Tasseography (also known as tasseomancy or tassology) is a divination or fortune-telling method that interprets patterns in tea leaves, coffee grounds, or wine sediments.


Derived from the French tasse ('cup') and Greek graphiā ('representation')


Tea leaf reading is an ancient practice interpreting patterns made by tea leaves in the cup. In addition to the reading of tea leaves, the tradition of tasseography includes the reading of coffee grounds and wine sediments. Although tasseography is commonly associated with Gypsy fortunetellers, the tradition of tea leaf reading arises independently from Asia, the Middle East and Ancient Greece.
Modern tasseography has also been associated with the Scottish, Irish and cultures throughout Eastern Europe. Tasseography became popularized as a parlor game during the Victorian era.


Tea-leaf Reading
After a cup of tea has been poured, without using a tea strainer, the tea is drunk or poured away. The cup should then be shaken well and any remaining liquid drained off in the saucer. The diviner now looks at the pattern of tea leaves in the cup and allows the imagination to play around the shapes suggested by them. They might look like a letter, a heart shape, or a ring. These shapes are then interpreted intuitively or by means of a fairly standard system of symbolism, such as: snake (enmity or falsehood), spade (good fortune through industry), mountain (journey of hindrance), or house (change, success).

It is traditional to read a cup from the present to the future by starting along the rim at the handle of the cup and following the symbols downward in a spiral manner, until the bottom is reached, which symbolizes the far future. Most readers see images only in the dark tea leaves against a white or neutral background; some will also read the reverse images formed by seeing the symbols that form in the white negative spaces, with a clump of dark leaves forming the background.
Some people consider it ill-advised for one to attempt tasseography using tea from a cut-open tea bag or to use a symbol dictionary. The reasons for these prohibitions are practical: tea-bag tea is cut too finely to form recognizable figures in the cup and tea-leaf reading has its own historic system of symbolism that does not correspond exactly with other systems, such as symbolic dream divination.

Fortune telling tea cups
Although many people prefer a simple white cup for tea leaf reading, there are also traditions concerning the positional placement of the leaves in the cup, and some find it easier to work with marked cups. Beginning in the late 19th century and continuing to the present, English and American potteries have produced specially decorated cup and saucer sets for the use of tea-leaf readers. Many of these designs are patented and come with instructions explaining their mode of use. Some of the most common were those that were given away with purchases of bulk tea. There are dozens of individual designs of fortune tellers' cups, but the three most common types are zodiac cups, playing card cups, and symbol cups.

Three most common types of fortune tellers' cups

Zodiac cups : These sets contain zodiacal and planetary symbols. Typically the interior of the cup contains the planetary symbols, while the saucer has the astrological sign symbols, but there are many variations and exceptions to this common pattern. The placement of these symbols allows the reader to combine astrology with tasseography.

Playing card cups :These cups carry within their interiors tiny images of a deck of scattered cards, either 52 cards plus a joker, as in a poker deck, or 32 cards, as in a euchre deck. Some sets also have a few cards imprinted on the saucers, or the saucers may contain brief written card interpretations. The playing cards permit the reader to creatively relate cartomancy to tasseography.

Symbol cups:These sets are decorated with between a dozen and fifty of the most common visual cues that can be found in tea leaves, often numbered for easy reference and supplied with an explanatory booklet. The symbols are generally displayed inside the cups, but there are also sets in which they decorate the outside or appear in the cups and on the saucers.

Coffee reading
Italians, in the 18th century, claimed they invented the coffee-ground form of the divination. Also, they believed the prophecies came from Demons so the diviners recited incantation during their practices such as: “Aqua boraxit venias carajos,” “Fixitur et patricam explinabit tornare,” and “Hax verticalines pax Fantas marobum, max destinatus, veida porol.” It was believed that if such incantations were done incorrectly, the reading would be inaccurate.

Traditionally, coffee readers use Turkish coffee, or any coffee that has grinds that sit at the bottom of the cup. Most of the liquid in the coffee is drunk, but the sediment at the bottom is left behind. It is often believed that the drinker of the coffee should not read their own cup.

There are at least two forms of coffee reading. Both require that the cup be covered with the saucer and turned upside-down. Some traditions, such as in Romania, require that the sediments in the cup be swirled around the inside of the cup until they cover the majority of the cup's inside surface. Other traditions, such as Turkish and Middle Eastern, do not require this swirling but do require that the cup be turned towards yourself for showing your own fortune. The coffee grounds are given time to settle and dry against the cup before a reading begins.
Many interpretations for symbols exist, but one common thread is the color of the symbols. Since most cups used are white or ivory and the grounds are dark, strong contrast exists for the symbols. White is considered a “good” symbol foretelling of generally positive things for the drinker, while the grounds themselves are considered to form “bad” symbols.

Symbols can be many things, including people, animals, and inanimate objects. Usually, the fortune teller will group nearby symbols together for a prediction. After a reading, the drinker will be asked to “open the heart”. This is done by placing the right thumb at the inside bottom of the cup and twisting clockwise slightly. This will leave an impression behind that the fortune teller will interpret as the drinker's inner thoughts or emotions.

Some symbols and their meanings include:

Apple : achieving knowledge, completing school, getting diploma
Flying birds : good news
Candle : enlightenment
Cat : a deceitful friend or relative
Dog : loyal friend or relative
Kite : wishes will come true
Raven : death or bad news


Tasseomancy is still conducted in England, Ireland, and Europe. In the United States it is primarily practiced in larger cities in “Gypsy tearooms” and in restaurants and other establishments which furnish back room fortune-telling services.

Tasseomancyalso called tasseography is the divinatory art of reading tea leaves and coffee grounds (see Divination). Like pAlmIstry, it is particularly associated with wItches and GypsIes, who popularized it, but it has lost popularity to other methods. The roots of tasseomancy date to the middle Ages, when diviners interpreted the symbols formed by blobs of melted max, molten lead and other substances. In the 17th century, tea was introduced from the Orient to the West by the Dutch, and tea drinking quickly became a widespread habit. The shapes and symbols formed by the dregs in the bottom of the cup seemed natural for divination.

In a tea-leaf reading, the client drinks a cup of tea, preferably made from coarse leaves in a cup that is broad and shallow. A tiny amount of liquid is left in the cup, just enough to swish the dregs around. The cup is upturned on the saucer. The reader picks up the cup and examines the dregs, which may form letters, numbers, geometric patterns, straight or wavy lines or shapes that resemble animals, birds and objects. Symbols have certain meanings; for example, straight lines indicate careful planning and peace of mind, while a cup shape indicates love and harmony. Time frames are estimated by the proximity of the leaves to the rim. Dregs closest to the rim and the handle represent the immediate future, while those at the bottom indicate the far future. Some readers say they can predict only 24 hours into the future.

Coffee grounds are less commonly used for divination. Italians in the 18th century claimed to have invented coffee-ground divination, and they believed the prophecies were caused by Demons. Diviners who used this method recited incantations during the procedure, such as “Aqua boraxit venias carajos,” “Fixitur et patricam explinabit tornare,” and “Hax verticalines, pax Fantas marobum, max destinatus, veida porol.” If the incantations were done incorrectly, the reading would be inaccurate.

Tasseomancy is still done in England, Ireland and Europe. In America, it is done primarily in large cities, in “Gypsy tearooms” and restaurants that have a back room for fortune-telling services.


The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and Wicca – written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – Copyright © 1989, 1999, 2008 by Visionary Living, Inc.