Discover the Turkish art of coffee fortune-telling in Istanbul
Finished your coffee? Now, swirl the cup around, turn it upside down onto the saucer, and make a wish.
This isn’t how I’d drink my coffee at home, but I’m currently on the rooftop terrace of a cafe in Istanbul’s Karakoy neighbourhood.
The woman who served me my morning jolt of caffeine is about to practise the ancient Turkish art of Kahve Fali, or tasseography: telling my fortune from the muddy, leftover grounds.
Split across Europe and Asia, Istanbul acts as a meeting point for both old and new cultures.
I’ve come here as, after the past two chaotic years, like many, I’m intrigued about what the future might hold.
Can Turkish tasseography help guide me through 2022?
My server, the appropriately named Destina, works at Symbol Cafe, a branch of four mystic coffee spots throughout the city, and for 120 Turkish lira (£6.39), she ‘reads’ the remnants to predict what’s ahead.
Kahve fali started around 1540, not long after the Ottomans introduced coffee to Turkey.
Fortune tellers look for patterns, symbols and icons left imprinted in the sediment around the cup: a fish is said to symbolise a job promotion, a bird is a good omen, a flower signifies happiness to come.
My first question, of course, is what’s in store for humanity this year? Will we all be stuck at home again?
While Destina, like all tasseographers, can only make predictions for an individual, she says optimistically: ‘I see travels intensifying again and a new era will begin in which the troubled period will be removed.’
Well, that’s a relief.
She then gets more specific and tells me she sees great career success for me in April but adds: ‘People will be envious of this so watch out for negative energy.’
She also says she sees another child in my life, born this year. When I tell her I’ve got enough kids already, she smiles: ‘Then you need to be very careful if you don’t want another!’
A little spooked, I jump continents over to Asia (via a picturesque ferry ride) to the Kadiköy-Moda district. Here, streets throng with hipster bars and stylish homeware shops, but tucked among them is Odun Cafe (Serasker Cad. No. 15a).
Owner Tarik tells me he’s spent six years studying astrology and tasseography, and that he’s seen a huge uplift in people looking for guidance through coffee since the pandemic.
During my reading (150 Turkish lira/£7.99), he says: ‘I see a move abroad… can you see the letter I, V or T here? Does this mean anything to you?’
I tell him I was looking into moving to Ibiza, pre-lockdown.
‘This tells me it’s on the cards for you,’ he claims. ‘And if not a move, then 2022 will involve lots of international travel.’
As a travel journalist stuck at home for two years, I certainly hope so.
While more people than ever in Turkey were turning to an ancient culture to help guide them through this unprecedented era, lockdown meant it was harder to access.
Which is where entrepreneur Sertaç Taşdelen and his new online coffee-reading app, Faladdin, excelled – like Istanbul itself, it’s the perfect mix of old-meets-new. You snap a picture of your empty coffee cup, upload it, and receive a full reading back within ten minutes.
‘We saw a 20% rise in people getting readings during the pandemic, and our app has even done 1.2 million readings in one day,’ Sertaç tells me.
‘Coffee reading has always been popular here but with the pandemic, it became more mobile and technological.’
I spend the rest of my trip turning my finished coffee cup upside down in restaurants like Pandeli in the Grand Bazaar, and uploading a picture of it to Faladdin to get the full breadth of tasseographic culture.
It tells me to look out for a friend who is not honest yet there’s also a bat symbol – someone who will help me experience new beginnings, apparently.
Will I have great career success this year? Or another baby? I guess I’ll need to revisit all the predictions in 2023…
British Airways flies from London Heathrow to Istanbul from £62 one-way, ba.com. Rooms at The Stay, Istanbul, from £159pn, thestay.com.tr.
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