Tag Archives: fortune telling

Turkish Coffee Fortune Telling

Background Information: 

The informant is a residential real estate developer who learned a lot of traditions and superstitions from their mother. They currently live in Detroit, Michigan but emigrated from Turkey. 

Main Content: 

ME: So can you tell me a bit about using Turkish Coffee to tell someone’s fortune? 

GD: Yeah so, um, after you drink your Turkish coffee, in your Turkish coffee cup, its a small cup, maybe about like 5 mL ish, you turn it upside down and once the bottom is cool to the touch, um, you turn it right-side up, and there are people who claim they can tell your future and your fortune from what they see in the coffee grounds. 

ME: Do you know what they look for in the grounds? 

GD: If they see, like, it really depends on the person’s interpretation, it’s very subjective. But, like, you know, if someone sees something that looks like a mountain, one person will tell you that it looks like there will be a big obstacle in the way, while another person will tell you that it looks like you will be traveling somewhere soon. It’s very subjective, it’s like an art, really.

ME: I’ve seen you do it a number of times before, in cafes in Turkey with your friends, do you believe in it at all, or do you just do it for fun? 

GD: Kaya, some people absolutely believe in it, and they have people they go to regularly to read their fortunes. But if we’re doing it, it’s just for fun. I don’t believe in it, but there are definitely people who believe in it, and there are definitely people who know what they are talking about. 

ME: Do you know how it started, or how you learned about it? 

GD: I have no idea, you would have to look it up. My family is Turkish, and, um, I grew up with my aunts and family friends, that, after they drink their Turkish coffee, they turn their cup upside down and have their fortune read. 


This interview happened at my house. 


This tradition is very popular in Turkey. The informant is my mother, and I remember seeing her do this countless times with her Turkish friends. However, to them, it was always something that they laughed about and nobody really took it seriously. Upon further research, this is a tradition that has been around for thousands of years and can be referred to as Tasseography. Trying to find the origin of this tradition was very difficult, and I could not find a credible source citing one place where this began. However, some say that this practice did indeed begin in Ottoman Turkey in the 16th century. However, other sources say that this tradition started with reading tea leaves in ancient China, whereas others claim that it first began in Victorian England. Regardless, this is a very old tradition that has a lot of history. To Turkish culture, it is something very old and cherished, and even though some do not take it seriously, most Turkish people take pride in doing this activity, just like the informant. 

“무망” college predictions.

B is a 21-year-old Korean male originally from Busan, South Korea. B is currently a college student in Los Angeles, California.

B informed me of this folklore while I was in a college dorm chatting with him about the college admission process. I did not approach B with the intent of collecting folklore, but after he brought it up naturally in conversation, I requested B’s permission to record his folklore experience. The following is B’s story.

B: So there’s like this thing called “무망” (mudang) it’s kinda like an exorcist. Exorcist? Or whatever. But they’re not not really exorcists, but, they’re people who can like talk to ghosts and.. well, these ghosts are more like Gods who can like guide people, like.. like show visions you know? And I talked to them and I wanted to like um know what college I wanted to go to. Like what actually fits me really well. It’s like a fortune teller kind of thing. And I gave her a list of like all the schools I wanted to go, and like what schools would be the best. And the list had like USC um… Cornell.. what is it, Colombia or like anywhere, Carnegie. And she pointed to like these-uh, she divided the schools into like “O” “triangle” and “X” and the “Os” signified-like, they signified that I would get into that school. “Triangles” would be like, she wasn’t sure because there’s like a… waitlist-like waitlist thingie in America and.. it’s not exactly the same in Korea so like she didn’t know what it was. And “X” would be, um, I wouldn’t get there sadly laughs. And surprisingly, she got like seven out of nine guesses correct. And the last one was Columbia, and she put a “O” there. Or it was a “triangle,” no, I think it was an “O.” And I was expecting that I would go there but I failed, so like I was really disappointed with that. But, she got everything right, and she pointed to like USC.. or somewhere and she told me that I would go somewhere like, somewhere warm instead of like the cold areas which is like normally the east side, East Coast. Like the, all the Ivy Leagues. And, well.. I wanted to go to the East Coast but she told me that I would go somewhere like warm and I though it was uh.. bullshit. But, here I am laughs.

Reflection: At least in terms of practice, the Korean mudang in B’s account sound quite similar to American fortune tellers who both read cards and speak to spirits to predict futures. I am admittedly skeptical about the legitimacy of fortune telling, but it is hard to believe that the mudang was able to successfully determine seven out of the nine colleges correctly, especially without previous knowledge about the colleges . This odd and difficult to explain occurrence has at least made reconsider my stance on fortune telling. Based on B’s story and the continued popularity of Shintoism in Japan, it seems that shamanistic practices are still able to fulfill a need within modern East-Asian societies.

Fortune Telling From a Cup of Turkish Coffee

When my friend first read my fortune out of a cooled cup of Turkish coffee, I was told that he saw angels, tigers and trails in my future. He’d been using a Wikipedia article to help him read our fortunes, but he seemed excite to be sharing this experience with me and my other friend, who had never had our fortunes read in this way before.

Turkish coffee is very dense. It’s more like espresso than coffee, and because of this one only consumes a shot-glass or specialized tiny coffee mug. The person drinking Turkish coffee leaves a small layer of coffee grounds in the bottom of the cup and turns the cup over on a saucer to cool. The grounds may slide down the sides of the cup as they cool and solidify, which the reader then uses to tell the drinker’s fortune.


