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Reading Greek Coffee: A cup of your life


JANGLED is an understatement for describing the condition of my nerves as I write this report on mystical Greek coffee-reading traditions. For just as method actors experiment with their appearance, habits and other life circumstances in order to get a real feel for and achieve a convincing interpretation of the character they need to transform themselves into, this writer drank and attempted reading several thousand cups of strong Greek brew in order to get into her coffee-diviner role.

It all started when I spotted a book called I Tyhi Mas Sto Flitzani (Fortune in a Coffee Cup: Divination With Coffee Grounds) and, after a quick flick through I was delighted to see that there was an entire glossary of the meaningful symbols one can discern just by getting a daily dose of caffeine. The art and science of telling one's fortune by reading the cup was something I'd long known about, and I had even had my own cup read after crossing the palms of wise and mysterious old ladies with silver a few times in the past. But I had never considered giving a try to actually reading it for myself or friends until I came across that particular guide.

How can a cup of coffee tell you about the past, present and future in your personal, social or professional life, sceptics will ask. This method of fortune-telling, known as tasseography, or tasseomancy (kafemandeia in Greek), has been practised for centuries and originates in China, where tea leaves were read in the bell-shaped cups (before that, monks used to read patterns formed on the internal part of bells in temples, so the handle-less tea cup was a logical progression). The author of the above-mentioned book, who uses the pen-name "Sophia" (which also means wisdom in Greek) writes that she was taught coffee-reading by her grandfather, who did it professionally. It is her theory that each individual's DNA and thus the emotional, mental and physical condition of each affects what shapes will be formed in the grains. Some images will simply reveal something we are already aware of, consciously or subconsciously, whilst other symbols are said to foretell events beyond our knowledge or expectations.

Today, people around the world continue to look for answers in the residue of their tea or coffee and lessons in how to do it correctly are passed on through the generations. It goes with the dramatic Greek nature to be both curious (and often anxious) about the present and future, as well as to enjoy making Cassandra-like predictions about how events or situations will unfold. The trick is not to take it all too seriously, but also to consider the possibility that some, if not most of it may be likely, indicative of something important or de facto true; certainly everyone who has had their cup read comments that what it reveals often is uncannily spot-on.

Try it and see for yourself:

step one

Ideal for reading are African, Greek or Turkish ground coffees, rich in taste as well as consistency (not to mention caffeine levels - tell me about it!). The drink should be brewed in the traditional long-handled briki and served in the suitable small cup. Whether there's a particular issue one requires some enlightenment on or not doesn't matter, for the coffee will always have something to reveal. If one wants answers to a specific question, this concern should be focused on whilst sipping at a leisurely pace. Overall, it's important to enjoy the experience and keep an open mind.

step two

Once the coffee is finished, the cup should be held facing out on its side and be turned three times clock-wise, whilst spilling out the sludge and simultaneously spreading it around the entire surface of the cup. Whatever excess remains should be poured out from the side where the cup-handle is. The cup should then be overturned onto a napkin and left for a few minutes. Take this moment to take a deep breath and ask for guidance in reading your cup; who or what you ask about is completely up to you.

step three

Overturn your cup and hold it upright. Remember to keep an open mind and not try too hard to see things. Also, try to put your scepticism aside. If you see something that looks like one particular symbol but not exactly, you're probably right. How you interpret things is up to you. What looks like a smudged cow to you may be a clear dog to someone else - asking for a second opinion is a good option if you're not sure. Often, the most important messages appear surprisingly clearly.

types of symbols

Animals, initials, natural landmarks such as rivers, lakes or trees and many other things known to the human eye - from a fork to a golf club to a moon - can all be found in the cup.

important guidelines!

Generally, the bottom part of the cup represents people, situations, or ideas from your past, the middle part on the sides of the cup represents the present whilst the top part indicates what's approaching in the future. Where a symbol appears on the cup can create different meanings.

If going through the coffee-reading process seems like too much of a hassle, don't despair. There will always be Kiria Roula or Mario the friendly coffee-reading neighbour, or a professional fortune-teller a stone's throw away - ask anyone. Either way, take heed!

Fortune in a Coffee Cup: Divination With Coffee Grounds can be found at Eleftheroudakis bookshops or maybe from Greece In Print

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