Circles, crescent moons and clouds in the ground - © 2012 Kerrin O'Sullivan
Published in: Melbourne Coffee Review: A journey through Melbourne's top 100 coffee spots 2012
Edited by Spiri Tsintziras. Global Review Services, Melbourne Victoria 2012

Circles, crescent moons and clouds in the ground

by Kerrin O'Sullivan

Flying birds mean good news, mountains denote problems ahead, a cat signifies a deceitful friend and a dog, a loyal one. A circle indicated success, a crescent moon implies prosperity, and dice are a warning not to take chances. Happily, a key means a matter that has appeared mysterious will soon be explained.

Welcome to the ancient art of tasseography – fortune-telling that interprets patterns in coffee grounds.

Widespread in Africa and the Middle East as well as many Mediterranean cultures, the idiosyncrasies of coffee-reading rituals vary with each culture. In some, the reading takes place casually in coffeehouses or amongst friends or relatives. In others, a professional is consulted, frequently an older woman.

In the Turkish tradition, for example, coffee beans are double-roasted before being finely ground. The coffee is boiled in tiny pots called cezve, and dispensed into cups. A deliciously strong brew results, viscous and granular with a thick, sludgy sediment. How is a reading done? The secret lies in the shapes created by the grains.

The coffee is drunk from one side of the cup only – once finished, the saucer is placed on top and the drinker makes a wish. The covered cup is rotated counter-clockwise at chest-height, then tipped upside down onto the saucer. It is then left to cool with a coin on top to drive away bad omens. The reader then interprets the shapes for the coffee-drinker’s divination, which may relate to both past and future events.

Grains are dark against the cup’s whiteness: shapes in the lower half speak of the past; those in the top half, of the future. Shapes on the right side are interpreted positively; those on the left as signs of bad news such as enemies, sickness or trouble ahead. Next, the shapes of grounds that have dripped into the saucer are interpreted, giving clues about domestic life. If the shapes are messy, illness or a funeral is suggested, whereas large blank spaces on the saucer portend a sense of reprieve. To see if the original wish will come true, the saucer is flipped and the drips examined. Many of the symbols are open to interpretation, and the reader’s intuition.

If all this means you’ve lost the urge to know what’s ahead, just enjoy the sweet gritty Turkish coffee, and try not to look in the cup. However if you need a coffee oracle, Melbourne has plenty. Where exactly? Now that would be telling!

© 2012 Kerrin O’Sullivan