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Tea Cup Reading
A Quick and Easy Guide to Tasseography
By Sasha Fenton
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2000 Sasha Fenton
All rights reserved.
The History of Tea
Tea-leaves and the birth of nations
The tea plant is native to China and it has been known there for around 5,000 years but it took a windy day and a hygiene conscious Emperor to bring the drink into existence. Legend tells us that tea as a drink was accidentally discovered in 2737 B.C. by a Chinese Emperor called Shen Nong. This was said to have occurred when some tea leaves accidentally fell into a pot of boiling water. It is known that Shen Nong was interested in science and hygiene and that it was he who determined that drinking water should be boiled as a safety precaution. When the Emperor tried the boiled water with the tea leaves infused in it, he realized that he had discovered a refreshing new drink.
A Buddhist monk called Lu Yu wrote the first book on tea, and it was he who defined the different types of tea cultivation and preparation. In addition to its more prosaic form as a drink, Chinese tea preparation took on a mystical form. It was this strange practice that eventually transferred itself to Japan and developed into the famous Japanese tea ceremony.
Tea-leaf reading certainly originated in China and it spread throughout neighboring countries as each in turn took up the cultivation of tea.
The first traders to bring tea to Europe were the Portuguese. They carried cargoes of tea to Lisbon and from there the tea-drinking habit spread to France, Holland and the Baltic countries. The Dutch became confirmed tea-drinkers and it was the export of tea that helped to found Holland as a major trading country. Only when England settled down after the Civil War and was able to concentrate once again on overseas trade did tea start to arrive in the British Isles, this being around 1653. The price was kept artificially high which meant that only the wealthy and privileged classes could afford to buy tea, but by 1708 tea began to come into the country in sufficient quantities and at a price that made it accessible to ordinary people.
The Chinese wisely tried to keep the secrets of tea growing to themselves in order to maintain their monopoly on the trade. However, a Scottish botanist called Robert Fortune who actually spoke Chinese was able to sneak into China and with the help of a Chinese friend, he managed to take some seeds away with him. The tea seeds reached India where many crops were grown, lost, improved upon, lost and grown again until the techniques became properly understood. The increasing size of the crops from the subcontinent brought the prices down and the incredibly fast clipper ships brought cargoes to Britain at great speed. The price came tumbling down and the populations of Britain and Ireland as a whole took to tea drinking in a major way.
Until the late 18th century, the two main meals were a heavy breakfast accompanied by ale and a huge dinner - with nothing else between. The Duchess of Bedford (1788 - 1861) introduced the idea of afternoon tea, along with a friendly gossip and a walk in the fields. Afternoon tea, with bread and butter, sandwiches and cakes quickly became popular, especially with upper class ladies. The upper classes retained the practice of having a tea with snacks and cakes thereafter, while the working classes incorporated tea drinking with their evening meal. There are still people all over Britain who refer to an evening main meal as their tea. The British soldiers who were stationed in India throughout the 19th century and the early 20th century chose tea as a pleasant alternative to beer. Oddly enough, history records that those British Indian soldiers who avoided beer altogether and who only drank tea suffered far more from heat exhaustion than those who drank at least some beer during the course of each day. This may have something to do with the salts and natural chemicals that are found in beer.
Russia and the countries that surround it are great tea-drinking nations and they like their tea in a glass with a special holder either "straight" or more usually, with lemon and sugar. Russian tea may be made in a teapot but it is often brewed in a decorated samovar. In 1618 the Chinese embassy in Moscow presented Czar Alexis with several crates of tea, and shortly after this a treaty was formed that allowed trading caravans to cross the border between Russia and China. The length of the journey and the high cost of transporting tea by pack animal meant that at first only the wealthy could afford to drink it. Gradually the price came down, especially after the trans-Siberian railway was opened in 1900 and tea became the national drink of Russia - along with vodka.
Immigrants to North America came from both tea and coffee drinking heritages. The short-sighted English government of George III imposed ridiculous taxes on tea and other products and his government interfered in the lives of the colonists in other highly irritating ways. Eventually the Americans cried, "no taxation without representation," and began to fight for independence. On the 16th of December 1773, a group of Americans dressed as Red Indians clambered onto an English ship called the Beaver and threw its cargo of tea into Boston harbor. Although Americans continued to import tea from Holland and also from a few rogue English traders, these difficulties encouraged Americans to choose coffee over tea as their national drink. An American invented iced tea in 1904. Modern Americans are taking up tea drinking in larger amounts now, because they perceive it as a healthy alternative to coffee.
Most of the tea that is imported into western countries such as Britain and the USA nowadays comes from Kenya, with some still coming from the traditional sources of India and Sri-Lanka. In recent times Indonesia has started to export lea, while some is grown in Malaya and even in the north of Australia where the soil and climate suits the crop. Despite the fact that Robert Fortune's success at smuggling tea seeds out of China broke the Chinese monopoly of tea cultivation, China is still a major tea growing country. China is also major exporter of plain and flavored Chinese styles of tea, which differ from the Indian tea flavors that are so beloved of British and Irish tea drinkers.
