Originally brought to the Ottoman empire by returning armies hundreds of years ago, Turkish coffee is a staple of Anatolia and beyond. Part drink, part practice, this seemingly simple beverage represents far more than just the contents of a cup: it has become a medium through which people connect, conspire, and relate oral histories.
What Is Turkish Coffee?
The ingredients are simple: ground coffee, water, maybe some sugar and cardamom, but Turks are religious about preparing it precisely.
Hardly a relic of a time past, Turkish coffee culture is alive and well today. While many of the country’s historic coffee shops have closed or have been rebranded and remodeled to resemble a more Western-style café, you can still find some of the old standards scattered throughout Turkey, and you will certainly find at least one cezve (traditional coffee pot) in every home.
The History of Turkish Coffee
Originally brought to the Ottoman Empire via Yemen, the beverage swiftly became a hit with the elite. In the mid-1500s, two entrepreneurial Syrians opened the first coffee shop in İstanbul, soon followed by others who saw how popular and profitable their business was.
Within two years, fearing the dissent that was brewing within the rousing political discussions that were taking place at these coffee shops, the Sultan outlawed them. Communities were uproarious about this loss, and they were shortly reinstated out of fear of a citizen coup.
Today, Turkish coffee remains an integral part of the culture in the entire region, both in households and at commercial coffee shops. Coffee has become such an ingrained part of life in Turkey that UNESCO added it to its List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
How to Make Turkish Coffee
Whether it’s being enjoyed in the Balkans, North Africa, or the Caucasus, the preparation is roughly the same, though Turks consider theirs the “original” brewing method. If you would like to try your hand at making it yourself, here are the basics of preparing the perfect cup.
COLLECT YOUR INGREDIENTS AND SUPPLIES
While seemingly simple, preparing a proper cup of Turkish coffee requires a few key ingredients and some supplies you may not already have.
The coffee beans – The first step will be finding the perfect coffee beans. Coffee culture came to the Ottoman Empire from the horn of Africa, so an east African coffee bean is always going to lend itself best to this preparation. Türk Kahvesi purists will tell you that the beans should be roasted to the first crack – you can think of this as “medium” – and that they should be exclusively arabica-type beans.
Arabica beans are known for having more complex flavors, but those flavors are also more delicate and susceptible to break down than their robusta counterparts when subjected to direct heat; ironically, direct heat is an integral part of preparing Turkish coffee. But African beans are uniquely suited to this style of brewing, as they are notorious for being less susceptible to damage and far less acidic than their Southeast Asian and American counterparts.
The grind is crucial. Beans must be ground extraordinarily fine to make proper Turkish coffee. If you can’t find a coffee shop in your area that can produce this ultra-fine grind, you can go the old-fashioned route and perform this task with a mortar and pestle.
The water – When you use water that is too hard, chemically treated, or is otherwise impure, you risk either deteriorating the gentler flavors in your coffee beans or imparting unwanted flavors. Your best bet is to use distilled or filtered water to prevent this.
The cezve – Sometimes also called an ibrik, you may already be familiar though you’ve never known what they’re called: a cezve is a small pot with a long handle and a wide bottom. An integral part of making Turkish coffee, you can find ones made of tin or steel but the most traditional varieties are made of copper.
While it may seem like an indulgence to invest in a copper cezve over the less expensive varieties, copper is actually a fantastic conductor and is more likely to distribute heat evenly throughout your brewing coffee.
The kahve fincanı – Turkish coffee cups can vary somewhat in composition and design but all are meant to hold about 60-75 ml. They are generally made from thin porcelain to assure that your coffee stays hot while the grounds are settling.
A saucer is crucial, both because the cup can be extremely hot immediately after it is prepared, but also to facilitate the tasseographic reading when you’re finished drinking it. Turks are very fond of using coffee grounds as a means of fortune-telling, and a proper reading is done by upturning your coffee cup over the saucer.
The sugar – Turks are famously fond of using sugar cubes, but any granulated sugar will work if you prefer your coffee sweetened. In general, you can make it az şekerli, orta şekerli, or çok şekerli, meaning light, medium, and a lot of sugar. This roughly translates to one, two, or three cubes, respectively.
Alternatively, if you prefer your coffee black, you can prepare it sade, meaning with no sugar at all.
PREPARE YOUR COFFEE
Turkish coffee is easy to make, though the steps required to produce the perfect cup may feel a bit foreign at first if you’ve never done it before. If it seems difficult at first, no doubt you’ll be able to master it within a few tries.
Add 100ml of water and 10-15 grams of ground coffee to your cezve.
If you would like sugar, add it now.
Place the cezve over a gas flame. Be sure to keep an eye on it lest it boils over.
When the mixture begins to boil, a foam will begin to develop on the surface, particularly near the edges of the cezve. This is perfectly normal.
When the foam has reached the top of the cezve but just before it overflows, remove it from the heat until the coffee shrinks back down within the pot.
Return the coffee to the gas flame and remove it just before it boils over two more times.
Remove it from the heat completely and let the grounds settle in the cezve for about one minute.
Pour the coffee into the kahve fincanı, assuring that the foam you’ve created in the boiling process doesn’t get left behind.
Before you enjoy it, let it sit for a few minutes to give the grounds time to settle.
Different sized cezves can be used to prepare one, two, or more cups at the same time. Part of the joy of drinking Turkish coffee is sharing a spirited conversation with a cherished friend, so it’s best to be prepared to share.
It’s customary to serve a glass of water and a small treat, like a piece of lokum or a truffle, alongside Turkish coffee.
Where to Drink Turkish Coffee in İstanbul
The home of Turkish coffee shops, there’s nowhere more iconic to try a cup or two than İstanbul. If you’re visiting the city, here are a few of the most traditional places to try a true cup of Türk Kavesi.
Mandabatmaz (İstiklal Caddesi, Beyoğlu) – First opened in 1967 on İstanbul’s famous İstiklal street, Mandabatmaz pioneered a couple of important innovations that put them on the map. They were one of the first Turkish coffee shops to offer tables just outside, inviting guests to linger over a cup on a nice day. And most importantly to your coffee, they created and have perfected a methodical proprietary brewing method that has kept folks coming back for years.
Fazıl Bey’in (Serasker Caddesi, Kadiköy) – Opened by architect-turned-coffee connoisseur Fazıl Bey, himself a native of Kadiköy, this seminal coffee shop aims to craft the finest cup of Turkish coffee in the world. By controlling every step of the process from sourcing green coffee through the roasting and grinding process, you can be assured that a great amount of care has gone into your finished cup.
And if you’re ready to try your hand at preparing the perfect Türk Kavesi, stop by Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi to pick up all your supplies. They have been roasting, grinding, and selling premier Turkish coffees for 150 years, and İstanbulites and tourists alike know it as the go-to place to buy coffee, cezves, and proper Turkish coffee cups.