The Beginner's Guide to Reading Tea Leaves

cups of tea on blue background


In a world where folks are evermore focused on Mercury’s whereabouts, the various meanings of moon phases, the restorative effects of reiki, and the how and why behind reading tarot, it’s safe to say that tasseography is next on the list. Not sure what tasseography even is? The five-syllable word pertains to the practice of reading tea leaves—because, believe it or not, there’s something seemingly magical to be said about the remnants of tea leaves lying at the bottom of a cup. Intrigued? Keep reading to learn everything there is to know about tasseography, including a step-by-step guide to reading tea leaves. 

What Is Tasseography? 

Tea Cup
 Amy Taylor

First things first: It’s important to understand that tasseography is just one of two terms applied to tea leaf readings. 

According to Canada-based tea leaf reader Amy Taylor, the term tasseography relates more to the marked cups that have been used since the 1800s to read tea leaves. “This form of tea leaf reading is not about the shape the leaf, or leaves, are making, but more about the illustrated area or symbol in a pre-marked cup that the leaves land on,” says Taylor, who is a certified TAC TEA SOMMELIER. “These types of cups have a booklet explaining how to use the cups as well as what the symbolism and areas of the cup mean, with predetermined definitions.”

The other term is tasseomancy. “Tasseomancy is the term that relates to the true form of the art of tea leaf reading, where the leaves themselves are read,” says Taylor, who is the owner of The Art of Tea and Tasseomancy and Mystic Tearoom in Ontario, Canada. “Tasseomancy is the art and practice of divination by the interpretation of symbolic patterns made by tea leaves in a teacup.” Therefore, it’s understood that tasseomancy—not tasseography—is the form of tea leaf reading that is largely dependent on psychic intuition. 

How Does It Work? 

Tea Leaves
 Amy Taylor

Where tasseography works by reading the grids and symbols within a predetermined cup, tasseomancy relies on the psychic abilities of the reader. 

“Tea is poured into a cup without the use of a strainer,” Taylor explains. “The one seeking psychic help, the inquirer, drinks the tea in the cup.” Depending on the reader, any moisture in the cup will either be shaken out onto a napkin or left in the cup to allow the leaves to swish around and form further shapes. Regardless, once the tea is consumed, Taylor says the cup is upturned back on the saucer before the reader takes it into their hands. “The reader picks up the cup and begins examining the formation of the dregs,” she says. “The reader then discerns the shapes the leaves make and tells the enquirer their fortune based on those shapes and the locations of the cup the leaves are in.”

The Significance of the Cup 

Tea Leaf Reading
Urban Outfitters 

Whether you’re doing a DIY tasseography session or a scheduled tasseomancy appointment with a psychic, the cup used plays a role. For tasseography readings, it’s important to have a pre-marked cup that illustrates the symbols and sections in which tea leaves can land. Oftentimes the cup comes with a coordinating saucer that is also marked and lends to the overall reading, which is guided by the accompanying booklet, as Taylor pointed out. An example of this type of tasseography coupling is The Cup Of Destiny Book + Teacup Set ($24.95). 

On the other hand, tasseomancy focuses less on pre-marked symbols and more on the actual shape of the cup. “In my method, the cup needs to have a handle, as it gives a starting and ending point,” Taylor explains. “Generally, mentally the cup is split into a past (left of the handle) and present (right of the handle). The top or bottom of the cup indicates things that are positive (top) or challenging (bottom).” 

Common Symbols to Look For 

While tasseomancy-focused tea leaf readers often don’t ascribe to the full canon of symbols—given they typically don’t use pre-marked cups—tasseography readers rely largely on the varying symbols and what they mean. Therefore, when it comes to tasseography, some of the most common symbols to look for are as follows, courtesy of Aunty Flo’s A to Z Tea Leaf Dictionary

•Ace of Clubs. This looks like a club. In short: Good news is coming, whether it’s a new opportunity, an unexpected visitor, or just plain positive vibes.

