Ever feel guilty about throwing away tea leaves? I know I have, especially when the tea leaves are a solitary bud or a bud and a leaf and I cradle their damp composure, admiring their beauty before banishing them to decay. While composting tea can be helpful, it may not be easily accessible in all environments, especially in urban settings. So I began to wonder: What else can be done with used tea leaves? The answer, in part, is to convert the leaves into works of art. I’ve invited two tea enthusiasts and artists to share their own version of tea leaf art.
Déjà Vu Tea Leaf Art
Déjà Vu, 2021
Sheng Puer leaves and mixed media
According to artist Demetasphere, “Déjà Vu” embodies “the taste of a new tea that feels like catching up with an old friend.” The simplicity of the leaves and the experience they elicit are reflected within their imprints. “I recently had a few sessions with Sheng Puerh for the first time and the experience left me feeling like I was meeting an old acquaintance. It felt familiar and inviting leaving no room for awkwardness.”
Demetasphere is a Tampa Bay (Florida, United States) based abstract artist who enjoys tea and the moments inspired by tea. Her artwork comprises of microbial subjects with intergalactic environments and meditation of daily life.
Spring’s Promise Tea Leaf Art
Spring’s Promise, 2021
Vedika B Saneja, founder of Chai Musafir
Tie Guan Yin leaves, acrylic, paper
Vedika created “Spring’s Promise” through four steps:
“1) Painted the base: acrylic on paper
2) Dried, opened up and pressed Tie Guan Yin leaves using a cloth
3) Figured out where to paste them on the painting and used normal glue to stick them
4) Painted some more to fill in the empty parts.”
For Vedika, art and tea are inexplicably connected to meditation. “During my vacation in Leh, Ladakh, I visited the Hemis Monastery. The monks started their day in the prayer hall, chanting mantras and sipping butter tea. We were fortunate enough to be a part of their morning prayer. It was pure bliss. What it made me realize then is that we don’t need wealth or luxury to be happy and peaceful. All we need is the right way of life. They even took us to their kitchen, shared their breakfast with us, and showed us how they made their butter tea. It was all so simple yet fulfilling. We can form similar habits for ourselves at home and there’s nothing stopping us. Meditation and prayer help us stay grounded and tea as a ritual helps clear our minds and keeps us calm. Sharing tea with others helps us connect at a deeper level and also teaches us to appreciate the little things in life.”
Vedika B Saneja is the founder of Chai Musafir and is based in New Delhi, India. Chai Musafir offers carefully crafted teas focusing on health and wellness.
Creating Your Own
Over the past year, I have hosted workshops on how to transform used tea leaves into various forms of artwork. Some of the tips below have come from my trial and error. To make your own tea leaf art, consider the following instructions:
- Used tea leaves
- Paper or canvas (any thick paper will suffice: construction paper, recycled paper, leftover cardboard, etc)
- Tape or transparent glue
- Additional art supplies (paint, markers, coloring pencils, ballpoint pen, magazine clippings, etc)
- Your imagination!
First, enjoy a (or many) cup(s) of tea! Once the leaves are spent, place them one by one onto a paper or cloth towel. Gently fold or place another towel on top and compress it lightly. This exercise works better with larger leaves (such as tieguanyin, dahongpao, quality puer, or ancient growth tea leaves). You can either use the leaves immediately or wait a few days. If using immediately, ensure that all the damp moisture has been patted dry. If waiting for a day or longer, be sure to check periodically on the leaves to ensure they are flattened at an appropriate contortion. This may be aided by placing a book or other heavy, flat object on top of the towel. If the leaves are compressed without enough pressure (such as in-between two paper towels), they may curl when dry and will be more difficult to paste into a two-dimensional art project.
I don’t consider myself a visual artist; I am a writer. However, when I have participated in this activity, I told myself it was best to release expectations and simply create for the act of creating. Whether artist or not, I hope that you can indulge in your own creativi-tea!
Photos provided by respective artists and used with permission