Turkish Coffee Reading
Within a week of moving to Turkey in 2013, I was taking off my shoes in the doorway of a very beautiful flat overlooking the Bosphorus straight in the Taksim neighbourhood of Istanbul. The flat was home to Seda, a chain smoking cat owner whom I’d found on craigslist advertising for a flatmate, an offer I hastily accepted. On my first evening we made the usual introductions, shared a meal together and talked about our mutual love of yoga, the circus, raves and cinema. On this night I was also introduced to the Turkish home and the rituals that surround it; that shoes were to be removed on entering, that yogurt and bread must be always present on the dinner table and that pets are as important as people. The next morning, I awoke and Seda had prepared breakfast for me, which was followed was Turkish coffee. I watched her prepare kahve using the method her mother taught her, filling the copper cevze and letting the coffee froth and change colour on the stove. After we finished drinking she asked ‘please, can I read your cup?’.
“You didn’t tell me you were psychic?”
“I have intuition, doesn’t everyone?” She replied.
Seda asked me to turn my cup upside down on the saucer to drain the coffee grounds and place a piece of jewellery on my cup to let it cool. Then I would pick it up in the saucer make three rotations while thinking about something and flip it over, turning the cup inwards, toward my heart. She then lifted my cup, letting the black sludge out into the saucer and began to read my cup. Staring intently inside the tiny espresso sized mug, she told me what she saw in my past, who was influencing and nurturing my present and finally what she thought about the future. The story became a conversation on where I needed to go and who was guiding me, what to be careful of and what to grasp onto. “Now do me,” she said. “But I don’t know how.” “Just use your intuition, tell me what you see.” I awkwardly giggled through the first few points, “I guess I see a lot of lines, I suppose this could be a river”. She looked at me, urging me to take it seriously and trust myself. “Okay it’s a river.”
My first coffee reading might have been an omen for the next years of my life living in the powerful and outrageous city of Istanbul. The candour of almost strangers telling eachothers’ fortunes represented a fierce dedication to ritual and everyday spirituality. Something I found at the basis of my love for Turkey and integral to the bonds I formed within it. Through this friendship and activity, I was shown a way to engage with people that brought the sacred to the everyday and encouraged trust in ones’ ability to be interpretive and create.
Coffee readings remained at the heart of my life in Turkey. I would have my cup read by older women with whom I could barely communicate, I would read the cups of my friends at breakfast, and I would go to visit Seda long after moving out to hear what had changed inside my life. She would see my mother, or a network arranged in a forest. Being taken into a world that was mystical allowed me to shine light on my friendships and all I found comforting in the world. It was a way to check in with where I was going. It was us as friends.
Coffee has been consumed widely in the Levant area since the 1600s with the first coffee houses cropping up in Istanbul as early as 1554, similarly brewing the finely ground Arabica beans in a copper pot and serving the strong, thick brew in espresso style cups alongside water and a sweet treat such as baklava or lokum. The method of reading and interpreting spilt wax dates back to medieval Europe. However, practice of reading leftover coffee grounds, tea leaves or wine sediments (known as tasseography) in the middle east, Greece, and Balkans dates back to the 17th Century and is known to Turks and kahve fal – coffee fortunes.
How to read a cup.
Coffee reading can be taken as seriously or un-seriously as one wants and although many professional fortune tellers make a living this way, it is just as common to see two friends telling each others fortunes having no formal training. And despite there being guidelines and rules to the art, coffee reading is as much about intuition, interpretation and creativity as it is knowing all the rules and symbols.
That said here are the basic rules and steps to get started…
1. Grab a friend and have a Turkish coffee together, it’s also known as greek coffee or Arabic coffee (as long as its unfiltered, finely ground and served in espresso cups it’s the right thing). As the coffee is unfiltered there will be quite a lot of sediment at the bottom of the cup, leave about a sip at the end so the coffee can drain easier.
2. After your last sip place the saucer on top of the cup, make three rotations and think about something, a question or wish. Quickly flip the cup inward so the coffee can drain out into the saucer and put it back on the table. If you wish you may place a metal object on top of the cup while it cools. (Some say place a piece of jewellery of you want the fortune to reflect love life or a coin if you want to know about fortune and money.)
3. Swap your cup with your partner so you are reading each other’s cups (you’re not allowed to read your own). Once the cup has cooled completely, remove the cup and let the sludge out onto the saucer.
4. Start by looking into the cup for a few minutes, it’s important to get a general impression rather than just going in for symbols so try to get a general feel for what’s going on. Once you feel ready you can start saying what you see and interpreting the symbols. Always follow your instinct and concentrate.
5. There are many different ways to divide the cup into positive, negative or past, present and future. Some read around from the handle whereas I was told to read from the bottom up. The bottom third being the past, the middle the present and the top the future.
6. Interpreting symbols can be as obvious as it sounds but there are a few well known symbols in Turkish coffee reading. The most famous are:
. Full moon – love
. Bird – good news
. Raven – bad news
. Fish – an achievement
. Nest – a pregnancy
. Mountain – some hardship or obstacles to overcome
. Flower – happiness
. Dog – Friendship (good)
. Cat – Friendship (bad or argument)
7. The symbols are not to be analysed one by one but woven together by the reader. You may find the more you look the more you will be able to see once you get going. At the end you may refer back to the thought or question that your partner was thinking about at the beginning of the reading. Did it come up?
8. Finally, readings are only made by one person so no second opinions. The experience is supposed to be relaxed and enjoyable with all parties being respectful. Ultimately have some fun and start practicing!
Lydia Beardmore is a writer, poet and photographer. She has a long list of writing credits to her name including Little White Lies, Atlas Obscura, Time Out Istanbul, Reorient and Yabangee. She travels extensively and her travel experiences are often shared through her words and images. Her latest project is Pudding Shop Press, a literary travel site that explores the journeys of women.