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Throwing Cups | Adventures in Tasseography ☕

"We sipped our steeped tea slowly from dainty cups,

ribbons of laced florets worn thin at the lips, watched

leaves settle into blurs we conjured into foggy constellations

of stars we hoped the gypsy fortune tellers would see,

hearts athrob with promise of weddings..."

*Excerpt from "Hearts and Diamonds or the Lesson of the Gypsy Tea Room in Tasseography and Cartomancy" by Andrena Zawinski, 2010


My best friend is a master gift-giver. We haven't lived in the same state in eight years and don't talk on the phone as much as either of us would prefer, but we celebrate our friendship with letters and care packages from afar. No lie, she once mailed me a heart-shaped potato.

The entire potato was covered in stamps!

For my 30th birthday back in February, she sent the most beautifully wrapped gift full of little home-made surprises seeping with love, creativity, and nostalgia. Among them was a hand-written tasseography kit complete with detailed instructions (courtesy of Tea-Cup Reading and Fortune-Telling by Tea Leaves by A Highland Seer) and a package of loose-leaf tea.

Tasseography or "throwing cups" is the ancient art of tea leaf reading, a method of divination through the deep study of spent tea leaves at the bottom of a cup. Various shapes are said to hold different meanings for the current self and the self of the near future, future, and distant future. "Reading the Cup is essentially a domestic form of Fortune-telling to be practised at home, and with success by anyone who will take the trouble to master the simple rules" (A Highland Seer, c. 1881).

The process of brewing, sipping, and reading the leaves was a deeply calming, meditative experience for me. I prepared and drank my tea slowly and with intention outdoors on my patio (before the leaves started changing!) surrounded by trees, my vegetable garden, and flowers from a local farm. I breathed and relaxed and came to the journey with an open mind. I just had fun!


The Steps

Thanks to my highly detail-oriented best friend, directions for reading my tea leaves were written clearly and concisely on my tasseography kit:

1) Choose a rounded cup with a light interior.

I chose a black rose tea cup and saucer that once belonged to a relative on my mother's side of the family. It's bottom was deep and the design delicate.

2) Add 1 tbsp of fine tea leaves and boiling water to fill the cup.

I struggled slightly in taking the dry tea leaves from the cute envelope of the gift packaging, but eventually I discovered a trick to avoid spilling all over the counter. I have enough left over for a second, future reading.

3) Use the minutes while the tea steeps to quiet the mind.

I began consciously box-breathing and writing in my bullet journal to document this tiny journey.

4) Set an intention by asking yourself a question and drink the tea with your non-dominant hand.

Will I find balance? I laughed quietly to myself for asking such an obvious question.

While I drank, I wrote: The birds are singing this morning and my farmers market bouquet looks so happy to be outside. It's been rainy on and off lately, so I'm grateful to sit on the patio while the sun tries to best these clouds.

5) When 1/2 tsp of tea remains, swirl three times left to right and place cup upside down on the saucer to drain.

My tea leaves slid quickly from the cup and splashed tea droplets onto my bullet journal. That wasn't supposed to happen...

6) Read your cup:

  • do not hurry

  • start by facing the handle towards yourself

  • identify symbols & omens through close observation

  • use your imagination

  • turn the cup clockwise while reading from the handle


The Symbols

Using the little alphabetized symbol & omen booklet included in my tasseography kit, I slowly uncovered and discovered the meaning of the shapes in my leaves. Based on the massive leaf clumps clinging to the cup, I'm not entirely sure it drained correctly, but I did my best to decipher meaning based on what I thought I was seeing, where the shapes appeared in the cup, and how those shapes might relate to each other. If nothing else, I believe my reading was entirely unbiased because I truly did not know what I was supposed to be looking for! It took an hour to read the entire cup, section by section, and interpret using the booklet.

I saw:

Self at Home

comet - misfortune or trouble

square - comfort and peace

dog - untrustworthy friends

crescent moon - prosperity and fortune

Near Future

ring - marriage

circle - money or presents

arrow - disagreeable letter from the direction in which is comes

twisted figure - disturbances or vexation

Near Future into Future

jackal - sly animal who need not be feared/mischief maker of no account

straight line - very pleasant journey


palm tree - good luck

heart (surrounded by a ring) - pleasures to come through marriage

triangle - good luck or unexpected legacy

flying bird - good news

Distant Future

man - visitor arriving or misfortune

women (with a ring of dots) - pleasure and happiness with wealth/children

dog - secret enemies

fish - good news from abroad

camel - burden to be patiently born

flower - good fortune, success, or happy marriage

Photos of used tea leaves are rather unpleasant to look at, aren't they? But what do you see?

As I reflect now on the reading, it's easy to see patterns & themes, positives & negatives, and polarizing symbols in my cup. It's fun to tease out potential meanings, especially by holding each symbol from the Self at Home and Near Future sections up to my current realities. While it is not at all uncommon to experience fortune and misfortune simultaneously (such is life!), it is uncommon - I think - to have them juxtaposed so clearly in one place to consider more deeply.

Perhaps I was just projecting and seeing what I wanted to see, my heart "athrob with [the] promise of [a] wedding." I am recently engaged, after all! Either way, it was a beautiful, soft hour full of permission to look inward and rest. What could be a better gift than that?


Further Reading:

A Highland Seer. (circa 1881). Tea-cup reading and fortune-telling by tea leaves, by a highland seer.

Zawinski, A. (2010). Hearts and diamonds: Or, the lesson of the gypsy tea room in tasseography and cartomancy. Paterson Literary Review, 38, 60–61.


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