Tasseography, or tea leaf reading, is specialized fortune-telling done by interpreting patterns in leftover, used tea leaves.

Tea leaf readers 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 on that issue 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. The one thing that the most well-known tea-growing countries – China, India, Kenya, and Sir Lanka – have in common is human trafficking. within the industry. From the fields, vulnerable workers and their families are often trafficked into domestic servitude and sex trafficking. Some tea houses in India, for instance, are fronts for human trafficking. This is not to say these are the only countries exploiting labor.

Living in abject poverty with little hope leaves young girls and vulnerable boys subject to be ing lured into trafficking. They are promised employment opportunities, new clothes, make-up, the ability to send money home to their families. Addressing poverty, bringing poverty out into the daylight where it can’t be ignored, and then creating policy that is compassionate and equitable are ways we can end poverty and one avenue of being lured into being victims of human trafficking.

“I miss her terribly,” he said quietly. “She would always have my lunch box ready when I left for work. My wife thinks I sold her for a little money. I didn’t, she was just taken.”

When I interviewed Bill Hall, owner of the only tea plantation in America, 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 conscious consumerism.

American Classic Tea Plantation

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 TeaSales 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 TeaCertified 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.

RishiRishi 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.

When we make conscious efforts in what we chose to buy we exert pressure on companies to make good choices about how they choose to run their companies in regards to humanity and the planet. We all take part in lessening the chances of another human being sold into slavery.

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.

What’s at the bottom of YOUR cup?