Reading Tea Leaves

Reading Tea Leaves
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You may have heard the expression, “Tempest in a teacup.”  The literal way of thinking about this idiom is when an ordinary event is given much more significance, and in other cultures and lands, there are various ways of expressing this idea such as, what the French might say, “Une tempete dans un verre d’eau” or a “storm in a glass of water”.  Nonetheless, drinking tea, musing over tea, and reading tea leaves is more pleasant than tempest, and is technically referred to as Tasseomancy or Tasseography and it is a form of divination.  Now you don’t have to call in gypsies or brush up on Chinese culture or break out the history books to have fun with this ancient practice of reading tea leaves.  (Although, an eye for symbols and patterns plus a great imagination makes this form of scrying an art!)


Divination by any other name is a kind of fortune-telling and blobs of tea leaves are going to lead the way.  Tasseomancy does not require you to wear turban headdresses or float around the room in a caftan to enjoy this practice although a sense of decorum will add to the mood.  And a visit to YouTube will demonstrate there are many interpretations for this technique. This type of divination even made it into an episode of Harry Potter, the Prisoner of Azkaban, where it was hilariously portrayed by Emma Thompson in the character of Professor Sybill Trelawney, a rather nervous half-blood witch-seer.  You will not be able to read the leaves as fast as she, but with practice you may develop your own methodology.

You might want to start with a good book on the subject though, and William W. Hewitt has written Tea Leaf Reading in concert with Llewellyn Publications; it’s an older book, but as his art was learned from his mother it was cultivated over a lifetime.  Hewitt’s mom had frequent visitors and was somewhat of a popular seer who could intuit feelings and who was also good at interpreting people’s auras, which guests impart into the tea during the ritual.

Setting the Mood

As the popular tea vendor, Twinings, likes to say, “Modern living can be demanding and we’d all like to be able to see what lies ahead.”  Begin with that mindset and you are sure to succeed but let’s fix the mood.  

You can set the table with your favorite cloth and there are even Magick crystal teaspoons to lay out if you wish to pursue.  The cup however is quite important. For a beginner you do not need a cup that has line drawings, instructions, or fancy imagery of any type; in fact, a plain, smooth, porcelain white or ivory teacup (not a mug) with slight rounded cup, a handle, and fairly flat bottom is best.  A mug has straight sides and is not suited to holding the leaves well, so stick with the traditional teacup and saucer. The cup must be clean and without residue. Avoid sweeteners and milk of any kind. For atmosphere, if you’d like to add a candle, lower the lighting, and have super comfortable chairs, so much the better.

You and your guest should relax and get into the project with an open and adventurous mind in order to understand the signs and omens and become part of this ancient human instinct to want to make sense of the world and its offerings or misgivings.  Prophets and mystics have been using this practice since Ancient China exported teas to other parts of the world, and that’s a very long time. It has been said that the person being read, influences the tea when drinking it and many believe that the aura people carry around themselves has a major effect.  The idea of psychometry—extra sensory perception and token object reading—gaining clairvoyance from inanimate objects that are held in the hands is another factor.

Types of Tea

The type of tea is important for its ability to have leaves that cling when moistened.  Therefore, it is not a good idea to use tea from tea bags or tea with blends or objects such as orange peel in them.  Traditional English, Darjeeling, Signature Earl Grey and China Green in loose-leaf form will produce the best results.  The pot for boiling water is insignificant really, but if aesthetics are your bailiwick as the English would say, pick a traditional pot or kettle.

Types of Readings

According to Hewitt, there are three uses of tea leaf readings: to prophesy the present time—now through the next twelve months; to answer a specific question—only one question per cup; and to examine the past—not widely practiced because it isn’t especially useful and the cup will not give time references specifically. 

There is no outside consultation needed—but you will need a book with a symbol glossary, tea leaf reading cards or some type of tea leaf reading pictures to consult. And finally, allow enough time to examine, look up, and analyze the leaf patterns and symbols.  

The Ritual Practice

Plan on drinking the tea.  To begin, put loose tea into a cup, from one-half to one teaspoon.  Use very hot water to cover the leaves. Brew to your liking. The tea leaves will sink to the bottom, and you will want to leave enough water to cover the leaves and if you swallow a few, no matter. 

Traditionally you want to impart the leaves with your energy.  If you only use a small amount instead of imbibing the tea, place the palm of one hand over the cup and leave it there for one or two minutes.

Now put a napkin on a saucer.  Disperse the leaves throughout the cup by using the sloshing ritual—that is, hold the cup’s handle and slowly slosh the water around the entire side of the cup in a slow steady manner—if water spills over that is fine or you may drip some into a bowl.  (Practicing dispersal while ridding the cup of most of the water and not losing the leaves is an art!) Put the napkin-laid saucer in front of you; turn the saucer over with the napkin still in place and cover the cup. Now turn the cup upside down into the napkin on the saucer.  Rotate the cup in three revolutions in a clockwise direction. It will dislodge any remaining water droplets and impress your aura onto the leaves. Pick up the cup by its handle and turn it right side up, handle pointing at you for the reading. (Of course, if this is a reading instead of a practice, you will instruct your guest through the process.)

Read Your Fortune

There are time zones in the cup:

The bottom of the cup represents the remote future; the side events not so far distant; and matters in symbols near the rim are those that may be expected to occur quickly. 

The reader or oracle will study the shapes and find some fairly close resemblance between the groups formed by the leaves and various natural or artificial objects.  Actual representations of the leaves in such things as trees, animals, birds, anchors, crowns, bees, flowers and so forth may, by the exercise of powers of observation and imagination be seen, as well as other geometric shapes, crosses and numbers.  Each of these possesses, as a symbol, some fortunate or unfortunate signification. If you are new to this art, time and interpretation takes some skill to decipher their meanings and we would hope your glossary contains sufficient information.

This is an entertaining enterprise but keep a record of reading practice in a notebook and try to verify the accuracy of your intuitive guess.  Expand your knowledge and remember, you might have spent a lot of time growing up by studying the clouds and finding shapes. Allow your imagination to guide you just as the clouds stoked your fantasies.  Your awareness will increase and overtime, your passion for tea leaf reading as well.


Hewitt, William W. Tea Leaf Reading. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1998. Book.

Art of Tea

Harry Potter Scene

Project Gutenberg: Tea-Cup Reading And Fortune-Telling By Tea Leaves By A Highland Seer with Ten Illustrations, New York George Sully And Company

Tea Answers

Tea Association of the USA

The Republic of Tea


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