What’s in the bottom of your tea cup? Hans Vivek

“Tasseography”, or tea leaf reading, is specialized fortune-telling done by interpreting patterns in leftover, used tea leaves. They look for special patterns or symbols. My great-grandmother was a tea leaf reader. I didn’t know this until my teenage years when my grandmother shared a story about knowing that my mother had been in a motorcycle accident before the authorities called her. She said that the maternal side of the family has a long history of “knowing” and told me about my great-grandmother’s skills. Still, I was intrigued about why being a tea leaf reader was a family secret. The bottom line is the world tends to judge and shun what it doesn’t understand.

Tea has an ancient history and seems to treat every malady. It is made by infusing crushed leaves or flowers in boiling water or sun-heated water. Some teas can harm, but overwhelmingly, most are made for healing.

What my Scottish great-grandmother likely did not see in her cup were the faces of trafficked women and children sold into slavery for the sake of harvesting commercial tea. Within the tea industry, the one thing that the most well-known tea-growing countries – China, India, Kenya, and Sir Lanka – have in common is human trafficking. From the fields, vulnerable workers are often trafficked into domestic servitude and sex trafficking. For instance, some tea houses in India, are fronts for human trafficking. This is not to say these are the only countries exploiting labor.

When I interviewed Bill Hall, owner of the only tea plantation in America for Bigelow tea, he indicated he wasn’t aware of any labor issues. However, he further went on to say that he didn’t think he needed to provide better than what the laborers had in their native countries. At the time, we had an engaging conversation about this perspective. This was a few years ago, and since that time, Bigelow tea has endeavored to meet Fair Trade standards in the face of changing trade laws and pressure from conscious consumerism.

I have three favorite commercial tea companies that I believe promote ethical environmental and human practices and produce a superior product in regards to flavor.

Republic Tea – Sales from its line of non-profit tea line benefits brain cancer research and homelessness and partner with other non-profit groups. They use some pesticides.

Honest Tea – Certified organic and Fair Trade, this company uses ethical labor practices and is environmentally conscious. I often found it in glass containers at variety and grocery stores and in vending machines.

Rishi – Rishi is organic, and Fair Trade certified. I especially love that they endeavor to protect the trees from which their teas come and support the local tribes, natural protectors of the trees.

Buying “slave-free” or Fair Trade or organic teas greatens the chances that companies will step up to the teacup to ensure every step of their production line treats people fairly and humanely and uses environmentally friendly practices. Be sure to check at farmer’s markets and small tea shops for fresh and intriguing teas.

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