•Ace of Cups. This looks like a cup and suggests that happiness and contentment are coming your way.

•Ace of Diamonds. This looks like a diamond and suggests wealth and prosperity are coming your way. 

•Ace of Hearts. This looks like a heart and also suggests that happiness and contentment are headed in your direction.

•Aircrafts. This can be anything that’s airborne, including planes and balloons. 

•Alligator. Beware: Misfortune is on the horizon.

•Clover. Regular clovers hint at a need to let go of the past and reconnect with nature, while four-leaf clovers suggest luck is headed your way.

•Dagger. Expect difficult times ahead.

•Elephant. You exhibit strength, honor, stability, and patience when faced with difficulties.

•Envelope. This can mean one of two things: Either you’re a closed-off person who holds it all in, or money is coming your way.

•Harp. Healing and harmony are in your future.

•Hourglass. This is a reminder that time isn’t promised, and attention to the present moment is a must.

•Ladder. You’re moving on up. Expect a rise in earnings or standing.

•Pillar. You are strong and steadfast; you inspire confidence in others.

•Sunrise. A new beginning filled with beauty is on the horizon.

•Wand. A big change is coming in the form of a new beginning.

•Zodiac Symbols. Someone with that symbol is coming into your life. 

How to Read Tea Leaves Yourself

  1. Prepare a cup of tea with loose leaves floating in the water. “In my practice, I prefer to use smaller leaf teas and tisanes, so Rooibos specifically,” Taylor shares. “I find the smaller leaves give a more comprehensive spread in the cup.” Though, don’t feel pigeonholed, as she says you can use any tea you’d like. Just keep in mind that teas with larger leaves often create shapes themselves, whereas teas with smaller leaves and flowers can sometimes get jumbled together, making them difficult to read. Of course, if you’re using a tasseography-specific teacup, so long as the symbols are present, you’ll be able to see where the leaves land. 
  2. Drink 90 to 95% of the tea. You want to leave a little moisture in the cup so that the leaves can swirl around. Once you’ve drunk the tea, flip your cup upside down on the saucer. 
  3. Flip the cup back over after a minute or two and read the results. During the waiting period, many tea readers like to read tarot cards to their clients (again, something you can do for yourself). Once the waiting is up and the cup is flipped back over, examine where the leaves ended up and use the accompanying booklet or a trusted tea-leaf-reading dictionary to determine their meaning. 

How to Prepare for a Tasseology Session 

If you plan to read your own leaves, understand that you don’t necessarily need a symbolized cup. “Because I believe that tea leaf reading is among the most accessible of divinatory systems, tasseomancy requires nothing more than an open mind, a plain cup, a bit of tea, and a quiet, receptive mood,” Taylor says. “In my practice, I have a ritual of creating a welcoming space for my clients prior to them arriving. I light candles with intent, energetically cleanse the space with smoke or incense, and have soft music playing to calm the person who may be nervous about the experience.” These are all things you can do at home, too! 

Of course, if reading leaves yourself feels like too much of a challenge, there’s always the option to schedule a tasseomancy session or a professional tasseography appointment. 

A Final Word

The most important thing to remember about reading tea leaves is that, like tarot and reiki, it’s entirely subjective. While there are hundreds of predetermined symbols, depending on which book you read or which reader you book with, your results could be read differently.

“I feel it is important to say that there are no two tea leaf readers that will have an exact same method. This is due to tea leaf reading normally being an oral tradition that is passed down through familial generations,” Taylor explains. “In my method, I utilize my intuition/psychic ability and listen to what my client's energy is telling me. This means that the reading will be more personal and the messages and meanings more directly relating to the client. Sure, there are some symbols that come up often, but they don’t always have the same meaning for each person. It also depends on what else shows up around a symbol and what part of the cup it is in, which will indicate its meaning.”

Because of this, it’s important to take the results with a grain of salt while letting them lead you in the days, weeks, and months ahead. 

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