Tag Archives: fortune telling

Greek Fortune-Telling Coffee


I have a Greek friend whose family still practices lots of older Greek folk traditions. One of these is Greek coffee cup fortune telling, practiced specifically by his grandma. She has her subject drink a cup of Greek coffee, which leaves lots of residue in the cup after it’s drunk. Then, she flips the mug on its side, spins it three times clockwise, and then lets it dry on the side of a plate for a little. She would pick out certain shapes or patterns from the way the coffee residue stained the cup and use them to draw conclusions about her subject’s life. They’re usually scarily accurate, and predict specific things like falling in love, losing a loved one, or making successful decisions at work.


My friend witnesses this often at family gatherings. It doesn’t take long to perform and his grandma is an expert. He, however, does not really believe in the fortune telling, most likely because it doesn’t always pan out. He remembers one time where she told an uncle that she saw a rat for him, which meant that someone near him would die soon. The uncle was shocked, but my friend acknowledges that she could’ve been messing with him since he’s one of the only non-Greeks in the family (married in). Nothing bad ever happened to the uncle. My friend’s mother, on the other hand, does believe in the fortune telling along with some other traditional Greek superstitions. His grandma has taught his mother a few things about the process in hopes that one day she might be able to do it herself.


The tradition is common to some others from around the world, like Chinese tea leaf readings. These types  I read online that that’s where it might have originated from. The coffee cup readings stem from a belief that there’s something in your being that becomes translated into the way you drink your cup of coffee that can reveal your fortune. I think the original purpose of the tradition was to provide hope in times of crisis and to have a way to be prepared for the possibly unpredictable future. Now, however, the tradition seems outdated and not that many Greek people believe in it. This could be a trait of the large Greek diaspora that lives outside of the homeland. It could also be a symptom of the times – science has progressed so far and we have so much faith in it that it seems impossible that something could tell our fortunes through just coffee grounds. The tradition functions as mere entertainment for the most part, now, and as a way to bond Greek families.

Fortune Keeping


A is a Pre-med biology major at USC, currently a freshman. A is a Vietnamese American who grew up in Vancouver, Washington a short drive from Portland, Oregon. 


A: Okay, so I’ve learned this at a very young age, but my family has told me that fortunes come true. Like, the fortune in the fortune cookies. I keep the slip of paper in my pocket like, as a way to make it come true. Keeping it with me helps make sure the fortune will come true, but if I don’t want this fortune to come true, I won’t keep it. 

Me: Do you ever lose them?

A: I keep them for as long as I think I need the fortune. Like, if I think it came true, then I’ll throw it away. 


The fortune tellers A is talking about are finely printed words, usually in a vague phrase or arrangement, that come from restaurant complementary cookies. As fortune telling is a way of predicting or controlling the future, I think what A experiences reading a fortune teller is something along the lines of superstition and homeopathic magic. Fortune tellers are usually signs, a specific message from the universe or time or fate telling you something important will happen. A believes this sign and wants this future to be his, so fortune tellers encourage some change in behavior to bring about that important thing. To bring fortune into reality, it is important for A to keep evidence of the future (the fortune paper) with him, as if to constantly be summoning it into his reality. Through this “like produces like,” A believes the paper in his possession (representing good fortune) will eventually produce what is predicted on the paper (actual good fortune). For A, he associates the paper with telling the future and keeps the fortune with him to invite the future to happen. He chooses to indulge in a sense of control or a kind of understanding over the world, where there is usually something wholly unpredictable. 

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.