The History of Coffee
Over-excited goats, religious euphoria, quickie divorces, pirates and a dangerous liaison
Coffee trees occur naturally in what is now Ethiopia and a rather charming story from this area tells us how the drink was first discovered. At some point in time around 800 A.D. a goatherd called Kaldi noticed his goats eating the cherry red coffee berries and subsequently dancing happily from one shrub to another. The goatherd tried the beans for himself and discovered the caffeine buzz that this early form of Ecstasy produced. A monk noticed Kaldi's cheerful frolicking and tried the beans out on the brothers, to find that the following night they were not only wakeful but also filled with "divine" inspiration.
Apparently other early Africans were in the habit of making wine from the beans, but coffee didn't turn into a hot drink until it reached Arabia. It was in Arabia around 1000 A.D. roasted beans were first brewed and by the 13th century religious Muslims were drinking coffee in order to keep awake during long periods of prayer, and also to fuel themselves for dervish dancing. From that time, wherever Islam ruled coffee followed. Turkey became a major coffee importer and at one time Turkish law permitted a wife to divorce her husband for failing to keep the family coffeepot filled! The Arabians managed to keep the secret of coffee cultivation to themselves by parching or boiling the beans that they exported, which spoiled the beans for cultivation in other countries. However, a canny smuggler called Baba Budan strapped a few fertile seeds to his belly and smuggled them out into the wider world.
In 1615, a Venetian merchant introduced coffee to Europe, but little happened for a year. After this, the Dutch managed to obtain a smuggled coffee plant, which they took to Java for cultivation. Coffee drinking became popular in Europe, so much so that in Prussia that King Frederick the Great banned it because it was affecting the sale of beer. A Dutch merchant sent Louis XIV a coffee tree for the Paris Botanical Garden, and several years later an enterprising French naval officer called Gabriel Mathiew de Clieu asked for a few clippings from the King's tree. Permission was denied to the young sailor but before he left on his next voyage he climbed over the wall of the gardens in the dead of night and smuggled a small plant out of the hothouse.
On his voyage to Martinique, a jealous passenger tried to take the small bush from de Clieu and in a rage, this man managed to tear off a branch. This might have been the end of the story because along the way, pirates attacked the ship, but the French successfully fought them off, then a storm almost sank it. When the weather improved, the ship slowed to the extent that drinking water had to be rationed, but the determined De Clieu gave half his water allowance to his precious plant. Eventually the tiny bush was planted and kept under armed guard, and a mere 50 years after its struggle for survival, approximately 18 million bushes were thriving in the French Caribbean colonies.
In 1727, the Emperor of Brazil decided that he wanted to grow coffee but he needed to find a resourceful rascal to obtain the requisite beans for him. He found just such a person in the shape of Colonel Francisco de Melo Palheta, who he then dispatched to French Guiana, ostensibly to mediate over a border dispute. The Colonel could see no way of taking seeds or cuttings from the heavily guarded growing areas, so he resorted to using his charms on the Governor's wife. The dashing young Colonel obviously succeeded, because in a result worthy of a story by Ian Fleming, at a state farewell dinner this romantic lady presented him with a bouquet of local flowers - among which were coffee seedlings! From these seedlings, the huge Brazilian crops came into being, and this turned coffee from a rich person's treat into a drink for everyone.
About Tea and Coffee
How to make tea
Older people will consider it silly of me to include a section on tea making, but for the vast numbers of people who only know how to throw a tea bag in a cup and pour hot water on it, tea making has become a lost art.
You will need to equip yourself with a teapot and a packet of loose tea. It doesn't matter whether the teapot is china, glass or steel but you must choose one that doesn't have a filter inside, because you need some of the tea leaves to fall into the cup. It is unlikely that you will have a proper tea caddy around, so treat yourself to an inexpensive container that has a well-fitting lid. Don't use an old jar that has had other foodstuffs kept in it because residual smells will taint your tea.
Warm the teapot. Traditionally, this would have been done by keeping it on the warm part of a range or old-style oven or by keeping the pot on a trivet close to a coal fire. Nowadays it is probably best to pour some hot water into the pot, swill it around and then throw it out again when you are ready to make your tea. Fill your kettle with freshly drawn water - stale water loses its oxygen content, so only freshly drawn water will do. While the kettle is coming to the boil, empty out any water that you have used to warm your teapot and take the pot to the kettle. Put in the tea and then pour briskly boiling water over the leaves. Put the lid on the teapot and leave it to infuse for a few minutes. The amount of tea that you put into your pot will vary with the number of cups of tea that you want to make and also the strength of tea that you prefer. A good rule of thumb is to use one rounded teaspoonful per person. If you like strong tea, you must leave the tea to infuse for a while and you can use a tea-cosy to prevent it from becoming too cool. Don't use a strainer. You or your inquirer can add milk, sugar or sweeteners if desired, as this won't affect the outcome of the reading. If you and your inquirer prefer China tea, Earl Grey tea and speciality teas with or without a slice of lemon, that's fine.
