After a three day, and what seemed like never ending, train ride from Poland, I finally arrived in Istanbul at 9:00 AM. As it was morning and me being an avid coffee drinker, the first thing I did after checking in to my hotel, besides taking a shower was to have a Turkish coffee. When I ordered, the waiter asked me if I wanted it with sugar, half sugar or without sugar. I ordered mine without sugar and momentarily thought about how strange the question of half sugar was. When the waiter brought it, he also placed a glass of water and a Turkish delight on the table as well. The first thing I noticed was the wonderful smell. It was that of freshly ground beans but also mixed with some earthy tones. I raised the tiny, espresso- looking cup to my mouth and took a sip. Although I’d had many cups of coffee before, this was a new experience for me. The flavor exploded into my mouth. First, bitter in the way that I love, but also surprisingly smooth. Followed by a silt-like texture, which was different, but not at all unpleasant. I realized that I really knew nothing about Turkish coffee. In the age of Starbucks and all of the sugary coffee drinks, Turkish coffee is a reminder of why we started to like coffee to begin with. It’s simple, natural and all about the coffee. I decided that I would learn how to make the perfect Turkish coffee.
Living in Istanbul for a few months now, I’ve learned that I made a few mistakes when I drank my first Turkish coffee. The biggest one is that Turkish people don’t drink it with breakfast. It is more common for Turks to drink it after a meal or as an afternoon pick-me-up. This made me wonder what else I didn’t know about Turkish coffee. Our travel agency in Istanbul offers a half-day walking tour called the Turkish Coffee Trail. After reading briefly about the history of Turkish coffee, I joined the tour to increase my knowledge ever further and learn how to make the perfect Turkish coffee.
History of Turkish Coffee
Coffee beans were first brought to Turkey, or then, the Ottoman Empire, in 1517 by the Ottoman Ambassador of Yemen, Ozdemir Pasa. The drink was quite popular in Yemen and the ambassador thought that his Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, might enjoy it as well. The Sultan did, in fact, enjoy it and passed it on to his kitchen staff. The kitchen staff decided to prepare it a little differently. They ground the beans into a fine powder, using a mortar and pestle. Then, they boiled the grounds with water in a special coffee pot known as a cezve. The drink became popular with the nobility of the Ottoman Empire and soon everyone wanted to try the new beverage. It trickled down through the masses and soon the whole empire was hooked.
Coffee houses began opening all over the Ottoman Empire and the job of coffee maker, or kahveci usta, became a prestigious profession. The opening of coffee houses provided the Ottoman people with a new social outlet. They gathered to drink coffee, chat and play backgammon. However, the chatting soon grew into political discussions, which began to grow into talks of revolution against the sultan. Word of this reached the palace and in 1656 the Grand Vizier Köprülü issued a decree to shut down all of the coffee houses and make the drinking of coffee illegal. The penalty for breaking the law was beating or drowning. The people were furious and riots began to break out all over Istanbul. The law was repealed and coffee houses were reopened.
The 1600’s also saw the Ottoman Empire begin trading coffee with Italy and England. In 1657, Sultan Mehmet IV visited France and introduced coffee to King Louis XIV and in 1683; the Ottoman Empire warred with Austria. When the Ottoman soldiers left Austria at the end of the war, they left behind some bags of coffee, which the Austrians discovered and began making their own version of the drink.
The biggest thing I learned on the Coffee Tour was that the coffee we drink today, as Turkish coffee is not what the Ottoman Ambassador of Yemen brought to Sultan Suleiman all those years ago. The coffee grounds that he brought were also mixed with cumin, mint, anise, cacao and cinnamon. Few coffeehouses around Istanbul still sell what is called Ottoman Coffee. The taste of Ottoman Coffee is completely different from Turkish coffee. Ottoman Coffee is lighter in color and taste. It’s much less bitter and easier to drink, however the drink itself is thicker and you get more grounds in a sip than with Turkish coffee. Ottoman coffee and Turkish coffee are both delicious in their own ways, but completely different drinks.
In the 1800’s, the Ottoman Empire began to westernize to keep up with the times. It is believed that this is when they changed their coffee recipe to what it is now. There are no longer other spices added to the finely ground coffee beans and as a result Turkish coffee is darker and more bitter. However, this isn’t the only difference between the two. The Ottomans originally boiled the water first and then stirred in the coffee mixture. Nowadays, the Turks add the grounds to the cevze first and then pour in a cup of cold water. You must stir the grounds and coffee together and then heat the cevze on a medium heat until the coffee begins to boil.
Sugar was introduced to the Ottoman Empire in the 1600’s and people began brewing their coffee with it. Turkish coffee is different from western coffee when it comes to sugar. Instead of adding it after the coffee is made, they add it to the grounds at the beginning and brew the coffee and sugar together, hence the sugar, half sugar, no sugar question. Of course, some people still preferred their coffee without sugar, but still wanted something sweet to cut the bitterness. Once sugar was introduced to the Ottoman Empire, Turkish Delight was invented and quickly became the perfect partner to a cup of coffee.
The proper way to drink Turkish coffee is to first take a sip of water to cleanse the pallet. Then smell the coffee, blow on it and take a sip. As you drink, the grounds will settle at the bottom of the cup. Be careful not to get a mouthful of them at the end. Once you’ve finished, then it’s time to eat your Turkish delight! Follow it all up with the rest of the water to wash it all down and rehydrate. When you order a Turkish coffee, and the waiter asks you if you want sugar, half sugar or no sugar, it is said that your preference says something about your personality. If you order without sugar, you are a more closed off type of person who is hard to read and more introverted. Half sugar people are easy to read some of the time and are a bit more outgoing, but reserved when they want to be. Sugar people are happy, bubbly, outgoing and say whatever’s on their mind.
Turkish coffee has also become part of the marriage ritual in Turkey. When two people become engaged, they bring their families together to meet for the first time. The bride to be shows of her cooking skills and at the end of the meal takes everyone’s coffee orders (Sugar, no sugar, half sugar). She then makes Turkish coffee for everyone. However, in her future husband’s coffee she puts salt instead of sugar. When her unsuspecting fiancé takes a sip in front of both families, his reaction supposedly determines what kind of marriage the couple will have. If he spits out the coffee and causes a scene, their marriage will be tumultuous. When they fight or face challenges, it shows that he will yell and make a big deal of things. If he says nothing and shows no sign of drinking salty coffee, she knows that when they fight or face challenges, he will be calm and handle things calmly and quietly. After hearing this, I decided to do this test on my own fiance! But first I still had to learn how to make the perfect Turkish coffee.
Turkish coffee has really become part of the fabric of Turkey. The natives are fiercely proud of their brew and very particular about when and how to drink it. There’s always a line in front of Mehmet Efendi, which sells the best Turkish coffee, and every respectable household has a set of Turkish coffee cups. Any coffee fanatic has to admire a country that would riot over its prohibition and no one can quite call themself a coffee connoisseur until they’ve had a Turkish coffee in Turkey.
How to Make the Perfect Turkish Coffee
First you will need the special pot called a cezve. You will take your coffee cup and measure a full cup of cold water. Before you pour the water in the cezve, measure in one large scoop of Turkish coffee grounds. Add the cold water and stir it together. Then, place your cezve on medium heat and stir until the coffee begins to bubble. Once it does, quickly remove it and pour the coffee into your cup. Drink it with a glass of water and don’t forget some Turkish Delight!
Click here to find out more information about the Turkish Coffee Trail