Reading Tea Leaves
a Practices That is Centuries Old


Reading tea leaves, serious business for some, a tea game for others

The art of reading tea leaves

When I was very young, some years ago, I had a very old neighbor. I knew she was old because she was born in a far off time called the 19th century. When my friends and I visited her, which was often, we were treated to a cup of tea with two sugars and lots of cream. She boiled water on an ancient wood stove, and made tea in a cast iron teapot. She took loose leaf tea from a can above the stove, measured it out in her hand, placed it into the teapot, and poured in hot water.

After the tea steeped for a time, she would pour it directly into our teacups. We drank it quickly knowing that when we were done she would study the tea leaves, and read our fortunes. Her predictions were always good news. I thought that her tea leaf reading skills made her the smartest person in the world. I now realize that, although she was surely smart, others can read tea leaves. It’s an art and respected tradition called tasseography; reading tea leaves to tell one’s fortune.

A one-minute history

Tea leaf reading is practiced in every country where tea drinking is popular. It most tea leaf readingprobably originated in China many centuries ago, although it was also practiced in the distant past in the Middle East. Tradition has it that the practice was spread in Europe in the 1800s by Gypsies who included it in their mix of fortune telling tools. It became a popular “tea game” at social gatherings in Great Britain during Victorian times. The practice became so popular that English and American manufacturers created teacups, saucers, and teapots to use specifically for reading tea leaves.

Today, most major cities have a choice of professional psychics who will predict your future by reading tea leaves. Many public tea houses read tea leaves for the entertainment of their customers. Many people offer tongue in cheek tea leaf readings at social gatherings to break the ice and bring people together.

Tea leaf reading procedures

There are two procedures traditionally used to prepare tea leaves for reading. In one method, loose leaf tea is placed directly into the teapot without an infuser. The brewed tea that is poured into cups without using a strainer, carries a few suspended tea leaves into the cups. In the other method, loose leaf tea is steeped in a plain, lightly colored teacup, or a teacup specially designed with tasseographic symbols.

Using either method, the tea is consumed leaving a small amount of liquid in the cup. The tea leaf reader swirls the tea around in the cup to move the leaves to the bottom and toward the rim. The cup is then inverted, placed on the saucer for about 10 seconds, and returned to the upright position. The reader then interprets the tea leaf patterns in accordance with a traditional definition of symbols. If the leaves are in a specially marked cup, the reader interprets their position with regard to the cup’s printed symbols.

tea leaf readingReading tea leaves –making a comeback

Popularity dropped off significantly, as the use of loose leaf teas was supplanted by the increasing popularity of tea bags. The recent resurgence of loose leaf teas, however, is bringing the practice back. Many tea rooms in the United States and in England offer tea leaf readings as an entertaining component of the tea room experience. Although, there are still serious practitioners working in psychic studios around Great Britain and the United States, it’s safe to assume that most people today do not take the predictions seriously. Reading tea leaves is fun. If you’re interested, there are even online courses for learning this ancient art.

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