*Names changed for security.

New in Albania and wanting to get to know the people in my neighborhood, my heart leapt when I heard a woman’s voice calling to me, “Pershendetje (Greetings!),” initiating friendship with me, a stranger. Next came the question which I would hear again and again in this country known for hospitality, “Will you come for coffee?” Seeing the welcoming look on her face, I accepted her invitation.

Here in Albania, coffee took on new meaning. Large mugs morphed into small tiny cups, decorated lavishly with floral patterns. What was inside the cups was still brown, but thicker with frothiness atop, normal for an ideal Turkish cup of coffee, standard for my new neighborhood. To my American palate, Turkish coffee will always rank second to pretty much any form of American coffee. However, the hospitality and warm reception that accompany coffee in the homes of the Albanians with whom I share my hope in Christ will always rank first in my heart among my coffee experiences.

As we have learned Albanian customs and culture, a secret has emerged—that coffee comes first in relationships where we now live, a rite of sorts. Do you want to make a friend? You invite or accept an invitation for coffee. Do you want to ask a business question or influence decision-making? Again, this happens over coffee. If someone is interested in courting or marrying someone, meetings over coffee are a part. Then to celebrate an engagement or birth of a child, the whole neighborhood and all family come one by one and in groups for coffee. The same happens when someone passes away. Coffee means community and tradition, relationships and respect.

But from Yvette*, and subsequently others like her, I learned of Turkish coffee’s darker side. With her carefully groomed chestnut hair, intense chocolate brown eyes, and her stylish clothes, Yvette* seemed like such a confident young teen. I rejoiced when she wanted to study the Bible with me, but later shared in her sadness as she revealed the dread she felt over the approach of her fourteenth birthday. She explained that a woman who “read coffee cups” had foretold that when she turned fourteen, she would encounter many misfortunes. Albanian women often turn and examine their coffee cups, using them as a means for telling fortunes. We rejoice over Albanians we have seen come to faith, often after conversations over coffee, but mourn for many still lost and believing their fate to be sealed by the contents of a coffee cup.