Tasseomancy, literally means ‘divining or reading the cup’. Today’s practitioners of the art typically interpret patterns in tea leaves or coffee grounds to predict the future. Although tasseomancy has its beginnings along the Mediterranean shores, Turkey, the Middle East and Balkan countries, it’s likely that every culture since the beginning of time has engaged in a similar practice. The vehicle used to gain insight into the natural world – coffee, tea, wine, bones, stars (astrology), runes or Tarot cards has varied between cultures and over time but the intent is the same – to glean information.
The social consumption of stimulants like coffee and tea is a worldwide phenomena. It has become, over centuries culture. Coffee and tea are just as important today as centuries ago, when it changed the way Istanbuli’s and eventually all of Europe, gathered in public places.
As a related field, Tasseomancy is making a comeback, along with the flourishing interest in the origins of things. Depending on one’s alliance it will be called Turkish/Bosnian/Greek/Armenian (Syrian, Serbian etc) coffee, but generally understood as Turkish coffee.
Curiosity about Tasseomancy in the west runs in cycles of popularity though in Eastern cultures, especially Turkey, the Balkans, Greece and the whole of the Mediterranean, the practice is most common. Whether in lighthearted gatherings or in ritual meditative divination, reading the cups brings people together for meaningful conversation. In those cultures, at the end of a meal or afternoon kaffee-klatsch, the standard strong black coffee is served. This coffee is not filtered but instead consists of finely ground coffee beans, immersed in boiling water, boiled again and then served in small, palm sized cups.
It is not uncommon that someone at the table will turn over their cup and ask for a reading from the person next to them. That person will take the lead, with everyone else at the table making comments and adding their two cents worth. As I grew up in a hybrid Balkan household, I am familiar with the scene. Our weekends were occupied with entertaining family and guests. At these gatherings glorious plates of food from my grandmother’s kitchen flooded the living room tables. The constant feature of every meal was the final course of Turkish coffee and sweets, a practice culled from the Ottoman influenced Balkans. Eventually, the men retired to the balcony to smoke and the aunties would read cups with the women. There was no end to the stories the women extracted from the bottom of these tiny porcelain tumblers. Fascinated,I hung on to every word, concentrating on the emptied cups, looking to discover their magical language.
Traditionally the cups are read by the women, but can be practiced by anyone. In Mediterranean and Slavic cultures it is certainly not an unusual practice, almost mundane. With interest in Slow Food and immersion travel on the rise, there is a trend in exploring forgotten traditions and cultures. I’ve noted a welcome curiosity about Turkish coffee cup reading.
Somewhere it’s been proven that the act of sitting together and kibitzing over coffee relieves stress and even alienation. Without a doubt, the meet-ups around drinking and spending time over a cup of coffee in public spaces and cafes enhance communication and intimacy between people. Add the prophetic nature inherent in the art of interpreting the cups and it’s downright entrancing. The cup readings themselves encourage introspection and in my experience, create space for reflection and, even wonder. It also seems to foster goodwill and camaraderie, as most anyone can teach themselves to read the universal language of the symbols. Plus, it’s fun! The need to understand the “self” and why things happen to us is an innate human desire. Tasseomancy, is a way to tap into the subconscious, often getting to the heart of what matters quickly. It becomes a way to stimulate imagination and with practice, it creates room for solutions in everyday life.
Silvana Vukadin-Hoitt currently lives in Denver and writes about culture, food, travel and local events.