When I was a child, I can remember arguments raging as to whether the milk or the tea should be put into the cup first. If the milk is put in first, the tea will mix together with the milk in an instant; if it is put in afterwards the tea will need to be stirred. As it happens, the latter is correct and it is for this reason that a teaspoon should always be provided, whether the tea drinkers take sugar or not. Of course, as far as divination is concerned, it doesn't matter one bit whether one drinks tea with or without milk or sugar.
Any kind of tea can be used for tea-leaf reading and if you only have tea-bags to hand, these can be snipped open so that the tea can be brewed in its loose form, but it will be difficult to keep such tiny tea shavings from getting into your mouth. It would be better to buy a packet of loose tea. If you want to experiment with the more exotic larger leafed teas such as Darjeeling, you can do so. Herbal or fruit based teas will do, as long as there is something than can be left in the cup for the purpose of divination. By experimentation, you will soon discover which kind of tea best suits your purposes.
Here are some important tips relating to tea-leaf reading
1. If two spoons are accidentally placed in one saucer, there will be news of twins.
2. If a spoon is accidentally placed upside down in a saucer, there will be news of a close relative becoming ill.
3. A single leaf floating on a full cup of tea means that the inquirer will come into money.
4. A single leaf that is stuck at the side of a full cup signifies news of a stranger entering the inquirer's life. Check to see whether this will come from the inquirer's immediate neighborhood or through friends or family members (i.e. close to the handle), or from afar (away from the handle).
5. If the leaves are piled against the side of the cup that opposes the handle, trouble is on the way. This is not of the inquirer's own doing and it will come without warning.
6. If the leaves are rounded up on the handle side, there may also be trouble, but this time the inquirer has nobody to blame but herself.
7. Letters of the alphabet should always be noted, as they often give the initial of a significant person.
8. Numbers represent time, such as minutes, hours, days or weeks, depending upon the inquirer's situation.
9. A stalk represents a person, often a stranger. A long firm stalk suggests a man while a shorter, thinner one represents a woman. If the stalk is straight, the stranger will be honest; if it is bent, he or she will be fickle. Slanted stalks suggest unreliable or untrustworthy people. The color of the stalk will give a clue to the coloring of the person's skin or hair.
10. Lucky signs are horseshoes, circles, rings, flowers, trees, animals and crowns and also the number seven. Triangles are thought to be lucky, but if they are found at the bottom of the cup with the apex pointing downwards the luck will run out. A triangle with the apex pointing upwards denotes a legacy, a windfall or an important meeting connected with money.
11. Squares suggest protection or restriction. A dangerous symbol, such as a knife or a gun that is surrounded by a square, shows protection from a potentially harmful situation.
12. Crosses denote sadness or losses.
13. Mountains suggest efforts to be made and troubles that will be overcome.
14. Dots always symbolize money. If the dots are close to another symbol, read them in conjunction with it. For example, if a letter appears, this would be good news about money.
15. Lines mean journeys; if the lines are straight the journey will be trouble free, if they are wavy, there will be uncertainty and difficulties en route.
16. Rings signify marriage or a committed relationship and a broken ring suggests a split or unhappiness in marriage. A double ring could signify two marriages but it can also denote a marriage that the inquirer rushes into and regrets later.
17. A bell is a sign of a wedding.
18. Clear symbols are better omens than muddied ones.
If your inquirer is keen to find a new lover, try this experiment for her. Take a clean dry teaspoon and balance it over the rim of a cup and drip liquid into the spoon counting the drops as you go. The number of drops that fall before the spoon tumbles into the cup signals the number of years the inquirer has to wait before finding the right lover.
If you fancy iced tea for a change, this is how you make it. Make a pot of tea in the usual way, steep for three to five minutes and pour into a jug. Add evaporated milk and sugar to taste and pour the concoction over ice cubes. If you want leaves in the drink for reading purposes, use loose tea and don't strain it.
Here are some useful home remedies and tips relating to tea
1. When travelling in countries where the water supply is not clean, always boil your drinking water. While you are boiling the water, you might as well throw a tea bag into some of it and enjoy a quick cuppa!
2. If you one of the many women who suffers from monthly cramps, try drinking a cup or two of chamomile tea or the lovely tasting raspberry tea.
3. For morning sickness or migraine, try peppermint tea.
4. Try a little ginger in your tea when you are down with a cold, a stomach upset or rheumatism.
5. An old cure for a colicky baby is to add a little Chamomile tea to the baby's milk.
Excerpted from Tea Cup Reading by Sasha Fenton. Copyright © 2000 Sasha Fenton. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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