When I was little, I was obsessed with knowing my future. What would I become? How tall would I be? Where would I live? Who would I marry? My parents indulged my curiosity by allowing me to go to fortune tellers, buy crystal balls, and borrow books from the library on how to read palms.
My father told me that when I was old enough to drink coffee, I could have a Kafedzou read my future. He explained to me that a Kafedzou is a Greek woman who knows how to read your fortune in a coffee cup.
I didn't know what to expect, but I knew I wanted to meet one!
A Brief History of Tasseography
Tasseography — reading one's future in a cup — has its origins in China with the interpretation of tea leaves, according to Mediterranean cuisine expert, Amy Riolo. It then most likely headed westward along the Silk Road.
To understand the Greek style of tasseography, it's important to point out that Greek coffee is different from an espresso or an American coffee; the pulverized bean is mixed with water and sugar, and brought to a boil in a little pot called a brikki. When it's foamy, it's poured into a cup unfiltered. The fact that it is unfiltered is the key difference, and what lends itself to fortune telling.
This style of coffee originated in Ethiopia before the Middle Ages, then spread north in the 17th century into the Ottoman Empire, through Egypt and into Greece. And the ritual stuck in many of those countries.
The Coffee Ritual
Our coffee is thicker than American coffee. After waiting for the coffee sediment to settle, we slowly sip the liquid, making sure not to drink the remains. It's not only bad for the stomach, but that's where one's the future lies. Swirl the cup, flip it over onto the saucer, and the designs that remain in the cup carve out the drinker's fortune.
But only a gifted Kafedzou can read it. And in New Orleans, where I grew up, a Kafedzou is hard to find. There is a strong but small Greek community, and none of them had studied tasseography. The practice is also considered highly superstitious and somewhat blasphemous, which posed a further challenge.
My First Reading
Finally, when I was 16, a Greek woman, Keti, came from Thessaloniki to stay with her son for a year. She was a typical Greek Yiayia (grandma) — a traditional woman, strong and stout, with gray hair tied back into a low ponytail; comfortable shoes; dark, loose clothes; and dark, soul-piercing eyes. And she was a verified Kafedzou.
My father and her son were friends, so they'd have dinner together, and she and I would tag along. She only spoke Greek, and my Greek was limited at the time — but we smiled at each other, and I understood enough to know what "orea kai kali" meant (beautiful and nice). I would sit quietly during the dinner, patiently waiting for conversations I barely understood to end, for the end of dinner when coffee would be served.
And finally, she read my coffee cup, an activity that brought us together where language could not.
My father translated: I was going to receive a phone call that week from someone whose name started with the letter 'N.' In six weeks, someone I loved would unexpectedly come visit me.
Not a very interesting telling, as I wanted to know more concrete things. But she didn't have those answers. I asked her which boy from my high school I'd date. She did say that there was true love in my future, but I hadn't met him yet. Although a bit skeptical of her skills and disappointed by such a trivial reading, I smiled and thanked her. She blessed me.
But in the next week, her premonitions came true: My Godfather, Niko, who usually only calls me for my birthday and Christmas, called me randomly. Six weeks later, my brother, who was at college and wasn't supposed to be back until Christmas, came back a few weeks early.
We had dinner with Keti almost once a month that year and, of course, I asked her to read my cup each time. She never answered any hard-hitting questions, but the specificity of the minutiae she did foretell always came true — I would have a tiff with a friend whose name started with the letter 'C' and I'd make a new friend whose name started with the letter 'V.' (Perhaps some of these foretellings became self-fulfilling prophecies, but Keti was on point: I fell out with my friend, Catherine, and made a new friend, Veronica.)
That spring, we hosted Greek Easter, and Keti and her family came over. (The Greeks have an open-door policy for parties.) Not long after that gathering, the entire family moved away, and we lost touch with them. How did that never come up in my readings? I was crushed. I loved Keti's readings, but I also had a fondness for her.
Now, twice the age that I was then, I'm living that future that I was so concerned with as a kid, and with time, I've learned the answers I was looking for: I'm a writer, I'm 5 foot 6, I live in New York City, and I'm married to my true love. Immersed in my present, I no longer focus on my future. But I still remember Keti fondly, and wish I could meet another Kafedzou who could tell me where she ended up.
Have you ever had your tea leaves or coffee grounds read? Was the reading accurate?