“This is very embedded in the Turkish culture. So it’s not something that you learn somewhere else, it’s around you all the time. You know, you grow up with your mom, your grandma, you know, the aunts and the ladies on the balconies, everyone does it. ” The speaker said as we sat in the Nuka Turkish Cafe in Westwood months after that initial reading in our home. He mentioned that shapes in a coffee mug might look like numbers or scenery.

“There are places in Turkey where you would go to visit like an actual medium. Well, those are self-proclaimed mediums. But the interesting thing is, I’ve been to certain mediums that would have incredibly accurate fortunetelling. Like, they will give you a lot of information about your past and your future. And very often, I’ve met people and I have had friends who have these professional medium fortune telling them, like their fortune telling actually becomes true in the future. And so it’s an interesting thing. And I really don’t know that side of it that well. It’s very supernatural. And I just feel like some people actually do have that supernatural talent to be able to use this. “

The speaker added that Turkish mediums also use tarot and palmistry to tell fortunes, and that this tradition is quite old. “The Turkish army that my father is, is a part of has an insignia on it that says before Christ, 200 something. It’s a 2200 years old army.” He added that before Christianity, many Turkish tribes practiced paganism. “

“We have a Turkish idiom that says, “Don’t believe in this fortune telling. But like, don’t live without it… it’s an integral and cultural part of our lives. But we also live in a society where, you know, we are aware that fortune telling is not a very scientific method… So it’s, it’s more of a fun sport at this point than actual people believing in it. It’s more it’s more fun than it’s taken like serious.”


The speaker was happy that we had come to visit him in the Nuka Cafe, and he pretended to be annoyed that I was recording his thoughts about fortune telling. When I asked him where he first saw fortune telling, he mentioned that much like a baby doesn’t remember their first steps, he doesn’t remember where he first encountered this tradition. Another friend mentioned that the speaker’s past fortune came true, and later that day he read another cup of Turkish coffee. He told our third friend that he saw a world map and a wedding.

This is important to me because much like the speaker, I enjoy fortune-telling tools but don’t really believe in them… unless something else changes my mind about their accuracy. I first came across the idea of fortune-telling from tea or coffee in the movie Coraline, and I showed the speaker the section of the film that includes fortune-telling after we had done the first reading in the house. I enjoyed having my fortune read and will not believe it while simultaneously “keeping it in mind.”

This seems to be a largely female craft. The speaker is interested in Turkish folklore and could not remember the meanings of symbols he described to us the first time he performed this tradition using Wikipedia notes.

Paper Fortune-Teller – An American Childhood Classic

“When I was in elementary school, my friends and I used to make this folded paper-contraption, kind of like origami, that was supposed to tell fortunes. Basically, you had to fold a standard piece of loose-leaf, like, 10 times. On each of the folds you would write numbers and colors, and then on the inside flaps, you would write some kind of fortune, like who you would marry or where you would live or what your job would be–or even all of the above.  One person would be the one to ‘move’ the paper contraption back and forth, while the other person would choose the numbers/colors. For example, the if the person chose 3, you would move the paper back and forth 3 times before stopping on the configuration that showed the colors. Then they would choose the color, and the person would read the fortune underneath.”

Context: The informant, ER, is student was born and raised in the United States, specifically Los Angeles, CA. She was a very outgoing and enjoyed doing lots of fun activities with her friends, including making lip-synced music videos and playing quirky games. This game was something that ER and her friends did a lot, repeating the fortune-telling over and over again in order to hopefully get a fortune that was favorable. However, only a few of the friends were capable of constructing the contraption, so you had to ask them to make one for you if you need wanted one of you own.

Analysis: Based on the insights of ER, I can see the how this game is an important piece of children’s folklore that tell us a lot about our culture and the way that children see the world and their lives. With this particular game, we can see how children want to grow up and know more about their future and what they would be like. There is always a level of uncertainty for the future throughout our lives, however, the amount of control that we have over our future as a young child is much less than when we become older and more mature. Children are always anticipating what the future holds for them, and this game is a way to bring some wisdom to this struggle and help them alleviate the uncomfortableness of the uncertainty. Another example of a children’s folk game that involves fortune-telling is a game-called MASH. This game involves writing down lists of various components of one’s future, like spouse name, job and house style and use a specific number to determine which of components on the lists will be your future.

Along with this, the fact that only a few people had the ability to manufacture the paper object, it also created a bit of a power dynamic between the children that want to participate in the game, and those who are able to provide this game. Another interesting fact about this game was the fact that I also grew up with this, despite the fact that I live across the country in Rhode Island. This is demonstrative of the how children across the country are sharing their traditions and customs with each other, and disseminating it moreover. For another version/purpose of this paper device, see Mechling, Jay. Folk Groups and Folklore Genres. Edited by Elliot Oring. pp. 105.

Coffee Grinds – Predict the Future?

The informant was telling me how Greeks used the dregs from coffee grinds to read the future:

Informant: In some cultures they read tea leaves, but in some cultures they read coffee grinds.

Me: huh

Support: dregs from the coffee

Informant: They took the dregs turned over a little cup and turned it three times, and then they read the inside of the cup – what dripped out – and read what they would see “oh your gonna take a trip, oh you’re gonna get married, oh this or that”

Support: they always said I was going to get married, but here I am!



The Informant is a Greek woman who was born in the United States. She currently lives in Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA. Though she was not born in Greece, her parents immigrated to the US and she was born into a very Greek community in Phoenix, AZ. The performance was held during an Easter party, in front of her younger sister, who provided supporting information, as well as me.

This was completely new to me, as I had never heard of this ritual and only faintly heard of the tea leave predictions. I think it is really interesting how different cultures share so many similar traditions and patterns, and while they are similar they are also very different. It also raises questions about why cultures come up with these practices, seeing that they are not always accurate, but fascinating nonetheless.