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What is a Tea Leaf Reading?

By Chris Kohatsu
Updated May 16, 2024
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Tea Leaf Reading is the practice of seeing signs of the future through tea leaves. Similar to Turkish coffee or palm readings, the practice of visualizing symbols or flashes of divination through tea leaves has garnered plenty of skeptics and believers.

Ancient cultures often called upon individuals to interpret the future. In Egypt, there was the Oracle; in Greece, there was the Delphi; and centuries later, there would be traveling gypsies, soothsayers, alchemists, and pagans. Each of these spirit filled people would use various forms of objects to channel their ability to see the future. Some would use rocks or crystals, others herbs and roots, and eventually, some would use tea leaves.

In a tea leaf reading, dried tea leaves are loosely dropped into a teapot, hot water is added, and once brewed, the tea is poured into cups without use of a strainer. The tea is then consumed by the person who seeks to know their future. In certain practices, the cup is held in the palm of the seeker’s hand while being turned clockwise. At first sip, it is relatively easy to drink the tea. However, towards the bottom of the cup, it will be harder to drink the tea without consuming the leaves. Most tea drinkers will resort to swirling the remaining liquid, and some will not finish, leaving trace amounts of tea behind. Once the seeker has determined they are finished, they will hand the cup to a reader. Most practitioners of tea leaf reading do not recommend that you read your own cup.

The cup is then studied by a reader who will look for symbols, images, certain feelings or flashes of energy when viewing the leaves in the cup. Generally speaking, leaves scattered about the bottom of a cup symbolize a full, busy, and productive life. Clumps of tea leaves in a teardrop pattern may indicate sorrow in the future. If the tea makes stain rings in the cup, this can symbolize many things, from longevity in life, to the amount of children someone may have, to the number of decisions that will come before them.

Tea leaf reading is a popular pastime usually shared in gatherings of women throughout the Middle East and Asia. While most participants will concede a certain amount of skepticism toward tea leaf readings, they will also share that it is a fun and engaging way to spend time with each other. Rather than pay a fortune teller, tea leaf reading has become a popular and inexpensive way for friends to interpret each other’s future. More important than the predictions is often the amount of laughter that erupts with each tea leaf reading.

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Discussion Comments
By burcinc — On Jun 21, 2014

I had never heard of tea leaf reading before. It sounds very interesting. I'm also surprised to know that this is popular in the Middle East. Doesn't Islam forbid fortune telling?

By ZipLine — On Jun 20, 2014

@bluedolphin-- I disagree, I think some people take these readings very seriously and believe in them. And people pay lots of money to well known readers who have a reputation for "knowing" the future. It spreads by word of mouth and women make appointments to go and have their tea leaves or coffee read to know what the future holds. Or some go with a specific question and want to know the answer.

I find these practices very dangerous because anyone can claim to be a reader. I think these women are being cheated of their money and the things that the reader says may be harmful to them as well.

By bluedolphin — On Jun 19, 2014

Tea leaf reading is not as common as Turkish coffee reading in Turkey, but it is a regular pass time of some women. When I lived there, I was offered to have my coffee or tea read several times. Sometimes for money and sometimes for free!

I don't think most people take these readings seriously, especially the tea leaf readings which are considered less accurate than the coffee readings. I think it's just an excuse for women to spend time together, chat and gossip.

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