tea pets created by Michell Hovey, sitting on top of a fingertip. A sunflower is in the background.
Bonsai fits on a fingertip or a quarter!

Tea Pet Genealogy for Michell’s Turtles

Although Herb may be the most Instagram-famous of his tea pet siblings, he isn’t the oldest! Michell let us know that Herb “has four older siblings.” Clover, the oldest, lives with Michell. Two other turtles–from other hatches–live at her house as well. Her husband is the guardian of one from the second batch of turtles. He named his turtle friend Kanar. When Michell names a turtle, as she does before gifting some, she chooses a name related to plants. Thyme, born around 2018, is the only other micro-turtle besides Bonsai.

Creating Community One Shell At a Time

Besides the kindness and fun that Michell’s tea pet turtles have brought Herb’s hosts and the human companions of those with forever homes, they have connected tea drinkers in new ways. Who follows Herb’s Instagram account? How many previous hosts and admirers now follow each other? Who doesn’t enjoy seeing the shenanigans of some of the tea pet friends that Herb stayed with along the way? For example, tea pets that met Herb (but aren’t related to him) Gerald and Ringo have their own Instagram account, too! And, how many people have been (or will be) delighted to hear Herb’s first foray into the musical world? With the help of one of his hosts, Justin Other, he released Herb The Traveling Turtle Presents: The H Isn’t Silent (The Mixtape).

In other words, these little clay turtles have brought more than their shells and some tea with them, they have showered us with fun, companionship, and communiTEA. I’m so grateful to Michell for her generous spirit and ceramic creations. Michell said she doesn’t publicly sell much of her ceramics online. But, when she does, she tends to update @theclayteapot on Instagram.

Do you have a tea pet? We’d love to share their name and some details in the comments!

Been thinking about the role tea plays in your life? You might enjoy my post “Embrace Your Tea Path” or this fun quiz “What Kind of a Tea Drinker Are You?”

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