Crafting with Tea Leaves

Generally I do one of two things with spent tea leaves: toss them into the begonia, or just throw them into the garbage can.

A few years ago, a tea friend came up with a more creative idea for using infused tea leaves. She sent me a greeting card that she’d created by incorporating used tea leaves in her design. It was a hand-drawn image of a teacup with the leaves rising up in waves of “steam.” I was delighted – not only that she had taken the time to create something just for me, but that she’d done it with tea!

A couple of cards I created by recycling spent tea leaves. (Photo source: article author)
A couple of cards I created by recycling spent tea leaves. (Photo source: article author)

Since then I’ve received a couple of other “tea leaf cards.” One combined a teapot sticker with tea leaves tumbling out of the spout. Another was a flower made from big ol’ oolong leaves arranged in a circle, with a couple more leaves for the … well, leaves.

Last week I was in one of those big-box arts ‘n’ crafts stores and found some blank cards on sale for a dollar. I picked up a couple of packages thinking I’d find some way to use them. When I got home, I made myself a pot of tea … and as I was decanting the spent leaves I decided to make some of my own tea-leaf cards.

For the TEA card I used a Taiwan Mao Feng with its long twisted leaves to create letters. The flower’s stem and leaves are also made with the Mao Feng leaves, while the flower head is a bunch of broken leaves from a Badamtam Darjeeling that I simply pinched up into a “flowery” look.

If you’d like to give tea-leaf art a try, let me pass along a few tips:

  • Dry the spent leaves between paper towels until they’re almost dry but still pliable.
  • Lay the leaves out and create your design before making the commitment to glue them, then choose a light-duty white glue that dries clear.
  • Add stickers, drawings, lettering, and any other embellishments you like; check out the scrapbooking aisle in your local hobby shop for ideas.
  • Use a tweezers for small leaves – if you try to handle glue-y tea leaves they’ll just stick to your fingers.
  • Apply a small amount of glue and press until the leaf adheres to the paper.
  • Round toothpicks are handy for this; use one to apply the glue, and roll the other over the leaf to provide just enough pressure to make it stick.

Unfortunately, spent tea leaves do not age well – the art is ephemeral at best. Sooner or later the leaves will dry out completely and flake off the card. To prolong the life of your tea-leaf card, spray it with a fixative (available at hobby and art supply stores). This will give you a little more time to enjoy your artwork, but not much. So send the card to someone special and let them savour it for a little while – just like a favourite tea that’s gone once the season is over.

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