In Strange Food History, we're hitting the books -- to find you the strangest, quirkiest slices of our food heritage.
Today: A centuries-old way to predict the future, using a breakfast staple.
Some people check their horoscope daily, consult psychics, or flip through decks of tarot cards hoping to catch a glimpse of what the future holds. For others, the process is a little more palatable.
In several cultures across the Middle East, brewing a cup of strong Turkish coffee and reading the coffee grounds -- a process known as tasseography -- ranges from a fun social ritual to a serious method of divination. Coffee was first cultivated in that region in the 14th century, making this tradition centuries old.
Interested in giving it a go? First, learn how to brew the perfect cup here, then get a group of friends together to read each other's cups. Here's how to do it.
After caffeinating sufficiently, leave a small bit of muddy coffee residue at the bottom of the cup. Flip the cup over onto your saucer, rotate it three times clockwise, and leave it to dry.
A few minutes later, the fortune telling session can begin. First things first -- did the cup stick to your saucer? That's a tell-tale sign that you're in love, or that someone's in love with you. From there, look closely at the way that the grounds have been distributed around the cup. Have a wide open space in your cup? That's a lucky sign, indicative that you're about to embark on a big trip or journey. As for each individual coffee ground smudge, those can take a while to interpret and decipher. Fortunately, this art has carried over into the 21st century, with websites that extensively devote themselves to creating symbol dictionaries.
Brewing a top-notch cup of Turkish coffee had other, more practical, cultural significances too. Achieving the perfect layer of foam on top (in colloquial Egyptian Arabic, this foam is called the wish, or face) can be difficult and requires practice. So prospective brides were often beckoned to prepare a cup of the coffee for their future mother-in-law to test their prowess in the kitchen. Either way, we think Turkish coffee is a delicious alternative to espresso -- no soothsayer or mother-in-law needed to enjoy it.
Photos by James Ransom and Giorgina Paiella