In his eagerness to attract customers Robert Ayanian, owner of Robert's Espresso in San Francisco's Sunset District told this reporter...
“I am thinking of having my aunt share her coffee grind reading talents on Sunday afternoons,” he said. It is a way to entertain sharing the simple pleasures of Armenian style coffee.
The art of reading coffee grinds or tealeaves formally known as tasseography is ancient. "This would strictly be for entertainment, my Aunt Sylvia is not a fortune-teller," said Ayanian. Aunt Sylvia Alam has lived in the Sunset District for over 30 years.
Returning to San Francisco after living in Southern California for the past 20 years has afforded Ayanian something very valuable, a less complicated life and the ability to reconnect with family. Ayanian was born and raised in San Francisco and his parents still lives in the West Portal area. He tried to explain some of the customs of reading the rich fine grinds that ooze like mud at the bottom of the demitasse cup of Armenian style coffee.
"You have to hold the cup close to your heart and make a wish before you turn the cup over on the saucer to let the grinds trickle down and make their cryptic formations," he said. Tasseography, (the reading of coffee grounds or tea leaves) is an old world custom of divination.
"Reading of coffee grinds and all that, it is very much apart of Middle Eastern culture," said Jeff Kalousdian. He stopped in to visit the newly opened shop, which officially opened its doors this past February.
"Armenia, especially ancient Armenia is situated along the 'silk route' of the ancient world, coffee styles and customs are very similar, shared in various parts," said Kalousdian. A screenwriter and also a native of San Francisco, he has traveled the world. He has been to Armenia many times. "Reading coffee grinds is similar to reading of tea leaves, it is a pastime at old cafe's," said Kalousdian.
He was pleased that Ayanian has continued the old world traditions; much like Alvin's Scrumptious Coffee and Teas did before it closed last year. Alvin and Helen Azadkhanian were among the few family-owned fresh coffee roasters in the Sunset. No relation to the Ayanian family, they retired after being in business for more than 35 years. They now just sell Alvin's Scrumptious Coffee on the web.
Ayanian is working hard to let the neighborhood know the old world traditions of good coffee still continue.
"I would enjoy meeting Aunt Sylvia and listening to the meanings and insights behind the symbolic formations in the coffee grinds," said Kalousdian. Just then, a call to Ayanian’s cell phone came through. It was Aunt Sylvia. “My aunt said no, she has retired her coffee grind reading skills. Maybe she might teach them to Ayanian? Perhaps!
Ayanian decided to share with this reporter a bit of what he remembers Aunt Syliva saying about the grinds in the cup. "When lifting up the cup after letting it sit upside down on the saucer, look at the formation of the grinds and how they drizzled to the bottom. If there is a lot of clear space that means that the person's heart is not too heavy or burdened at the moment," said Ayanian. "But if the formations have lots of ridges and trails that is very interesting because it says the person is going through a lot of 'journey's' in life," he said.
"Different shape formations indicate different meanings; my aunt Sylvia would know," he said. Ayanian then confided that one of the reasons why she declined to share her Tasseography talents was because people often take the "meanings" in the wrong way. "It really is just for entertainment," said Ayanian. And, that is how he likes to interpret it. "All I want to do is share some of the old world Armenian culture and customs. "Maybe I will get a book about coffee grind reading and just have it out for people to read when they order a cup of the Armenian coffee specialty," he said.
Roberts Espresso is open most days from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM. For more information visit the web site or call the cafe at 415-213-5779.