Brief history of tea leaf reading

Written by Amber

Taking a brief look at the history of tea leaf reading, tea leaf reading is also called tasseomancy, tasseography or teomancy. Tea leaf reading – or fortune telling by tea leaves began to make its mark in popularity during the 17th century when tea was introduced into Europe from China. Many believe tea leaf reading originated in Chine and that present day tea leaf reading is thought to have originated in Asia, the Middle East and Ancient Greece.

teaTea leaf reading began to grow in popularity during the 1800’s as a means of telling one’s fortune/future spread by nomadic gypsies throughout Europe. The name tasseomancy comes from the Arabic word ‘tassa’, meaning cup and the Greek word ‘mancy’ meaning divination.

Tea leaf fortune telling uses the symbols and the patterns formed by the residue of tea as a means of telling one’s fortune/future. Typically the tea should be drunk in a light coloured china cup, with a handle a wide brim and smaller bottom a matching white saucer is also needed.

Like any other forms of divination, tea-leaf reading also requires the seer to use their intuitive knowledge and clairvoyance to interpret the symbols. Typically a natural clairvoyant will be able to read many events and scenes in the cup which would be passed over by others that are not so gifted. However even those not gifted can learn the basic shapes and symbols which can be seen in the tea cup.

Tea leaf reading – fortune telling by tea leaves is still popular in Ireland, Scotland, Canada and the USA as well as other places.

Tea leaf reading is still today classed as an art of the Romany Gypsy or one that is typically performed in the home, normally professional clairvoyants don’t read tea leaves.

Making your brew


Typically loose leaf tea is used in tea leaf reading, not tea from a tea bag. Tea such as Earl Grey, English breakfast, darjeeling and china are good as the leaves are medium to large.  Indian tea and many of the cheaper teas are no good for tea leaf readings as they contain too much dust and small twigs, which do not form into patterns and symbols that can be interpreted. The tea should always be brewed in a tea pot and then poured into the cup.

The person wishing to have their tea leaves read should drink the tea until there is about an inch or so left in the bottom of the cup. This person should be thinking of a question or concentrating on whatever their issue is. Once the tea has been consumed the querent should hold the handle in the left hand with a starting position facing the heart, and swirl the tea around to the left three times, finishing again facing the heart. The tea cup is then up-turned onto the saucer some fortune tellers will ask you to tap three times on the bottom of the up-turned cup before giving them the cup and saucer.

It is the up-turning of the tea cup that is the equivalent to shuffling the tarot cards. The tea leaf fortune teller will read the cup by turning it about so that they are able to see the symbols, this is done with care so as not to move or alter any of the images. However as long as all the remaining liquid was left to drain for about a minute after the tea cup was up-turned the leaves should not move.

Time in the tea cup


Typically time is read from the rim being the future; these are events which are going to happen quickly. Directly under the handle of the tea cup is considered to be related to now the immediate situation. The leaves on the side of the cup denote past and toward and at the bottom these denote far past. By using these times as guidelines the tea leaf fortune teller can predict time scales for the querent.

Some reader will also use the saucer to determine events for the querent if the tea cup has been exhausted. However this is not always possible. If the saucer is also going to be read typically the inner circle of the saucer will represent the querent with the circle around it representing the home or place they stay.  The events are read from this point those close to the inner circle represent near time whilst those closer to the saucer edge future events. The very rim is meant to denote those events way off into the future.

A short list of some symbols and patterns in the tea cup


Angel – Good news

Arrow – Bad news

Birds – Good news or air travel

Bouquet – Fulfilment of desires

Cat – Treachery if in the bottom of the cup

Circle – Wedding – trust and love

Crescent moon – Changes

Dog – Good and faithful friends

Eagle – Gives strength to overcome hard times

Eye – Understanding

Fish – Excellent good fortune

Frog – Romance

Knife – Arguments

Lion – Power

Lines – getting ahead and a long life

Mouth – Listen carefully

Rabbit – A friend needs help, this is normally an absent friend

Ring – Marriage

Square – Comfort

Triangle – Un-foreseen legacy

I hope you have enjoyed this blog/article I am a Romany Gypsy still practising the fading art of tasseomancy, please visit me at

Or at Bitwine



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