Turkish Coffee in Istanbul Street

Turkish Coffee: Rich Flavor, Rich History

Coffee ranks just behind tea as the 2nd most popular beverage in the entire world. It’s easy to see why: coffee is versatile, plentiful, and can be prepared in a variety of ways.

While drip-brew coffee, espresso, and French presses account for some of the most well-known and popular brewing methods, none of them are as old as Turkish coffee. This form of coffee is not a bean or particular flavor, but rather a style of brewing that has stood the test of time.

What is Turkish Coffee?

Most of the popular coffee brewing methods used today involve some sort of filtering system, whether it’s a paper filter, metal filter, a mesh plunger, or a porta filter.

Turkish coffee, or “kahve” as it is referred to in Turkey, is unfiltered, and utilizes an entirely different and more primitive brewing method than what many are accustomed to.

Turkish coffee is brewed from Arabica beans that have been ground into a very fine form that is almost powder-like in appearance. Cardamom is sometimes added to the coffee during grinding as well. Some even choose to boil whole seeds of this spice with the coffee, and then let the seeds float to the top when being served.

Very Fine Grind of Coffee

Turkish coffee has six varying levels of sweetness that range from very sweet to an unsweetened black. The sugar is added to the coffee during brewing, rather than when it is served, as it customarily is in the Western world.

As the coffee begins to heat, it begins to foam. The presence of foam is considered a mark of well-brewed coffee. Turkish coffee brewing involves simmer water rather than boiling, as boiling diminishes the taste. Once the coffee is brewed and ready, the grounds settle to the bottom.

How is Turkish Coffee Served?

Turkish coffee is served from special coffee pot known as a “cezve”. The actual brewing takes place inside the cezve, which is then poured out into a small demitasse cup on saucers from which to be consumed.

Water is also served with the coffee, so that you may first cleanse your palette before drinking.

Turkish Coffee Served

Turkish coffee sets are a convenient way to purchase everything you need to make authentic Turkish coffee in one bundle, as they include both Turkish coffee pots and Turkish coffee cups.

The History of Turkish Coffee

Turkish coffee has a long and illustrious history, dating back to 15th-century Yemen and the Ottoman Empire. The actual origins and starting point are debated, but everyone can agree that by the mid 1500’s, the coffee culture was beginning to take hold in the region.

The very first coffeehouse in Istanbul opened in 1554, and was owned by two men named Hakem and Sems. The coffee house was located in the Tahtakale district, which was well known as a commercial hub.

The busy district of Tahtakale served as the perfect location for the first coffeehouse, and it soon became a favorite hangout for everyone from travelers and merchants to day laborers and sailors.

Old Tahtakale District

Although initially viewed as a place for vagrants and lower members of society to congregate, coffeehouses and coffee in general became more widely accepted over the next few centuries. Coffee even became a ceremonial component of the Ottoman court, where coffee makers would perform elaborate showcases in preparing coffee for the Sultan.

Wedding and engagement ceremonies began to include coffee rituals as well.  Women during this time would receive extensive training in coffee preparation, and prospective husbands would then judge them on their abilities when choosing a bride.

Perhaps even more importantly, coffeehouses serving Turkish coffee became important social gathering places. Men would congregate to play backgammon and discuss politics. Women brewed coffee at home and hosted each other for conversation and leisure.

Some coffeehouses in the 16th century even began putting on theatrical shows featuring puppets that provided humorous social and political commentary.

Old Way of Drinking Coffee

Turkish coffee made this all possible, and still does today. Coffeehouses remain popular gathering places, even in Istanbul, where both travelers and locals can stop by for social interaction and information on what’s going on in the area that particular day.

How to Brew Turkish Coffee

Brewing Turkish coffee doesn’t require any elaborate machinery or specialty tools. In fact, the actual grinding of the beans can even be done with a mortar and pestle, although specialty grinders do make the process much easier. The following is the best Turkish coffee recipe for a traditional pot and experience.

