On Kaphemanteia

Following is an approximation of the little presentation thing I gave while the first pot of coffee was cooking.

coffee-beans2-800So, how should I begin? The history of coffee or the history of cup-reading?

let’s start with coffee!

greek-coffee6Alright, fair enough. Sit, sit…. So, I think at least some people here might’ve heard the legend of how coffee became cultivated, but in case there are people who haven’t, there’s a little story about how it began with a goatherd, and he took his herd to graze , and there were these bushes that the goats took a liking to, and when he started taking them home, the goats who really liked the bushes were a bit more alert and jumpy. He took them back there the next day, and noticed the same thing, and he managed to determine that it was cos of the berries from the bushes, or more accurately, the seeds inside the berries. Not a lot of people know that what were tend to call the “coffee bean” is actually a seed from the inside of a berry. Now, whether or not this story is true, it certainly seems plausible enough for the region where we’re pretty certain coffee first was cultivated, which is Ethiopia. coffee

Now, there was trade between Greece and Ethiopia for centuries, but coffee didn’t first really come into the West until about the 13th or 14th Century, CE, when the Ottomans in Turkey imported it from Ethiopia, and it spread from there to Greece and then all over Europe. And contrary to common assumption, coffee is actually favoured over tea in the UK, but tea has become a bit more ritualised, and people can be especially particular about it, so it’s more fun to joke about, and the Brits do seem to have a weakness for self-deprecating humour. greek-coffee-cups-12744565

Now cup-reading, also called tasseomancy (cup divination), tasseology (cup study) or tasseography (cup reading), actually pre-dates coffee but nearly a millenium. In Greece, there were traditions, and in some regions even games around reading the patterns made by wine sediments –and independently developing in China, at around the same time, was the reading of tea leaves. Tea reading became associated with Romani culture in India, likely due to trade with China and learning or just picking it up from Chinese readers. So obviously, coffee reading is the newest of the cup-readings, and in Greek is known as “kaphemanteia” [καφεμαντεία], or “coffee divination”. SAMSUNG CSC

Now, I know a lot of people have talked on the Internet about “revealed deities of coffee”, with varying degrees of seriousness. I’ve seen the name Caffeineia a lot, some people say they honour Java.

Coffee-Bean-Animal-Art02Who do you do this for?

As it’s an act of divination, I honour Apollon with my coffee readings. I also see some people say they offer coffee to Hekate, and sometimes i do that, as well, but typically not as a reading. (As an aside, something i did not think of at the kaphemanteia service, Aristaios, whose name comes from the word for “most-useful”, strikes me as a Boeotian deity whose domain would include coffee.)

φλυτζάνιNow, the method of brewing coffee is essentially the same in Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Ethiopia, and basically all over the Arab peninsula –there are some regional differences in spices added and sweetness level. At a lot of the Lebanese restaurants in Southeast Michigan, it’s served unsweetened, and I have no idea how people like that. In Greece and Turkey, it’s traditionally sweet, there are some people who like it unsweetened, obviously, but traditionally it’s rather sweet, and is usually a dessert thing, so that’s why I set out the mixed dried fruits –thanks, Emily for picking up the mixed fruit, when I saw that amongst the snacks you gave me, I knew it was going to be perfect for this.

99a220a6b829ec98400e0537d3c0f4b3 So, anyone want to know how I started this?

Of course!

Well, I started in kind of a round-about way…. After my grandparents, who were English and Cornish, died, I basically “inherited” all of my grandmother’s loose-leaf teas, and I’m sure some of them were going stale, but I knew about tea-reading from pop culture sort of things, and so this was the early days of the Internet, when it was all just Usenet, and I found something about it that some-one posted somewhere, so I printed it out and that’s how I learned the basic technique. The person who wrote that piece included some basics on what certain shapes can means, but I kinda scrapped most of that, and developed my own, more intuitive meanings of things.

looks better than any photo I've taken of my demitasse set, though i think i prefer my own set...

looks better than any photo I’ve taken of my demitasse set, though i think i prefer my own set…

So, I’m self-taught, and I started with teas when I was about fifteen…. When I was about twenty, I started reading coffee, and I decided that I like it better. I think the images are clearer, and honestly, I just like the taste a bit better. Now, I learned how to make it myself when I realised that just about every place in Ann Arbor, Michigan made it unsweetened, and somehow really bitter. I found the pot, called a “briki” in Greek or and “ibrik” in Turkish…. I think I got mine at a yard sale? The demitasse set, I found that at a Middle Eastern grocer with the coffees, and it was the only set with the gold key pattern like this, originally $13 and marked 40% off, so it was like I had to, right? Sorry the birki hasn’t been polished in a while, but it is clean, I’m sure you all trust me to make sure of that before I packed. And I have no idea where this demitasse spoon came from, but it’s marked “made in Egypt” on the back, I might’ve actually got it at the old apartment complex, people would leave all sorts of stuff out just by the dumpster –I found incense dishes with Hindu swastikas and several tapes of Hindi pop music of the 70s and sent it all to my friend Jason after he converted from Heathenry.

So what should I ask it? Keep it to a yes or no?

Eh… Cup-reading isn’t that kind of divination. It’s probably comparable to palmistry, or maybe entrail reading, in that it can reveal lifelong influences or traits, but it can also give a general overview of news in the immediate timeline of the person whose cup is being read –like over the last month or so, or what could be coming in the next month or so. You don’t ask the coffeecup for specifics, you just ask it what it can tell you.


Remember kids, I am having a Germanic/Northern/Heathen Goddess prayer card give-away! Be sure and snatch up the ones you want before they’re gone! Totally free!

I am ALSO raising money for moving expenses! If you like this blog, please consider donating SOMETHING, cos if I’m on the streets, I can’t update!

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.