Though there is a veritable dictionary of symbols and their meanings, as can be found for dreams and these are certainly helpful, tea leaf reading is a primarily intuitive art. The querrant drinks a cup of tea with leaves loose in it, leaving a little bit of liquid in the bottom. He or she then swirls the cup around in their left hand, places a saucer on top of it, inverts it, then reads the patterns of the leaves on both cup and saucer.
They can form pictures, letters or both. The section near the handle represents the person asking the question and illustrates their general situation at present. The leaves then represent different events and/or influences, from the present (closest to the rim) to the future, (bottom of the cup). The further from the rim, the further the symbols are in the future. The leaves on the saucer represent the situation as a whole.
Tea and coffee leaf reading most likely evolved as the drinking of tea spread, beginning in the Middle East and the Orient, possibly as early as the third century A.D., when trade routes were formed to procure Arabian horses for the Han Dynasty. Tea first appears in China in 350 B.C. It was so popular that by the Sung Dynasty, (960-1279 A.D.), tea was pressed into bricks and used as currancy. When tea was first introduced to Europe it was a rare and expensive luxury but by the mid 1700s it was popular throughout the British Isles.
Books On-line about Tea Leaf reading:
Tea Cup Reading and Fortune Telling by Tea Leaves
Telling Fortunes by Tea Leaves
A wonderful on-line dictionary of Victorian tea leaf symbols.
And an enchanting book about tea itself, from 1903, The Little Tea Book