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Reading Tea Leaves

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October 24, 2016

History of Tea Leaf Reading

Tea has played an important role in the history and culture of nearly all societies from around the world, from the discovery of tea by a Chinese emperor in 2737 BC to the introduction of tea to Great Britain in the 1600s by Portuguese traders. But perhaps one of the most mysterious and unexpected ways that tea has impacted the world is through the ancient practice of “tasseography,” or tea leaf reading.

Tea leaf reading is a special type of divination (fortune-telling) that involves interpreting the patterns of leftover tea leaves in a cup of tea. Tea leaf readers look for special symbols and shapes in these tea leaves, and use them to make predictions.

While it is not known exactly when or where tea leaf reading first began (although most likely in Asia), historians predict that it became popular in the Western world around the same time that tea was first introduced to England, in the 17th century. Some historians believe that in the early 1800s, it became common practice for women in England’s elite class to read their servant’s fortunes using tea leaves. The first book detailing the practice of tea reading was Reading Tea Leaves, written in the 18th century.

Tea leaf reading grew in popularity in the Victorian era, when traveling gypsies began offering door-to-door fortune-telling services. Today, tea leaf reading remains popular in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Middle East.


How to Read Tea Leaves

While learning to accurately read tea leaves and use them to tell fortunes will certainly take some practice, the process of tea leaf reading itself is quite straightforward and simple.

It is best to use a white or light-colored cup, since this will make reading the tea leaves at the bottom of the cup much easier. Simply put a pinch of full-leaf tea into the cup and pour hot water on top of the leaves, allowing them to steep for around three minutes. Then, enjoy the cup of tea as you normally would, reflecting on the things that you would like to learn from your reading as you sip.

When only a small amount of liquid and the tea leaves remain at the bottom of the cup, the drinker should quickly move the cup in a clockwise circle three times, allowing some of the tea leaves to swish up the sides of the cup, while the rest remain at the bottom. Then, invert the cup and allow the liquid to drain.

Now, it is time to flip the cup right-side up and read the tea leaves. The closer to the rim of the cup the leaves appear, the sooner the events designated by the symbols will occur; the closer to the bottom of the cup the leaves appear, the further in the future the events will occur.

While the symbols and shapes formed by the tea leaves are certainly significant on their own, it is also important to pay attention to the size of the symbols, as well as their proximity to other symbols, which may affect their meaning. Try to interpret the symbols individually, but also as a full interconnected picture.

Tea Leaf Reading For Halloween

There is something inherently mystical about tea leaf reading, making Halloween season the perfect time to try your hand at fortune-telling using tea leaves.

If you are hosting a Halloween party, set up a simple tea leaf reading station. As the host, you can read the fortunes for your guests using tea leaves, or teach them to read their own fortunes. Dress up in a mysterious fortune-teller costume and light a few candles to really set the mood.

Basic black loose leaf tea will work perfectly, although any loose leaf tea will do the trick. To keep the fun going all night with minimal effort, set up a self-serve tea station and include a sign with all of the common tasseography symbols and their meanings, so your guests can have fun interpreting their own tea leaves throughout the party.

Enjoy good fortune and fun this Hallow’s Eve!