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A Beginner’s Guide to Reading Tea Leaves

A Beginner’s Guide to Reading Tea Leaves

Since ancient times, fortune tellers have been looking for signs from the universe in the ordinary world around them. They practiced divination with the everyday items that were easily available — stones, wax, paper, wine and more. After tea was introduced to Europe in the 16th century, it would become a popular method of medieval fortune telling. Patterns and shapes left by the remains of wet tea leave in a cup after drinking would be examined and interpreted, revealing truths about the past, present, and future.

Reading tea leaves, also known as tasseography or tasseomancy, is still a common form of divination. While it takes much practice to become an expert at reading tea leaves, it is a simple activity that can be done at home to help you tap into your subconscious and gain insight into your inner self.


1. Gather your materials and your thoughts

Before you begin, find your tea and teacup. You’ll want loose, fine black tea leaves and a white or light-colored cup. Choose a wide, shallow teacup. A mug or narrow cup will make it hard to see. You’ll also want to prepare by formulating a question to ponder while you drink your tea. Your energies are meant to shape the images in the cup. It’s thought that the more specific and concise your question, the clearer your image will be. 

2. Brew a cup of tea

To brew the right cup of tea for a reading, you’ll simply place the loose tea leaves into the cup and add the hot water. There’s no need to use an infuser or strainer. Steeping the tea isn’t necessary — just wait until it’s cool enough to drink.

3. Reflect & drink

Take a few moments to calm your mind, reflect on your intentions, and visualize transferring your energy into the tea leaves. As you sip the tea, hold the cup in your hands and contemplate your question.

4. Give it a swirl

Once you’ve drunk all but a spoonful of liquid, hold the cup in your left hand with the rim upwards and gently swirl it three times from left to right. You may notice some leaves clinging to the sides while others remain on the bottom. Slowly turn the cup over onto the saucer until the remaining liquid pours out.

5. Look for signs and symbols

When you stare into the cup, what do you see? Write down your initial impressions. Trust your gut and instinct when interpreting the images. Let your inner voice continue to guide you. There are plenty of books and websites that offer an interpretation, but here are some common images and their definitions:

ANCHOR: Luck in business; stability in love.

BIRD: Good luck; a lucky journey.

BUTTERFLY: Success; pleasure.

CASTLE: A fortune may be coming, though it may not be financial.

HEART: A good omen, possibly money or marriage.

SHARK: An omen of danger.

STAR: Good luck; with dots, it may indicate honor and wealth.

TRIANGLE: Good luck; unexpected fortune.

WHEEL: Progress; change

6. Consider placement

Where images appear in the cup can influence their meaning. Images near the bottom of the cup are distant, either in time or space. Images toward the rim are nearby, recent or soon. Images located near the handle refer to home and family, while images opposite the handle relate to other people or work. If the tea leaves settle in a big clump with no visible image, it may suggest difficulties ahead. The closer to the handle, the more likely the trouble will be of your own doing.

There’s a lot to learn when it comes to reading tea leaves, but a little guidance in symbol interpretation and — most importantly — listening to your instincts can greatly help you get started.