While on my latest treasure hunt at the local thrift store, I stumbled upon the most beautiful Paragon teacup. The inner detailing included a mint green band framed by gold, and a beautiful rose decal on the bottom surrounded by a delicate, pure white. However, this wasn’t the most captivating aspect of this particular cup—what drew me to this piece was the various gold fortune telling symbols that danced within the sea-foam green band, just below the lip of the cup.
After adding this little treasure to my collection, my curiosity grew around the origin of using a cup of tea for fortune-telling, so, naturally, I decided to do some research, and I discovered some fascinating history behind the art of tasseography—also known as tasseomancy, or tasseology. Tasseography is the art of fortune-telling through tea leaves. It originated in the medieval era, beginning with fortune-tellers who divined through splattering a mixture of wax and lead and interpreting the images as they fell and settled. When western Europe began colonizing the Orient, and venturing to the “New World” during the reign of Elizabeth I, an influx of commodities—specifically, tea—became a foreign delicacy, consumed by the wealthy. Only naturally did the luxuries of tea and entertainment fuse together to become a form of divination in 17th century courts.
As the colonies grew, the accessibility of tea leaves increased, and by the 19th century, it became more accessible to the working classes. The popularity of tea leaf reading propelled china companies into producing fortune-telling teacups—just like the one I stumbled upon. Instead of the complexity of interpreting the shapes and patterns of the leaves themselves, these new designs focused on the symbols that the leaves would settle on, leaving less work for the imagination. Despite the departure from more traditional methods of tasseomancy, the symbols included within the cup’s design are inspired by the original symbolic interpretations of the patterns and shapes of the leaves. This includes the arrow shapes, spinning wheel, shell and horseshoe images within this very cup—all which were connoted with specific meanings. Whether it’s real, or not, my daughters and I have always found tasseomancy to be a delightful form of entertainment, and so it is something we like to do on occasion, simply for fun.
Want to give it a go?
To start a tea leaf reading, you will need:
- A loose-leaf tea (I prefer ripping a bag of Red Rose and shaking about a quarter to a half of the contents into the tea cup)
- A wide-brimmed tea cup, preferably with a light-coloured inside (unless, of course, you are using a cup such as this one)
- A saucer, to accompany the cup A toothpick might be a good idea…you’ll see why.
First, boil your kettle and pour your loose leaves into the cup—about 2 teaspoons should do it. Once your water is boiled, pour it into your cup and prepare your tea as you normally do. As you drink your tea, strain the liquid through your teeth, taking care not to drink the leaves. Once your tea has been finished, place your tea cup upside-down on the saucer, and tap it three times. This step will ensure that the remaining liquid has escaped the cup, preventing your leaves from moving. As per tradition, rotate the cup clockwise three times at the centre of the saucer before returning it to an upright position. If you’re wondering where the toothpick comes into play, smile at yourself in the mirror after straining tea leaves through your teeth.
Use your imagination! Pretend to be a child finding shapes in the clouds, again. Look for images, patterns, letters, numbers—or, if you are doing this with a friend, exchange cups and read each other’s. If you are a little more curious, and want to see whether tasseography is all it appears to be (or doesn’t appear to be), write and draw a list of your findings in the cup, and come back to it all later, to see whether it came to fruition, (or not).
Do you believe in tasseography? Have you ever tried it, before? Not sure what to think of the tea leaves you have lazing around in your teacup? Share your experiences and thoughts, or share a picture of your divinatory tea-leaves and tell us what you think!
Want to expand your knowledge on tea leaf reading?
check out this book!