Coffee and Divination

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Coffee and Divination

TasseographyI don’t quite know why, but today I found myself thinking about what was quite possibly the oddest dinner I have ever had.

About twelve years ago my wife and I were invited out to by a co-worker for dinner. This in itself was neither odd or unusual, we after all went to dinner quite a bit when we lived in Chicago.

For this particular dinner we were the guest of a young Serbian programmer on a work visa. Nikolai was a great guy, bursting with energy and loving every minute here in the U.S. Our destination was to be an authentic Serbian restaurant. Not having any experience with Serbian food we were looking forward to the experience with great anticipation.

Once inside the exotic smelling and darkened restaurant we agreed to let Nikoli order for us, as a frequent diner he assured us that he knew just what to order.

Soon after ordering we were joined by two of his Serbian friends and that was when things started to get interesting.

Instead of eating, his friends were more interested in chain smoking cigarettes and drinking Turkish coffee while talking completely in Serbian. Nikolai would translate from time to time as needed. To say the dinner felt divided by culture and language would have been the understatement of the year.

After eating our diner which consisted of meat and onions the female Serbian offered to read our fortune in the Turkish coffee grounds. We had never heard of anything like this before and told her to go ahead. The symbols she saw we couldn’t see and we just racked it up to one more strange event in an extremely strange night.

As it turns out, coffee reading (Tasseography), is a form of divination that has been practiced for years. Typically done with tea leaves, this practice is also done with coffee grounds in the Middle Eastern tradition.

Wikipedia has this to say about Tasseography:

Tasseography (also known as tasseomancy or tassology) is a divination or fortune-telling method that in western traditions interprets patterns in tea leaves. The term also refers to the reading of coffee grounds, especially in the Middle Eastern tradition, or the reading of wine sediments.

The terms derive from the French word tasse (cup), which in turn derives from the Arabic tassa (cup), and the Greek suffixes -graph, -logy, and -mancy (divination).


The practice of tea leaf reading originated independently in Asia, the Middle East and Ancient Greece. Cultures of the Middle East that practice divination in this fashion usually use left-over coffee grounds from Turkish coffee turned over onto a plate.

There is a great “I Need Coffee” article about this subject that I encourage anyone interested in Tasseography to read when they have a chance. What I especially liked about Margaret’s article was her explanation of some of the common symbols seen in the coffee grounds:

Apple: Fertility and creativity.
Arch: Money in business matters.
Bread: Nurture your desires, hopes and dreams.
Bridge: A major decision needs to be made - which way should you go?
Camera: Someone is attracted to you.
Coins: Money is on the way.
Diamonds: A marriage proposal is expected? If the person is married, this may be a symbol of money and material wealth.
Flowers: Flowers indicate happiness.
Genie Lamp: Your wish will be granted.
Harp: Traditional romance.
Heart: A love affair, if the heart is broken or misshapen then the person is broken-hearted.
Knots: Concern over something, take care that it does not negatively affect your health.
Road: Creative opportunities are bringing you to another level.
Ship: A business opportunity is presenting itself.

So the next time you find yourself out with friends, order some Turkish coffee and offer to do a reading, who knows what you will see in the grounds!

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