What You’ll Need:

  • Cezve
  • Turkish Coffee Grinder
  • Saucers
  • Stove or Burner
  • Arabica Coffee Beans (Medium Roast)
  • Spoon
  • Sugar

Directions

Measure out the amount of cold water needed.

Put your pot of water on the heat source, and then adjust the heat to a medium-high setting.

Add your desired amount of coffee to the pot, but do not stir. Allow the coffee to float on the surface, as stirring will cause it to become clumped. (1 or 2 teaspoons of coffee per 3 ounce demitasse cup is a standard amount.

Now, you may add your desired amount of sugar to taste. Refrain from stirring this as well.

Once your coffee starts to sink into the water, your water should now be hot enough to dissolve the sugar you’ve placed inside, so stir it until it is fully dissolved. Follow this by turning the heat down to a low setting.

Stir the coffee until a foam head begins to appear. Moving your spoon back and forth at a fast rate will create more foam (this is a good thing.)

Once you notice a ring-like foam layer begin to form, turn down the heat down even more, or simply move the pot away from the heat. Any bubble still forming should be a small size.

Return the pot to the heat source. You should now be paying very close attention to your coffee. Be careful to not let the coffee boil, as this will not only ruin the taste, but completely eradicate any foam you’ve built up as well, which warrants starting over.

The whole point of the extra care taken during these final steps is to slowly build up a solid amount of foam. Continue to build your foam while avoiding boiling for a bit longer. Stirring the coffee gently during this will help to create more foam.

Turkish Coffee Foam

Repeat this process no more than three times, until you’ve created a foam head on the coffee that stays in place. Once the coffee is ready, take the pot and pour it quickly into the demitasse cups so that it retains its foam head. If some foam remains, simply use a small spoon to scoop it into the cup on top.

If you’re making coffee for multiple people, be sure to distribute the foam evenly. Your coffee is now ready to be served!

The Benefits of Making Turkish Coffee

Brewing Turkish coffee can be a rewarding experience when done correctly, and provides several benefits not often found with other brewing methods.

Connection to History

Brewing Turkish coffee allows for you to feel a connection with the oldest form of coffee brewing. Turkish coffee brewing hasn’t changed much over the last few centuries, so brewing it in a traditional way offers you a way to experience coffee in its original form.

Old Istanbul Coffee Ritual

Patience

Turkish coffee is the antithesis of modern coffee brewing methods in that it can’t be accomplished with the push of a button on a machine. Brewing the coffee takes great patience, and causes you to have a greater appreciation of the process in general.

When brewing Turkish coffee, you are forced to slow down not only during the actual brewing, but also when you are drinking it. Turkish coffee isn’t intended to be thrown into a travel cup on your way to work. It’s meant to be savored, either alone, or with friends.

Encourages Conversation

Turkish coffee is intended to be shared with friends and family. The brewing process requires some care and skill, along with paying close attention to the coffee from start to finish. This fosters a closeness to the person you are making it for, similar to when you cook for someone.

Ritual of Drinking Coffee

Since this coffee is meant to be savored, it becomes a natural element for conversation.

New Flavors, New Experiences

If you consider yourself a coffee connoisseur and haven’t tried Turkish coffee yet, you may want to reconsider your own classification. Sure, you may be familiar with French presses, pump espresso machines, and pour-over brewers, but Turkish coffee offers a whole different taste and experience.

Brewing Turkish coffee at home allows for you to truly say that you’ve tried the full spectrum of coffee brewing methods. Who knows, you may even like it more.

Final Thoughts

Turkish coffee may not be very complex at its heart, but it still requires some learned skill, as well as the proper tools and servingware. If you are going to brew Turkish coffee yourself, make sure you do it right.

Acquiring a proper Turkish coffee set that contains both the pot (cezve) and demitasse cups should be a must, along with fresh, Arabica coffee beans. If you aren’t able to obtain a Turkish coffee grinder capable of creating the fine grind required, try going to a grocery store that has a grinder in the coffee section — they also always have Turkish grind settings.

With these few items, and this guide, you have everything you need to start enjoying the robust flavors of Turkish coffee yourself.

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