Prophetic to the Last Drop
Learning the ancient Greek art of coffee-sludge reading
Athens: “Greek people, you know, they have charisma,” says Simos, swirling the last drops of beer in his glass and knocking it back.
Hours ago, I broke a shot glass at the kiosk where Simos works, on Syntagma Square in the center of Athens. The incident became an icebreaker, and he offered to take me to his local bar when he finished work.
“If I meet a Greek person, even if I don’t know him or like him, I know what’s in his head,” Simos continues, sitting cross-legged in the dim bar as a DJ plays samba music for a mostly deserted room. “I understand him.”
We raise our glasses: Stin iyá mas!
Later, I order a strong Greek coffee and sip it slowly. Per Simos’s instructions, I take care to avoid the dregs at the bottom of the cup. When only a brown sludge remains, he takes my cup, sets a saucer on top, and flips the whole thing over. “Greek women can read your future from the patterns left in the cup,” he says.
This art of reading tea leaves, coffee grounds, or wine sediment is known as tasseography, and it has been practiced for centuries in cultures around the world. According to the Greek tradition, the outlines of your coffee dregs can convey not only your future but also your past, your present, your desires, and your fears.
A few minutes pass. I’m eager to see what formations remain inside my tiny cup and apprehensive about what they might reveal. When it’s time, Simos overturns the cup in a swift motion and stares into the dark stains, the contours that map my history and my destiny. “So,” I ask, “what does it say?”
“I don’t know,” he replies. “I am not a Greek woman.”