Tea leaf readings—they’re cheaper than a therapist

Symbols are used to tune into self-healing, growth and potential

Message in a teacup

Photograph by Jessica Darmanin

For some, a tea leaf reading is a quicker, more affordable way to relieve anxiety or gain insight into a problem than the sometimes lengthy, costly process of finding the right therapist. But like therapists, they’re in demand.

British tea leaf reader Lorraine Reade has been finding meaning in the wet leaves left inside a client’s cup for over 30 years. “I am regularly asked to do readings over Skype,” she says. “The person who drank the tea will hold the cup to the camera and turn it it as I request.”

Don’t use open tea bags, advises Reade. Use loose leaf Earl Grey or breakfast tea, and “make sure the teapot doesn’t have a built-in strainer because you end up with hardly any tea leaves.”

Reade charges about $60 for a half-hour, and finds that people who normally shy away from the “wizardry and witchcraft of tarot and runes” are drawn to the divination of tea leaves. “A lot of what I do is like counselling,” she says. “People come because they’ve got questions and problems and they need to talk to someone. Generally, you cover relationships, friendships, family life, finances and career opportunities. I’ve got a guy coming tonight who’s got a specific question. He’s already rang me and said, ‘Look, Lorraine, I really need some help on this,’ so we’re going to focus on that particular question in his reading tonight.”

In Toronto, InnerVitality founder Kerri McCutcheon teaches a four-week tea leaf reading course for $88 that instructs beginners on everything from how much tea to use—about a half a teaspoon per cup—to how to start seeing shapes like bats and butterflies in the folded leaves. “I feel there are similarities to dream interpretation,” says McCutcheon, “and as we use the rich language of symbols to tune into what we see in our own cup we can connect with self-healing, growth and potential.” A butterfly might mean transformation, McCutcheon tells her class. “A leaf that falls off the rim represents something that has just happened.” Bubbles in the tea water is a traditional symbol of money, she says. When one student says, “I see a big old rooster,” McCutcheon asks, “What does that mean to you?”

Amy Taylor’s tea leaf reading and teaching business in Hamilton, Ont., is so successful it’s become her full-time job. “I’m no longer working for anybody else. There’s a great interest in it,” she says. She charges $30 for a reading that lasts between 20 and 40 minutes.

“Sometimes you’ll see dragons and serpents and lizards, and those things tend to be harder to work through,” she says. It all depends on where the leaf is in the cup. A lizard isn’t necessarily a bad omen, says Taylor. “If it’s at the side of the cup, it’s almost like the phoenix rising from the flames.”

“If there’s one rule that stands out,” she tells her students, “do not frighten the enquirer. Even if you are working with a couple of friends for a giggle, watch what you say.” Tea leaf reading can stir up strong emotions. “I don’t go a week without somebody becoming upset about what they’re hearing in a reading. They’re not upset at hearing it; they’re relieved that someone else is knowing it. In other words, they don’t have to keep it to themselves anymore.”

At the Vintage Garden Tea Room in Hamilton, patrons reserve days in advance for a five-minute, $12 reading with Sandee, a 35-year veteran reader whose reputation is based on calling it like she sees it. “I don’t say, ‘You’re going to have a romance. You’re going to go around with a big smile,’ because they’d phone me in six months and say you’re completely off.”

Recently, peering into one woman’s teacup, Sandee saw “serene water without a ripple. None of the big stress things like fire that you see in some people’s cups.” She told the woman, ‘You’re like the Beaver Cleaver family. You don’t have a lot going on. You get up in the morning. You get your kids breakfast. You get them off to school. You’re not having a big torrid affair.’ She said, ‘You’re absolutely right.’ She laughed and her friends laughed because that’s her.”

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