Reading the Future in Coffee Grounds
Written by Eralda Lameborshi–best friend and colleague
My infatuation with coffee started as a very young child in a small town at the foot of Tomorr mountain in Albania. Poliçan was a very small town, bitterly cold in winters, cool and bright in summers, with people from different areas of Albania who were brought there by the Party to work in the gun factory. My father worked there as a mechanical engineer. Vlora was the place that had my parents’ heart though, and even though my family enjoyed lasting friendships with many other families, like Lot’s wife they always looked back.
Winters were long and my paternal grandmother, Nënë Nxhiko, always spent them with us. She was a strong woman of whom I have very few memories, unfortunately. One of her favorite times of the day was coffee time; once in the morning, and once in late afternoon. As was customary, my mother made the coffee and she always served it with a little butter cookie placed on the small saucer.
Nënë Nxhiko always gave me the cookie, and, after I finished my happy munching, she would pour some of the dark liquid in the saucer for me to drink. I slurped the coffee with the intensity of a seasoned coffee addict, always getting a got-milk mustache, always dripping coffee on my shirt, smiling at my mother who did not want to laugh but who could not help herself.
Nënë Nxhiko liked to read the future in the patterns the coffee grounds made when the cup was placed upside down on the saucer. She was often joined by the other old women in the neighborhood. I always sat close to hear their predictions, wondering how they could see anything in those grounds. Number seven meant in seven days? A trail of liquid which had opened a thin line among the grounds meant unexpected travel in the near future?
Once I was a teenager and once my sisters had left the house, as the youngest woman of the household, I was supposed to make the coffee, but my mother disregarded traditions like that which she considered ridiculous and patriarchal. She never asked me to make coffee for guests. She was the one who would make it and I would serve it on a silver tray, drawing smiles from everyone once they saw the foam riding the edge of the cup. “Good girl,” they thought, “She’ll make a fine bride.”
My secret was out the first time I returned from the US after being away for two years. A family friend came over for an impromptu visit. He was a very traditional man who valued the customs much more than my parents did. Mom was not in the house, and as he sat down I asked:
“What would you like to drink? Raki? Juice? Water? Coffee?”
I should have skipped the last offering because coffee is what he wanted. I chuckled and said:
“Xhaxhi Luli [name changed], mom will be back in just a minute and she’ll make your coffee. I never learned how to make it alla Turka.”
Xhaxhi Luli proceeded to lecture me on the value of knowing how to make coffee, the honor that a good wife brings upon the house, and how one day I would have to make coffee for my in-laws.
The two of us, my mom and I, had a good laugh afterward. Not because we don’t honor good traditions, but because some are funny and because our family is different.
When I asked her this winter to teach me how to make Turkish coffee, she smiled and said:
“Are you ashamed of Xhaxhi Luli?”
“No, I just want to read my fortune,” I responded winking.
On my way back from Albania one year I smuggled a Xhezve, the little pan where my parents make their coffee. I know how to make it now, and I can bake the cookies that go with it. I make the coffee for myself on lazy East Texas mornings, missing home, missing the blue Albanian skies, nostalgia for the past foaming up in the coffee. There are times when I pour the coffee in the saucer and drink it that way in front of my windows overlooking bare trees and forest brush. I have learned how to make all of these things and to love the sorrow of missing one’s home. The only thing I have yet to figure out is how to read the future. Perhaps on my next trip.
Turkish Coffee (as made in Albania) recipe
Level: easy Cooking time: 5 mins Yield: 1 cup
¾ cup of water
1 teaspoon of sugar
2 teaspoons of finely ground espresso beans
Xhezve (pictured above)
Place the water in the xhezve along with the sugar. Place the xhezve on medium high heat. Stir to melt the sugar.
Once the sugar has melted, add the coffee, stir to combine and let it on the heat until just before it boils. You will see the volume raise and bubbles on the side, but don’t let the water boil otherwise the foam will go away.
Pour in small espresso cups and serve with small butter cookies.
Note: The recipe above is for a bittersweet cup. You can adjust the amount of sugar to your taste.
Ju bëftë mirë!
Find the butter and cardamom cookies recipe here.