Reading tea leaves is no easy task. That’s true whether or not you believe that predictions of love and loss are contained in patterns of leftover leaves from a cuppa. Tasseography, or tea-leaf reading, has been practiced for centuries. Keen-eyed fortune tellers, it’s said, can derive a wealth of meaning from different shapes formed by tea leaves at the bottom of a cup. But what about the amateur fortune-teller, who can’t tell a skull from a set of stairs?
Enter the fortune-telling tea cup, which first emerged in the early 20th century. Thanks to its paint-by-numbers approach to tasseography, anybody could tell a fortune. Soon, a number of porcelain-makers in the U.S. and England were making their own versions. From the outside, some fortune-telling cups looked like elegant, normal cups. But on the inside, they contained arcane symbols. Wherever tea leaves landed indicated a fortune-telling clue.