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Tasseomancy — according to the makers of Mr. Coffee, it’s the art of reading your future in the grounds left in the bottom of your coffee cup. I’ve never heard it called that, but I’m quite familiar with the concept of reading the coffee grounds. In fact, while Mr. Coffee provides a handy guide to reading coffee grounds on its site, the gentle art of reading coffee grounds has been around a lot longer than America’s first drip coffee maker for the home kitchen. I grew up with a little old Italian lady who saw the future in many things, including the bottom of a coffee cup. I learned the art from her, just as I learned to read Tarot cards, and between the two, they kept me cup filled in my favorite coffee houses through the late 1970s and early 1980s, when my love for Yirgacheffe coffee was often out of the reach of my pocketbook.
Tasseomancy may have originated in Turkish and Persian harems, where the privilege of making coffee for the men was an honor reserved for those women who were most adept at it. It’s no easy feat to make coffee in an ibrik. It’s a time-consuming process that involves repeatedly bringing coffee, sugar and water to just under a boil over an open flame, and pouring off the foam into the waiting cups. Since the coffee is unfiltered, it’s impossible to avoid getting grounds in the cup, which, if you drink it right, remain in the bottom of the cup when you’re done drinking.
Of course, you don’t have to learn how to make coffee in an ibrik just so you can read coffee grounds. Mr. Coffee, for example, recommends that you make espresso ground coffee in the Mr. Coffee coffee maker in your usual way and enjoy it down to the last sip, then add a small spoonful of grounds to it. Frankly, you might want to avoid making coffee ground that finely in a drip coffeemaker and an espresso maker will compress the grounds too tightly to easily scoop out a spoonful. I always had a lot of success with coffee brewed in a French press, which often leaves a fine sediment in the bottom of your cup. I don’t recall ever having to add grounds to the cup to get a good reading.
How to Read Coffee Grounds
Brew a pot of coffee in a French press. Instead of letting the coffee settle after plunging, pour it immediately into your cup and let it settle in your cup before drinking. Instead of a mug, choose a coffee cup with curved bowl or sloping sides. You’ll also need a saucer. For best results, drink your coffee black, and take your time to enjoy it. Leave the last mouthful of coffee in the bottom of the cup — no more than a half-teaspoonful or so of coffee.
Place the saucer upside down over the top of the cup and swirl the cup around to distribute the grounds around the porcelain sides. Tip the cup over to allow excess liquid to drain into the saucer, then quickly tip the cup back upright. The coffee grounds will be stuck to the bottom and the sides of the cup. From here on out, what you see is all in the eye of the beholder — that’s you. Some people will see images and symbols immediately. For others, it takes practice. If you’re the type of person who sees pictures in the clouds, you should be a natural at reading coffee grounds.
The real art of it, though, is in interpretation. For starters, interpreting coffee grounds is subjective. Like most forms of divination that rely on symbols, traditional interpretations are guidelines that can easily be overridden or modified by the reader’s own experiences. Birds, for example, traditionally mean good fortune coming your way — but if you see wings and your first thought is “raven” and you associate ravens with bad news, trust your instincts. That said, however, here’s a quick cheat sheet with images you might see in your coffee grounds and their traditional interpretations.
Bell – announcement, warning
Bird – good news
Candle – Answers
Crescent Moon – secrets, intuition, hidden knowledge
Cross – sacrifice
Crown – authority, promotion
Eye – wisdom, watchfulness
Face – communication, happy face is good news, sad face, bad news
Flower – innocence
Heart – love
Horn – good luck
Ring – promises
Spider – intrigue
Star – hope, wishes coming true
Wing – travel