Divination by coffee grounds was an art practiced by ladies and ridiculed by men.
An edition of the Plain Dealer from 1724 claims that tasseography was one of “a thousand shining proofs of the capacity of woman’s wit.” The writer even went so far as to exhort gentlemen to beware the danger: “Our women are become a nation of sages! And men must be shortly dependent on them, not for DELIGHT only, but for INSTRUCTION.”
In keeping with the theme of the print shown above, the Gentleman’s Magazine relates a story of a gentleman coming upon two ladies having their fortunes read in coffee grounds:
“He surprised her and her company in close cabal over their coffee; the rest very intent upon one; who by her dress and intelligence he guess’d was a tire woman [ladies’ maid]; to which she added the secret of divining by coffee grounds… On one hand sat a widow, on the other a maiden lady, both attentive to the predictions to be given of their future fate… They assured him that every cast of the cup is a picture of all one’s life to come, and every transaction and circumstance is delineated with the exactest certainty. If this be so, reply’d he, such an Art would be of service to a statesman, for instead of going to council he need only examine the coffee grounds and all the affairs of the whole nation would appear before him at once and he would know all the plots cabals and intrigues of his adversaries… In case he should see mischief and misfortune coming upon him, [he asked] whether it would be in his power to prevent ’em, they reply’d no. From which he takes occasion to dissuade them from such unwarrantable inquiries to be content with what they enjoy and be prepared to endure evil when it comes and to depend on providence for the rest .”
Ladies didn’t much care for this no-nonsense approach to fate. Instead, they consumed books like Every Lady’s Own Fortune-Teller, which I’m delighted to say tells us how to read our very own coffee grounds.
The 18th century method says to use the last coffee pour before you reach the dregs. Pour it into your cup, let settle, and drink everything but the dregs. Then turn the cup around, making sure the dregs stick to the sides. Next, lay your cup upside down and let the moisture drain out. Pick up your cup and start reading counterclockwise to your thumb placement on the cup until you complete the circle back to your thumb (Hmm, does it matter if you’re using a dish of tea or a teacup with handles? One would think this omitted detail is important.)
Your Divination Results
A Visit From Your Beloved or a Journey: “If you see a clear narrow part between two lines, it signifies a public road. Observe the little atoms in this passage, and their distance from your thumb, as also their direction, whether to the thick part of them are inclined towards you, or from you. If the former, your best beloved is coming to see you. If the latter, he is going away from you; the farther this road is from your thumb, the greater distance he is from you.
If it is mostly on the left side, he is only leaving the place he was to come. If mostly on the right side, he is on his arrival. If this clear or white part is long and broad, he is coming by sea. If you see the resemblance of several houses, on or near a road of white space, it signifies a great city or seaport. If there is no large atom in the road or space, you will yourself soon perform a journey or voyage.
Marriage, Death, and Popularity: If you see the likeness [of houses], but of one large house with few people or atoms about it, you will be married a short time, that being the emblem of a church. If there is a great crowd, you will attend the funeral of some dear friend.
If you perceive the semblance of a coach, which is easily distinguished, you will be speedily raised to honour and dignity. If the likeness should be a horse, you will be married to a person much above your own condition. If you observe the similitude of a gallows, which may happen, we recommend to you to mend your own morals, or caution any of your acquaintance, whom you know to be vicious, of the threatened danger.
Wealth: If there appears a great many round small white spots on any part of the cup, it denotes that you will shortly receive a large sum of money. The nearer to your thumb on the right hand side, the sooner you will get it.