TECH TALK: Internet Tea Leaves: The Metaphor

Well take up the discussion of the Internet in the series next week. For todays column, we will take a slight detour and discuss about the art of reading tea leaves.

I was wondering what title to give this series. I had first thought of Google and the Future. While that was bound to capture attention, Google is just one of the companies shaping the Internet. In fact, from a vantage point in India, what is happening in China may be more important given the similarities of these two emerging markets. So, I thought that was too narrow a title.

The second title I thought was August Appenings. It was a funny attempt at alliteration but the title did not even give a hint of the story. The more obvious The Future of the Internet was too broad a title and would also not be reflective of what I was discussing.

It was then that the phrase reading tea leaves occurred to me. I liked the Chinese connection also. The initial title August Tea Leaves quickly gave way to Internet Tea Leaves and I knew I had just the right title for this Tech Talk series.

But my curiosity had been piqued. How exactly did the phrase reading tea leaves originate? And so, I dug around a little. (Since all of this writing is online, there really are no constraints in times of hyperlinks that I can take!) offered this explanation:

In order to read the tea leaves, you will need to use smooth shallow tea cups that have white interiors. The loose tea leaves need to be of a good quality, large leafed, and brewed directly in each tea cup.

To make the tea, place about a teaspoon of tea in each cup and then fill with boiling water. As the tea steeps the leaves will settle to the bottom of the cup. As you drink the tea, make a wish or think of a question. After drinking the tea, leave about a teaspoon of the tea on the bottom of the cup, and with your left hand, swirl the tea three times to spread the leaves around the sides of the cup. Gently turn the cup upside down onto the saucer to drain out the leftover tea. Turn the cup right side up again and look for a picture pattern. The first picture you see is the answer to your wish or question you thought of while drinking the tea.

They say the placement of the pictures in the cup is very significant. Leaves on the bottom of the cup foretell the distant future. On the sides foretell of events in the not too distant future, and leaves on the rim area tell the present. The pictures or symbols that you see very clearly have more weight than those that are unclear.

I found this on It seems so random that people actually read tea leaves in order to predict future events. You might as well try to read a toilet bowl or a piece of gum. Where in the world did the practice come from? Tasseography, as it is sometimes called, is an ancient Chinese practice that spread to Europe with nomadic gypsies in the mid-1800s. And while most people don’t take the art of tea-leaf reading too seriously anymore, it is nonetheless a fascinating hobby.

HmmTasseography. I hadnt heard of that before. EasternTea elaborated:

Tasseography, sometimes called tasseomancy, is technically a branch of divination where patterns of symbols made by tea leaves in a cup are interpreted. Not a science, and not new, it probably developed thousands of years ago in China, but it has also been associated with the Eastern European “gypsies,” the Scots, and the Irish, among others. Although enjoying a resurgence in New Age philosophy, for most of us, and especially tea-drinkers, it just plain fun — something to do as we contemplate the bottom of a great “cuppa.”

Tasseography consists of three distinct phases. The first is creating the reading. [This involves knowing] how to set up the cup so that it is “readable.” The second step is recognizing the individual symbols, associating them with the inquirer, and determining their significance. This takes a knowledge of the symbols and no small amount of imagination. The third step is putting it all together in a way that combines the symbols into a single coherent interpretation. This last step seems to require practice and a touch of omniscience.

Well, for a person like me who doesnt drink tea, I guess Ill have to stick to reading tea leaves on the Internet!

Next Week: Internet Tea Leaves (continued)

TECH TALK Internet Tea Leaves+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.