Tea and Spirituality: Tasseomancy – Leaf Reading in Victorian Europe

Victorian Tasseography Set
Victorian Tasseography Set

Tasseography (also known as tasseomancy and tassology) – the reading and divination of one’s future through the reading of tea or coffee remnants in a cup.  The word comes from the French word tasse (cup) which is a cognate of the Arabic word tassa (cup or goblet).  While the suffixes are from the Greek words –graphy (writing), -mancy (divination) and -ology (the study of).

The art of reading tea leaves had come to Europe long before the Victorian era, usually a task performed by Romanies or gypsies.  It did not reach its peak of popularity until the Victorian era.  It was during this time, especially in England, that it was tradition to have afternoon tea.  The idea was introduced by a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria, Anna Maria Stanhope (1783 – 1857) who was also known as the Duchess of Bedford.  Its popularity grew because it allowed people, especially the women, to sit and gossip.  Tasseography’s popularity also grew in parallel to afternoon tea at the same time because the tea was readily available and it was thought to be a fun parlor game.

A Leaf Reading in Progress
A Leaf Reading in Progress

During the same time period, psychoanalysis was growing prodigiously, which in turn help boost tea leaf reading.  This is thought to be because tea leaf reading is simply the reading and understanding of symbols.  In essence, anyone could do it.  It did not take someone with psychic abilities to perform this ritual.  With the field of psychoanalysis growing, this led to a greater understanding of the human psyche in relation to symbols and archetypes.

Why do you think, dear readers? Would you like to try your hand at tasseography or tasseomancy?  I found a few sites on the subject that actually tell you step by step how to pour, strain and even which hand to use in order to pick up your cup.



* Disclaimer: These images are reposted in various sizes across the net. I could find not original attribution and have simply linked to the sites where the imagery was originally located.

9 thoughts on “Tea and Spirituality: Tasseomancy – Leaf Reading in Victorian Europe

  1. Huh, I didn’t know much about tea leaf reading at all. Only in passing references. Thanks for sharing this. It’ll make me look upon that scene in “Coraline” with a little more nuance.

    “It’s not a boot, it’s a giraffe!”

  2. My husband learned to read tea leaves as a little boy in England. His Aunt was very talented in the art and taught him what she knew. His “readings” are uncannily accurate.
    I find that a black broken leaf tea provides the best formations. I always record his comments on a piece of paper and date them. Often months later I will refer to them and occasionally discover that these events have come to be. Spooky. He does look at shapes and symbols but he uses his own interpretations as well.
    Love your new site, by the way…

    1. Thanks for the kudos on the layout change Tea Stylist!

      That’s a great story! Perhaps you could have your husband do a reading session at next year’s World Tea Expo? 🙂

  3. Nice article. I have been a tea reader for over 20 years, and as the information above is accurate, I respectfully disagree on one point. I believe that it is a psychic talent. Everyone has had those deja vu moments, which means that they can perform readings with their instinct. When I teach the art (I have been doing so for more than 10 years) I ask my students to not heavily rely on definitions of the symbols, they are just a guide and someone else’s interpretations, but instead to trust their gut reaction and personal energy to what they are feeling and seeing. Your own intuition is very important in doing these types of readings.

    1. Thanks for writing in Amy! As a non-reader myself my article was writhed based upon loose research I did over a period. I would love to represent your point of view through a future article if you’d be so inclined.

  4. Hello, My apologies, I did not see your response until now. I would be delighted to do a future article with you about tea leaf reading. Thank you very much, please connect with me via email and we can work out a time, place and date. Cheers, Amy Taylor

  5. Hello my grandmother was French and Native American from Canada . She says her grandmother would read the tea leafs and her mother and eventually her . The readings have always been something special . I’m 35 and I do it now too. It sure is interesting thanks

    1. This is an area related to tea I confess to not spending much time on. There’s a lot of nuance to reading tea leaves and I’d love to meet someone who has experience enough to teach others.

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