by Emeric Harney April 08, 2021 8 min read 4 Comments
In the movie “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” there is a scene where Harry and his classmates are in Professor Trelawney’s Divination class. The professor announces that they will be learning “tasseomancy, which is the art of reading tea leaves.” She explains as she invites them to look into their friends’ teacups, that “the truth lies therein, like a sentence deep within a book, waiting to be read. But first, you must broaden your minds…”
Whether you take stock in the reading of tea leaves, or if you’re like Hermione Granger in that Divination class scene (“what a load of rubbish!”), we hope this article will help broaden your mind on the topic of tasseography (also called “tasseomancy” and “tasseology”). The word has French and Greek origins, with the French tasse meaning “cup” and the Greek graph meaning “writing.”
Tasseography, or tea-leaf reading, is believed to have been around for nearly as long as there has been tea. According to legend, the practice began in ancient China where friends sat enjoying tea and conversation, as friends still do, when they noticed tea leaves at the bottom of their cups clumped in patterns that looked like objects or symbols that they interpreted as representative of their lives. Through the centuries, the practice has followed tea routes through Asia and Europe and is still alive and well. While tea leaves are traditionally used in tasseography, the art can be practiced using coffee grounds or wine sediment.
Before you gulp down that cuppa in your hand and begin peering into the bottom of your cup trying to understand what your leftover tea leaves are telling you, there are some tips to observe and rules to follow. While it can take a bit of practice before you are an accomplished tea-leaf reader, if you are interested in learning more about this ancient form of divination, read on for some insights.
Before you make your tea with the intention of reading the leaves, you need to choose the proper tea for the job. Loose tea is highly recommended rather than cutting open a tea bag and using the tea inside. This is because loose tea leaves are larger than the leaves used in tea bags -- the larger leaves are more suited to forming recognizable symbols and figures at the bottom of a teacup. Avoid using teas with pieces of fruit or flowers as they will obstruct reading the leaves. Some experts advise leaving the milk and sugar in the fridge and cupboard -- just a straight cuppa for tasseography!
Also, when choosing a cup, a white or light-colored cup works best so that the outlines and dots of the tea leaves can be clearly seen. If you’re really interested in the practice of tasseography and want to step it up a notch, there are different sets of cups that are made specifically for reading tea leaves. Three of the most popular:
While these cup and saucer sets may add some aesthetic or possible interpretive value to your experience, all you need to get started reading tea leaves is a plain white teacup. No fancy equipment required. That said, if you’re looking for something a little fancier than a run-of-the-mill cup or mug, our Spirit teacup and saucer set from our Nouveau series is unique and pretty on the outside, nice and plain white on the inside and has a lovely tea-reading quality to it. In China, a traditional gaiwan cup is very popular for reading tea leaves, as the traditional way to drink tea from a gaiwan includes leaving the tea leaves in the cup rather than straining them out.
Making a cup of tea with the intention of reading the leaves is about the simplest cuppa you’ll ever make. Simply choose your loose-leaf tea -- any black, green, or oolong tea will do -- and place a teaspoon of the leaves directly into your cup. Add your hot water and let the leaves steep for a few minutes. Leave the tea in the cup -- no need to strain or use an infuser. After all, the leaves are the star of the show!
As with all good tea ceremonies, there is a ritual to tasseography.
First, you can either read your own tea leaves, or someone else can read them for you. But the leaves being read must be the leaves of the “querent.” This is the person seeking answers. It is important for the querent to clear their mind while drinking the tea and focus on the specific question they have, as general questions will result in more general, vague answers.
If someone else is reading the tea leaves after the querent has finished drinking the tea, that person is called the reader. A querent can also be the reader of their own tea leaves, but if you are not experienced at reading symbols it is best to seek out someone who is a proficient tasseographer.
After drinking the tea and leaving only a small amount of liquid in the bottom of the cup, along with the leaves, the following ritual should be observed:
At this point, the reader will take over. But first, a little background on the importance of the cup and what its various parts and positions signify. Geography matters in tasseography!
At this point, the reader will carefully observe the leaves in the cup, gently turning it to get a good look at the leaves from all angles. If at first this looks like… well, like a bunch of wet tea leaves stuck to the inside of your cup, don’t give up! Reading tea leaves can seem daunting to a beginner, but with practice, you’ll begin to get the hang of it.
Over the many centuries that tasseography has been practiced, over 150 classic symbols have been cataloged. It takes time and patience to master the art. If you’re really interested in learning howTea Leaf Reading for Beginners is a helpful resource for getting started.Reading Tea Leaves, authored in 1881 by an unknown author called “A Highland Seer,” is the oldest book written in English on the subject of tasseography and is still considered the definitive book on the art form.
John Harney fell into tea leaf reading. Or maybe he was always destined to be a seer. All we know is that a torn and tattered copy of Reading Tea Leaves (mentioned above) ended up on his desk. John felt the right way to go forward was to involve the "Diviner" of America's tea world: James Norwood Pratt. Norwood foresaw the way the tea would become so popular in the USA. Both of these men saw what others could not. So tea leaf reading makes sense to them.
John loved to read people's tea leaves. He went around and would do it at the drop of a hat. The results were always more positive when they used his tea. His favorite prognostication was: “I see a tall handsome stranger coming into your life."
In general, readers are studying the leaves to look for patterns, symbols, lines, figures. Remember, the position of the leaves in the cup is important to the strength of their meaning. A bad omen can be overshadowed by a good omen in a stronger position in the cup -- and vice versa. Think teacup real estate and what matters most: location, location, location!
When it comes to symbols, there are generally five types: animals, mythical beings, objects, letters, and numbers. Their proximity to one another can also impact the meaning. Letters, lines, and dots also have import. Again, this is an ancient art that takes practice to master. Many tasseographers rely on their instincts, having seen tea leaves in so many variations.
Of the countless symbols possible, here are just some of the more common and their meaning:
Tasseography experts say that the answers already lie inside you, it’s the practice of opening your mind and being intentional in seeking answers that allow the tea leaves to reveal the answers. Whether you believe in the practice or think it’s “rubbish” is completely up to you. All we know is that we were shocked to learn that unicorns represent scandal! They look so innocent!
October 30, 2021
I always see mountains. Guess I either have powerful friend and powerful enemy.
October 30, 2021
Just now read this post! You’ve inspired me. I’m going to give this a try. A fun activity for my tea parties.
April 15, 2021
May you always find pigs and sheep in your teacup! Well, not too jealous friends.
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Enjoy getting to know Tsuyoshi Sugimoto, the owner and president of Shohokuenchten tea company in Kyoto, Japan, and a longtime colleague and friend of the Harneys.
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October 30, 2021
Wow! I love this post! I’ve always wanted to learn more about reading tea leaves. Such great info. Another reason to drink more tea!