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Friday, 23 January 2009 00:00

The secrets hidden inside your coffee cup

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Will I be pretty? Will I be rich? Will I find love? If there is any hint of an answer to these questions inside our coffee cups, who cares if we cannot afford therapists to deal with the now, right now?

All right, we might not be as lucky as Argentineans or New Yorkers with regard to the number of psychotherapists per square kilometer in our country; however, we do have their psychic counterpart: fortunetellers! When we get depressed, we go get our fortunes told. Apparently, each country has its standards for what counts as luxury and what does not. For instance, in many cities in the West, having someone to read your fortune from the coffee grounds in your coffee cup is an absolute luxury, and the very scene itself of someone looking inside a coffee cup and telling stories from within is one of the stereotypical images of the Orient, whereas here fortunetelling through coffee cups is merely a part of the routine. Almost everyone knows the basic symbols, such as a "fish" bringing money and luck ("kısmet" is the word actually; it is almost untranslatable, but could be explained as "fortune that destiny brings forth") or a "horse" bringing a fortunate marriage for singles. There is someone who will read coffee grounds for her relatives or friends in almost every family.

However, the more desperate one gets, the more "professional help" is sought as regards the quality of the coffee ground fortunetelling session. That is exactly the point where your relationship with your fortuneteller starts resembling that between a patient and her therapist. You should be able to trust your fortuneteller; she should tell you things that might be interpreted in many ways. She should, after all, tell you things that would support you and make you feel better, such as "He loves you, too, but don't make your love too obvious, and you will see he will come after you in the course of three units of time," which more or less amounts to saying: "It is not healthy to obsess over a person; you should look for the things that make you happy without him/her necessarily existing and let time pass." Furthermore, both relationships -- with the analyst or with the coffee ground reading specialist -- are strictly confidential. If you tell everyone what your fortuneteller says will happen, then it simply won't happen, so it is a step toward becoming a more dignified, secretive person as well, so to speak.

Obviously, for your relationship with your fortuneteller to resemble your relationship with your therapist at all, you should visit those curious cafes where you order a Turkish coffee and have your fortune told "for free" occasionally. And by "occasionally," we mean not going more often than once a fortnight and that you shouldn't obsessively go to the same cafe every time and ask for the same "fortuneteller." Basically, that's the spirit! These cafes became popular in the '90s, when the idea of having a fortuneteller commercially interested in reading the coffee grounds in coffee cups for mass quantities of people in the course of a couple of hours began sounding pretty normal to people. First we had cafes where we were introduced to coffee types whose names necessarily ended with an "o" -- such as cappuccino, espresso, macchiato and the like -- then our age-old coffee ritual followed by a session of fortunetelling was commercialized as a form of entertainment at those "cafes."

If you are strolling through the streets of Beyoğlu and are a little lost with melancholic tendencies or merely bored without any idea of what to do, going to one of those "fortunetelling cafes" and paying triple the cost of a cup of Turkish coffee and having your fortune told "for free" is a great option, at least to kill some time. By the time you enter the cafe, a whole series of mysteries begins. They ask you "who" you came for, meaning "which fortuneteller," since they obviously assume that you had been there before and liked the service and want to know the rest of your future, having been lucky enough to have your fortune until today perfectly guessed by your therapist; oops, I mean your fortuneteller. You are shown a table, and they ask you how you would prefer your coffee. Medium sweetened? Unsweetened? Sweetened? No matter what you say, your coffee mysteriously always comes medium sweetened if not super sweetened. Then, after witnessing about 20 people being called to the fortuneteller's table and getting their fortunes or story read from their coffee cups by her/him, comes your turn. You take your cup and approach the table and get ready to hear inspiring things and interesting stories about how your life could be interpreted.

A great place to have a sample of such a fortunetelling session is Ayhan Işık Sokak in Beyoğlu. There are a couple of fortunetelling cafes there which have not only coffee ground reading specialists, but also tarot specialists and card readers as well. Melekler Kahvesi, on the right-hand side toward the end of the street, was actually the first cafe to open there with this objective at hand. Then, seeing the success of Melekler Kahvesi, other cafes also became fortunetelling cafes, and nowadays, the whole street is full of fortunetelling enthusiasts. By looking at the anxiety on the faces of those who wait with their coffee cups in their hands with the cup upside down facing the saucer, you can tell you have come to the right place. The golden rule of "while traveling, always eat where the locals eat" applies here, too -- only transformed to say "always get your fortune told where there is a number of anxious people waiting to get their fortunes told." Another very interesting feature of these fortunetelling cafes is that they are the hub of a classless, ageless and genderless segment of society, such that the clientele of these cafes can be anyone from high school students to unemployed middle-aged men and from housewives to bankers. They all have the common ailment of an incurable curiosity about a wish they so passionately desire and want to know whether it will be fulfilled or not, one way or another.

When one drinks Turkish coffee, to have the coffee grounds read properly, one should close the cup with the saucer facing upwards, then turn it counterclockwise three times making a wish and then turn it upside down. The fortuneteller will then be able to say whether your wish will come true or not, as well as making general commentary on how your life is and where it is going. There are interesting complexities in reading coffee grounds and telling your own fortune if you make yourself Turkish coffee at home. Some symbols such as a plus sign, for example, signal that you are about to receive bad news that will make you sad. Seeing keys among the coffee grounds inside your coffee cup is, for example, a good sign, meaning that all your wishes and prayers will finally come true.

As for the history of Turkish coffee, it was in 1517 that Özdemir Paşa, who was the governor of Yemen at the time, brought coffee to İstanbul for the first time. When the Turks came up with the idea of cooking coffee in a copperware cezve and leaving the grounds of coffee in the cup during and after drinking, this style of consuming and preparation came to be called Turkish coffee. The first coffeehouses were opened in Tahtakale, and then coffee and coffeehouse culture, in which people sipped coffee and engaged in conversations for hours and played backgammon or heard storytellers tell stories that took days to complete, flourished throughout the whole city of İstanbul. Soon afterwards, travelers and merchants coming to İstanbul and Ottoman ambassadors around the continent helped spread the fame of Turkish coffee all over Europe.

No matter how depressed or melancholic you are one day, an İstanbulite activity that would definitely cheer you up would be going to a cafe and having a "medium-sweetened" coffee and getting your "fortune told." But beware, since the serotonin your brain produces during a fortunetelling session might be addictive, you might end up replacing your therapist with your fortuneteller before you know it, or let's say "in the course of three units of time," as far as fortunetelling temporality is concerned.


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