How to read tea leaves, cup and saucer with leaves

The Art of Tasseography, aka Tea Leaf Reading

Tea Leaf Reading, or Tasseography, has been around for centuries. In ancient eras, similar readings were done with wine sediment. Today, people use coffee grounds from a French press, in the same way.

Tea leaf reading has remained popular through the ages. Though its ‘recent’ heyday was in the Victorian era (where they loved all things paranormal), in certain areas of the world, where divination belief is more commonplace, it’s still frequently practiced.

cup and sauce for tea leaf reading
Tools of the tea leaf reading trade

The Basics of Tea Leaf Reading…

What you need:
Teacup and saucer (or any small plate)
Teapot – alternately, you can just ‘brew’ your tea in the cup
Loose Tea and water

Note: the directions are written as if you are doing the reading for yourself. If you’re reading for someone else, they would be doing these steps, while the end reading would be done by you.

the art of Tea Leaf Reading, brewed tea in cup

First a few notes, or rather, tips.
Don’t be stingy with the tea leaves
Don’t use leaves from a teabag – they’re usually too small and powdery
Don’t use leaves that will be too large, such as those from Gunpowder green tea, it will be harder to read (this was the case with my reading)
Don’t leave more than 1 tsp of tea in your cup when swirling.
A wide, shallow cup will work best, as will cups that are pale in color inside (the easier to leaf-read)

Ignoring this advice, you’ll end up with few leaves in your cup. I found this out after I did my reading, as my leaves are very sparse. However, I decided to go with what I had, because who knows? May be it was meant to be.

Begin by brewing your tea.

If you’re using a teapot, don’t use the interior strainer if it has one. You need the leaves to flow out.
Pour your cup of tea and sip.
Drink all but a teaspoon of the tea. Leave just enough to swirl.

5 Easy steps to tea leaf reading

  1. Now, think of the question you would like the leaves to answer.
  2. Swirl your cup three times in your left hand, from left to right.
  3. Gently, turn your cup upside down on the saucer
  4. Continue concentrating on your question. Turn the cup counter-clockwise three times, again using left hand
  5. Turn the cup over, with handle facing you
tea leaf reading in teacup
Tea leaves ready to be read

While there are variations on the methods of tea-leaf reading, one of the most common follows this format…

The starting point is the handle, the closer the symbol is to the handle, the nearer the event is.

Usually the upper third of the cup represents events that will occur very soon, within weeks.

Symbols that appear mid-cup are in the near future ( 1-6 months)

Symbols that appear at the bottom third of the cup, represent the distant future (6 months – 1 year)

It’s okay to turn the cup and view from different angles

tasseography leaves

My Tea Reading…

As you can see, I have very few leaves. One of the problems was, I left too much tea in my cup when I turned it over, and lost many of them, and I used a tea that had large leaves. If you read the tips in the first part of the post, you’ll fare better.

How to Read Tea Leaves with white cup and saucer
Viewing from different angles is okay

What I saw in my cup…

The first thing I saw was the tea clump in the very bottom of the cup. I immediately thought of a compass arrow. You’re supposed to begin by reading toward the top by the handle, but my eyes were drawn to the center.

The small leaf to the bottom left also made an immediate impression. I saw the profile of an exotic woman, someone from Africa. It reminded me of person from the pages of National Geographic, with a big headdress scarf sticking out to the back (she’s facing the left side).
Remember, this is my interpretation, when you look at this, likely you would see something different.

To the right of the exotic woman, was a clump that brought to mind a tree frog. I’m not sure I even know exactly what a tree frog looks like, but that’s what I thought of.

Honestly, I don’t know if the whole compass arrow impacted what I saw in the other symbolism, but there’s definitely a ‘travel’ theme going on here because…

The last symbol I saw (above and on the side of cup), brought to mind a camel with pyramids in the background. What does it all mean?

Viewing this same symbol from a different angle, I see an ancient Chinese traveler with one of those ‘hobo’ sticks with satchel tied to the end – a nomad. He’s heading East.

To summarize:
The image closest to the handle, but also in the bottom third of the cup (meaning the event is in the distant future (6 mos – 1 year away), shows a traveler. Viewing it from the first angle, showed a camel with pyramids in the background.

The second closest symbol to the handle, was the exotic African woman.
The third closest to the handle, was the frog.
The symbol at the very bottom, showed a compass arrow pointing directly at the traveler, and at the other end, pointing directly in between the woman and the frog.

Everything points to exotic travel. Compass arrow, exotic woman, traveler…and the frog.
Why the frog?
When I think of a frog, I think of the leaping aspect. Maybe a leap of faith?

Do you want to know what my question to the leaves was?
I asked about the future of this blog…where it would be going (travel)?
So, perhaps I’ll be traveling east to learn more about tea!

So you can do all that, or you can buy a teaf-leaf reading cup and saucer with a book that helps you with your interpretations. I prefer the idea of using a regular cup, but this one is fun and I imagine it would help you get started if you were serious about it. The design is based on an antique Edwardian set and appears much more involved than the basic reading.

Cup of Destiny from Jane Lyle

Do you believe?

Rorschach ink blog vs tea leaf reading

I have to confess, I don’t believe in tea-leaf reading the way most people who read leaves do. Meaning, I believe the leaves can be read to help subconscious thoughts come to the surface.

I believe in reading tea leaves, the same way I believe in Rorschach ink blot tests. I believe that if something jumps out to you, it’s because it’s on your mind, even if you don’t realize it.

I don’t know the exact process that was used with ink blots (and there was a process and it wasn’t for foretelling the future) but for me, it makes sense in a ‘free association’ kind of way.

I believe that leaves can be used to trigger ideas and thoughts the same way looking up at clouds can. They can be inspirational.

And tea leaves are way less menacing than some of the inkblots that have that kind of creepy, retro, psychological feel to them. (hello, bat shape above!)

However, the one I chose to photograph with the teacup is delightful – in my opinion. Every time I see it, I see two Maitre ‘d type figures, a red bow tie in the middle, preparing a dish to serve tableside.
I guess my mind is always on dining.


Having this as my belief means I don’t really believe someone else can read my leaves for me. That said, I have never had my tea leaves professionally read, so maybe there’s something I don’t know.

I do like the idea of the reading though…
And, I’ll let you know if a plane ticket to the East suddenly materializes within the next year!

My Favorite Tea Leaf Reading Scene from Television or Movies…

There was a scene in the first season of Outlander where Mrs. Graham, the housekeeper to the Reverend Wakefield, takes Claire into the kitchen and reads her tea leaves. Its a good scene, and foreshadows the story. It’s set in the Scottish Highlands.

If you don’t know what Outlander is and have no idea what I’m talking about, I highly suggest watching the series or reading the books. Anyone who likes the idea of tea-leaf reading will likely also love the story. Fantasy realism, romance, not to mention Scotland…it’s all wonderful.