My first impressions of the Turkish coffee drinking experience were not so great. Tiny cup, tinier handle, bitter coffee, thick sludge at the bottom.
First adaptation was to ditch the sugar-free diet and go for the çok şeker (very sweet) version of my kahve to combat the bitterness. Second adaptation was to slow down, savour the aromas and tastes of every drop of the powerful brew on the taste buds, and enjoy the accompanying conversations. Third adaptation was to educate myself in the kahve making process. Discover the cezve, understand the cultural significance of the coffee making process, and appreciate the art of the pouring.
It took me many years to finally discover that coffee is not a morning drink in the Turkish culture. This remains a mystery to me. The aroma of fresh coffee first thing in the morning is one of life’s great joys. Perfecting the art of the coffee pour remains a work-in-progress.
Turkish Coffee History:
Historical records tell us that the coffee plant was first discovered in Ethiopia in the 11th century and its ‘magical’ leaves brewed and served as a medicinal drink. Its popularity spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula to Yemen where it caught the attention of the Ottoman Governor, Özdemir Paşa.
Coffee was first introduced to the Ottoman palaces of Turkey during the late 15th century. The Turkish developed their own unique style of coffee, roasting the beans over a fire, then finely grounding to a powder and brewing slowly with water over an open charcoal fire. Turkey’s first coffeehouse, the Kiva Han, was reportedly opened in the Tahtakale suburb of Istanbul in 1554.
In 2013, UNESCO officially recognised Turkish coffee culture as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”.
Turkish Coffee Tradition:
Turkish anecdotes suggest that suitably frothed, poured and presented kahve can make or break potential marriage arrangements between families. During the introduction and proposal process, Turkish tradition suggests that the bride must serve coffee to the family of the potential groom. The groom’s parents will assess the quality, taste and foam of the served coffee. Another anectode suggests that the potential bride may serve the coffee with salt instead of sugar to indicate her rejection of the proposal.
Another Turkish custom is the art of “tasseography” – using the residual coffee grounds or cup stains to tell the fortunes of the drinker. The empty coffee cup is turned upside-down and left to cool before taking the reading.
Like so many aspects of Turkish life, there is something almost spiritual about the process of making, sharing, and savouring a cup of Turkish coffee with friends or family. It’s so much more about the process, the aromas, the cups, the decorations, the environment, the people and the emotions than it is about the product.
Turkish Coffee Proverbs:
- A cup of coffee commits one to 40 years of friendship.
- The heart wants neither coffee nor coffeehouse, it wants friendship; coffee is just the excuse.
- Coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love.
- Sleep cannot be without a blanket nor coffee without foam.
- The foam of a Turkish coffee is so thick, a camel can walk across it.
As my Safranbolu host patiently guided my hand through the process of extracting the copper cezve from the bed of hot ash and carefully skimming the first foam to the base of the empty fincan, I understood that this was so much than a ‘morning cuppa’. Afiyet olsun!