This article originally appeared on VICE Greece.
Two women are facing each other as they sit on wooden chairs around a black coffee table. "Don’t go back to him, you're not meant to be together," the older of the two women warns the other, her client, turning the 'dump him' meme into something mystical. They both fix their eyes on shapes that have formed from the dregs of Greek coffee at the bottom of a white mug. Above their heads hangs a frame featuring a still from the popular Greek film The Fortune Teller.
If you walk through the northern port city of Thessaloniki, you can't help but notice a high volume of cafés offering 'Tasseography', a form of fortune telling that involves reading coffee remnants, tea leaves and wine sediments. The service is often advertised on large boards as you walk into the cafés, inviting visitors to book an appointment or just walk over and ask the fortune tellers any questions they may have about the world and their future.
One of the first coffee shops that offered Tasseography in the area was Kismet café. Kismet's owner, Kiriakos Kasiaras, thinks he made the right investment. "I opened the coffee shop in 2012, in the middle of the economic crisis," Kasiaras tells me. "I knew that people would want to hear positive things about their future. So the first thing I did was find our fortune tellers, then I set up the café around them, and that's how we got started. Many other cafés have followed suit." Kismet charges €3 for a coffee and a reading, promising a "99 percent success rate" on predicting your fortunes.
Inside Kismet, four fortune tellers are busy at work today, with a queue of people waiting to speak to them. Fortune teller Julia is from Xanthi, a city in northeastern Greece. The 48-year-old tells me between clients that she's been "reading coffee and cards" since she was 16. Then there's 56-year-old Fani, who is originally from Istanbul. "My grandmother taught me coffee divination when I was 16," she says. "People come here to listen, but also to talk. And they know we take confidentiality very seriously in our business."
Fani agrees to give me a reading. She takes my coffee cup and throws the dregs into a round tub. She then tips the cup over a paper towel and shakes the last few drops out, which helps to quickly form the irregular shapes at the bottom of the cup. "I'm speeding things up a bit here," she tells me. "Normally we would have waited for the shapes to form by themselves," she explained.
After foreseeing good emotional and economic omens in my future, Fani explains what the shapes and letters that they're looking out for symbolise. "H stands for death," she starts, before adding that she avoids telling her customers when she spots an 'H', preferring to let them discern it for themselves. "D is the best letter to get as it can signify love and power, depending on whether it's facing to the right or left."
Fani sees her job as an important service to her community. "People want to know about their futures so that they can believe that there's something better in store for them – especially when it comes to their love life. That's what people want to hear about the most." From what I've heard today, most of the customers that come to the women ask first about their love life, then shift to money issues and, finally, their health. Fani agrees that coffee reading is a normal, valuable practice. "My priest assured me that coffee divination is not a sin," Fani says, pointing to the cross she wears around her left hand. "I got this from the archbishop himself."
The customers here today are certainly convinced. "A lot of what they tell us comes true," one of Julia's waiting clients tells me. Konstantina, 27, is a student from Thessaloniki, waiting her turn to find out what the future has in store for her. "It's just a bit of fun," she says. “I'm certainly not a hardcore fan, but I like it. I come here to get answers on specific questions about my love life." Moments later her Greek coffee arrives. Once she's chugged it down, Julia turns the cup upside down, empties the liquid dregs and waits for Konstantina's future to appear.